Day 36 - Sun 20 Apr 08
Out of the hotel at 08:00, paid less on the credit card for the extra night than I was quoted for, so that's good. Walked own the street past the tram barn, and there is some activity, so I'm hopeful that the trams do run this early on a Sunday morning. In fact it looks like there's a No.4 getting ready to move off. I just need to make it up to the start of the route to be able it pick it up! But I'm not fast enough, and the tram catches up with me. However the driver must have worked out what I was up to, and she stopped and opened the doors! I rush over and jump on - I'm her first passenger.
There's an automated fare machine and 40 cents gets me a ride to the bus station, that an the 25 cent toilet are the only bargains that I found in Almaty. The LP map states that it's 4km to the bus station but I think it's a lot more. I find the buses to Bishkek and jump aboard (1000T), but it won't move off until it's full. The usual jumping on and off. The woman who was on first didn't make it back in time, and her back was unloaded!
The road to Bishkek is an excellent dual carriageway with snow capped peaks to the left and flat, flat steppe to the right. The border (which is just 25km from Almaty) is a casual affair. Out of the bus, walk into a building get my exit stamp and then it's a short walk across a river bridge. On the other side is a small green tin hut where my passport is taken and I hang around outside. Five minutes later my passport is returned with an entry stamp. I don't think anyone actually checked that my face matched the one in the passport.
My bus is waiting at the other side of the border and joy, I'm not the last to make it through. The roads on the other side seem to be generally worse and everything looks to be a little more down at heal. Bishkek just like Almaty has a spectacular position at the foot of snow capped mountains.
I cross the road from the bus station and find a taxi parked up - I point in the direction I want to go and off we head. He soon starts saying street names and I realise that we're near the hotels I want to check out. I pay him $4 and jump out. I head off, manage to de-code the Cyrillic street names and find my first prospective hotel. They want $100 for a huge room - I pass. The next hotel is a Mom and Pop place and is much more my style. $30 a night. Dump my stuff in the room and walk downtown. I get something to eat and wander into the city square, which is no great shakes really, just a sea of concrete.
Oh, my hotel is in the car washing quarter of the city - there must be at least 20 'stalls' nearby and all of them are busy.