Marshrutkas are shit. It was the only conclusion we could possibly come to after having to ride one for five hours because we sold our own little car. It was crowded, bumpy, the curtains inside were almost all closed and we had landed the worst seats, right in the middle of the rear bench seat.
But we were lucky we’d even caught this marshrutka at all, heading from Bishkek’s western bus station all the way to Almaty, Kazakhstan. Had we missed it, we’d have to wait for an hour or possibly longer for the next one to arrive, and fill up with passengers, before it took us to our next destination. For 800 som (€8) each, though, it was really hard to complain.
The ride from Bishkek to the border was short, and we arrived to a similar scene of market-like chaos outside the Kordai gates as we had at our previous crossing. The minibus pulled up next to the queue of cars waiting to go through, and everyone hopped out to grabbed their luggage from the back. My two bags were really heavy and I wasn’t used to managing them in a crowd of people. Suddenly there was a group of guys grabbing my backpack and pushing me towards the cars, shouting in Kyrgyz or Russian. I couldn’t tell exactly what they wanted and if they were joking or not, but I tried to tug my stuff back and stand my ground. Mook had gone ahead but heard the shouting, and had to return and pry me out of the circle that had formed. The dudes laughed as we walked away.
We’d heard online that the Bishkek-Almaty marshrutka have a habit of setting off from the border and accidentally (?) leaving their foreign passengers behind, so we wanted to go through immigration fast. The Kyrgyz immigration was surprisingly orderly and quick, and the inspector didn’t ask questions about the car we had imported but were not leaving with. We were through in less than five minutes.
Outside, pedestrians move along a walkway that was fenced in like a narrow cage, from the Kyrgyz immigration building, through the border fence, and into the Kazakh immigration building. On the Kyrgyz side the walkway was full of people just loitering around with packages of goods, some of them making sales and exchanging money. As we pushed through, a couple of others even asked if we needed a taxi ride to Almaty. Just as at our previous crossing, you could tell the difference in general attitude between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan; on the Kazakh side the walkway was empty.
Kazakhstan immigration was also a breeze, and no one questioned why we’d entered the country twice in just a two-week period. We filled our our immigration cards and went to the very end of a long row of immigration booths, most all of them manned. I gave the immigration officer, a man in his 50s, my best lady smile. He bashfully processed my documents and gave me a wink as he handed over my passport. BAM, we were done.
In the end we had to wait a good 20 minutes for our marshrutka to come through customs and out into Kazakhstan. In the meantime we were wrangled into conversation by an older man who spoke no English but really wanted to talk politics and globalisation. Mook tried in his best Russian to debate about Crimea, the USSR and Obama before the conversation finally moved on to the safe topic of football.
Our marshrutka arrived and we gladly climbed on, but apparently the old woman sitting next to us on the bus had overheard the conversation. She didn’t want to talk politics, thankfully, but was thrilled to have a kind-of-Russian-speaking new foreign friend with which she could while away the next four hours. It was a long drive.