Once we have checked into our hotel in Almaty, we have a quick late lunch and decide to head to the Uzbek embassy: it is late in the day so we are not expecting to achieve much but at least find out the local process for applying for a visa tomorrow. I quickly pack paperwork and passport photos just in case and off we go. It is 4pm by the time we get to the consulate and there is a throng of people milling around a small wooden shack, some with papers in their hands, some without. Hmmm, wonder what the process here is. I walk up to a young lady and ask her if she knows. She speaks English! Fantastic. I explain we want to get a visa to visit Uzbekistan. She goes to the guard to explain what we are after and he opens a metal gate and waves us through. I will not go through the details of the next steps here as they are numerous and all are listed in our Borders and Visas section. Suffice to say here that on day 1 in Almaty, after a 2 hour process, we leave the consulate with our Uzbekistan visa in our passports! What a fantastic start.
With the first visa in the bag, next on our agenda is the Iranian visa. We are grateful they are open on a Friday. While it is close to our hotel, it is a strenuous 3km walk due to the steep terrain and streams here. It makes for an interesting walk!
No masses of people here, we are let in through the massive metal door and walk right up to a lovely office with leather couches, coffee table and picture books, water fountain. No one else is there so we walk right up to a little window, hand over all the appropriate paperwork and are told to go to the Pakistani bank to pay for the visa and come right back. (There is a little more to this but again, all detailed in our visas section). Surprise surprise, the bank is not next door but 3kms away! We walk all the way back down the hill to town but to a taxi rank outside a fancy plaza to take us to the bank then back to the Iranian consulate where they eventually tell us to come back Tuesday morning to collect the visas and back to the plaza. Time for some lunch in this amazing ‘bubble’ that this plaza is here: shiny, airy, modern, air conditioned, all sorts of stores we recognise, and Costa Coffee!!! It also has an amazing food store with all sorts of prepared salads and dishes.
While having lunch, we decide we should visit BMW to check them out and maybe ask about a service. Another cab takes us there. My pathetic Russian does not cut the mustard and someone is quickly called to help us. We are introduced to Alikhan, the BMW Autocentre Bavaria Regional Manager, and Eva Antimonova, Business Development Director at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Almaty. They both speak perfect English. As we chat about our trip and our service requirement, Alikhan is amazed that we have no problem with the bikes, nothing is broken and we have all the spares we need for the standard service. They can do the service for us now if we like and we are welcome to wait the 2 hours. We quickly return to the hotel, change into our riding gear and ride back to BMW. For the next couple of hours, we chat to Alikhan and Eva about the car market in Kazakhstan while having drinks, cakes, and watching Streak and Storm being worked on the large tv monitor! As we’re chatting, we find out the BMW general manager had got his driver to find us Kazakhstan stickers, as we had earlier explained how we had looked for Russian and Kazakh stickers for our topboxes without success, and has been successful!!
2 hours later, Streak and Storm are ready for us with a clean bill of health and they are gleaming!!!!
Before we leave Alikhan invites to take us up the mountain tomorrow Saturday. What a lovely offer. It is always great to meet locals especially when we can converse easily in English. It is a great day out with Alikhan, going to places we would not have known about and learning more about him and his country.
As Alikhan leaves us at our hotel after lunch, he took this photo of us which I love:
Thank you Alikhan for a fabulous day!!
We have walked so much in Almaty – an average of 8kms a day minimum – in this heat, it feels like much more! The second half of each walk always harder as it is a slow walk up the hill to get back to our hotel. It has been so hot, it feels like my skin is sizzling, even in the shade, as it is dry heat. Thank goodness for all the trees, shade and running water everywhere. It is fantastic that Almaty city council have made the most of their natural resources – the mountains and therefore glacial melts so close to the city. Sunday, we must have walked at least 10kms:
Monday is spent washing our panniers and riding gear. I was very lucky as I did a ‘boy look’ emptying my pockets and only realised a couple of hours later that I had left 2 camera batteries in one of my inside pockets. I quickly get a cup of uncooked rice and place the batteries in a couple of zip lock bags. A couple of days later, they seem fine. That was lucky!
Tuesday is a big day for us: it is Iran and Turkmenistan visas day. We turn up at the Iranian consulate as requested at 10am to collect our visas to be greeted with 45′ of confusion – our paperwork is nowhere to be found. Luckily we have the tiny paper slip that shows we paid for our visas last week. We are not sure if they found it or if they were too embarassed and just printed the visas to get us out of their hair!! Anyway, visas in hand, first stop is the photocopying store to get colour copies of this latest visa to add to the paperwork we need for the Turkmen visa.
The Turkmen consulate in Almaty cannot be a prime job: the offices are located at the back of an apartment block… There are not masses of people, just one being processed and 2 in front of us. As it is only 11am, we have a comfortable 2 hours before closing time at 1pm. Haha, you guessed it!! That was not plenty of time. It was a re-run of the sloth part in Zootopia. Watching the guy, who was obviously not having a good day, checking applications and comparing passport photocopies with the actual passport, was comical he was so slow. Then having spent over 30 minutes checking their paperwork, it took him 45′ minutes to get a tiny pre-printed piece of paper with bank address and fee to the couple in front of us. Maybe he disappeared to have lunch we wondered at the time. Anyway, our turn next. He looks at my paperwork: no no. Blue pen. Not black pen. I have to redo my form in blue pen. So now someone else slips in front of us… aarrgghh, and he is obviously a tour operator with many applications. But he is helpful and he stays behind a few minutes to translate for us: we had to write a letter asking the consulate to grant us a visa. We managed to hand all our paperwork just before 1pm. It is finally all good, we get that tiny piece of paper and are told to come back today. No one else is processed today and he closes his little window. We rush off, 2kms walk each way to get to the nominated bank and get back and find his window open: he was waiting for us. That could be promising we think…. but his parting words are: call this number or come back in a week and I will let you know my decision…. We have no idea if we will get our transit visa… I have to add that we have found no report of a transit visa being granted from this consulate for the past couple of years but the other two visas having been processed so quickly, we felt a duty to try in order to report back to the travelling community. We can go for a tour of Kyrgyzstan for a week and come back. Will see what happens next and what we decide to do…
We have enjoyed our time in Almaty so far, the leafy streets, numerous parks and fountains, constant sound of running water, well maintained pavements and streets, the choice of foods, the fresh fruit juices, the ‘bubble’ that Almaty seems to be with modern, glassy, flashy highrises inter-mixed with Soviet era apartment blocks – such a contrast with the rest of the country.
While we travel, we still often think of home and all the work that awaits us there, yes, those renovations we put off to come on this trip, and Anthony’s fountain.