I’ve been in Almaty, Kazakhstan for 2 days now, and it is quite interesting….My brother has been here since February due to his work with the UN, and so mom, dad and myself jumped at the opportunity to visit him and a country we would never otherwise have visited.
Let’s just get straight to the highlights..
1. English? No..Russian
No one here speaks English. Neither are any of the signs in English. Not even touristy areas have a single word of English anywhere. I realised that Kazakhstan was going to be one visual adventure – absorbing images, sign languages and figuring it out myself. I’ve started to learn phrases, like spasibah, skolka, etc, but you still get very very lost in translation…
Personally I see Almaty as a cross between Klaipeda and Moscow. It is very spacious and spread out, and you tend to come across incredibly large and majestic looking buildings like in Moscow. It is also reminiscent of the Soviet era, so you also come across mass produced eye sore buildings like the ones I’ve seen in the Baltic states. The youth here exude a kind of attitude I remember seeing while I was in Klaipeda. I don’t quite know how to put it into words yet to explain this observation, but it’s almost like a newfound independence, and they strut around with huge smiles and a swagger in their strides.
3. The people
Kazakhstan is incredibly diverse. You have Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Russians, Uyghurs, etc, and you have minorities such as Germans, Kurds, and Koreans. These minorities did not migrate straight from their countries, but rather migrated to Russia around 1800s and then emigrated or were deported from Russia to Kazakhstan in the 1900s as a result of the Soviet Union era.
I was greeted at the Almaty airport by my brother and dad who then led me to a “taxi” which was an ordinary car with a guy sitting in front with his girlfriend. I learnt that it is quite common, that when you are looking for a taxi, you stick out your hand and wait for any resident to stop. You state your destination, haggle, and get into the car. It’s sort of a way for the locals to make money, and for the foreigner to get a good price. I get the impression that is is really common, and not dangerous.
This is probably one of the most organised and cleanest markets I’ve ever seen. There are sections allocated to each type of food, so a section is allocated to dried fruit and nuts, another to fresh fruit and vegetables, and another to butchers selling meat. Each section has rows and rows of vendors selling similar items.
This was also where I experience Kazakh hospitality (or maybe sales, aha) for the first time.
I approached one of the dried fruit and nut vendors, and he was quick to pass me on samples of pistachios, almonds, dried apricots, etc. He amused me by going “OoozbekistAaaan” pointing to the pistachios from Uzbek, and going “KItai” pointing to the pistachios from China over and over again. After weighing the pistachios I wanted, I was keen on paying and moving on. But no, he would not let me. He kept handing out samples to my entire family. When I shook my head, he‘d look very very angrily at us and extend his arm again and look terribly offended. How could I refuse? He then invited me behind the counter to take a picture with him. By that time, we had already caused a scene in the market and had every vendor watching us.
Medeu, Shimbulak, Big Almaty Lake
On Sunday, Reuben’s colleague was kind enough to drive us up to the mountains. Roman is a local and took us to Medeu and Shimbulak, areas known for the winter sports and ski resorts in. We then proceeded to the Big Almaty Lake, a mountain lake surrounded from all sides by the majestic mountains. The lake was still half frozen, although the temperature was mild enough for me to wear shorts. Amazing scenery..It was also really nice having him around to translate certain things for us and tell us more about the history of Almaty.
We’re off to south west of Kazakhstan tomorrow to the Aksu-Zhabagly nature reserve for the next 4 days…
By the way, at 8:31am today I felt a very deep rumble around me. I shouted to my brother, was that an earthquake?! Yes it was. It wasn’t very strong, and mom and dad actually missed it. Turns out it a 5.4 magnitude earthquake had hit the southeast of Kazakhstan, about 77km from Almaty. Just read the news, and there has been a total of 5 tremors today! No casualties have been reported.