|Due to the problems with getting the Chinese visas we are effectively now stuck in Bishkek. We have decided to go from here straight to Mongolia, however the only way of doing this is to fly from Almaty in Kazakhstan. To do this requires us getting a 3 day transit visa for Kazakhstan – not as easy as it would first appear.
We turned up at the Kazakhstan Embassy on Thursday morning just before 9am when the doors were due to open. At 9.30am they finally opened and there was a huge rush to get in the doors – certainly no queuing system here, in fact it was more like a rugby scrum. Even though we were forewarned and managed to get quite near the entrance doors when they opened (ignoring the screaming Russian women shouting at us about pushing in), it still took us 1.5 hours to get in, where we were promptly given a form and told to come back 3 days later! The funny thing was that then you had to fight your way back through the same entrance with people elbowing and jockeying for position coming the other way – simply crazy and certainly not British!
Anyway 3 days later we returned and started the bun fight all over again. If it was England there would have been fights breaking out all the time, but here it is just accepted that you can elbow and push and pull to get good position. Overall we were actually quite good at this and were really proud of ourselves beating the majority of the queue, although Heidi’s boobs are a bit squashed now!
Whilst waiting for our visas etc we decided to take a side trip to Ala-Archa National Park (see next entry). Heidi has also made me sample the delights of shopping in Kyrgyzstan, I think I have now visited most shops in the city. They are famous for felt here and there are some very nice souvenirs to be had.
Whilst in Bishkek we are staying in a backpackers hostel. Cheap accommodation is hard to find in the city and so all the backpackers in the area seem to be staying here. It is basically a bungalow in a residential area where the owners (very enterprisingly) have built some dorm rooms and constructed a couple of Yurts in their garden as well as converting one of the bedrooms into a dorm. All in all there are at least 20-30 people staying here – its cheap but the only problem is there is 1 toilet and 1 shower! Furthermore our dorm was right outside the main social area so it has been a bit noisy, but nothing that a few beers and a couple of vodkas doesn’t sort out! It is so popular here we have had to move out for a couple of nights as another overland truck turned up and took up all the beds, so we are now on the back of the truck (which is free but it is like a sauna in the morning).
Overall there’s not much to Bishkek. The main square is called Ala-Too which is just a sea of concrete (it used to be called Lenin Square). The town itself is just one large grid system and is quite spread out but does offer great views of the mountains to the rear. To get around we have been using the local bus system (basically ford transit vans), which they cram people into so much that sometimes it is difficult to shut the door. Other than that we have just been eating plenty of Shashlyk although we have also found a great Chinese restaurant that serves the biggest portions ever (I suppose this is the closest we are going to get to China)! and have also frequented Fatboys a few times (a local ex-pat hangout) which serves up good quality (if small portions) of western food (including bacon!).
Anyway now we are just going to have to sit around for a while with the rest of the travellers here and wait for our onward visas. This really is probably one of the hardest places in the world to get out of. Every neighbouring country requires a visa and they dont make it easy to get one! Now where's the bar................