Almaty is surrounded by amazing nature and an excess of national parks on every side. We didn’t manage to explore as much as we should, but what we did was captivating in very different ways. To give you an idea of how different the scenery in one small area of Kazakhstan can be, I’ve written about two trips outside Almaty that we did in our time there, one to the east and one to the west.
Waking up in Almaty is a dream. It’s quiet on the broad morning streets covered green with dancing leaves whispering in the summer breeze. We’re staying downtown, but here that term doesn’t evoke a repetition of towering concrete. Instead, Almaty wanders out in a series of low-lying buildings and crosshatched square boulevards. Parks fill almost every third block, many adorned with busts of soviet leaders, and almost all pouring over with gardens full of roses every shade of the sunset. In the mornings on weekends and when the afternoon begins to slow into night, people fill the grass and the benches: families having picnics, young mothers huddled in knitting classes, pre-teens swimming in the fountains, and bashful couples intertwined on soft-lit park benches. The days last long and move slow.
We tried to cross the border from China into Kazakhstan at Korghos; it didn't work out at all like we thought it would. To explain why and to explain for other travellers, this post will be in two sections: our story, and suggestions from our experience. It may be a bit more logistical than our other posts, but hopefully it can help those of you who will try something like this in the future –and at least entertain those who wont.
This post is a bit long. For those who don’t want to read the full story, in essence the experience goes like this:
We get denied at the border; we are told its impossible to get the bikes out of China; we have a miserable couple days where we spend the whole day talking to border officials; we think the trip might have to change completely and come up with a bunch of other plans; we are sad; we get a phone call randomly one morning and then ??? we can leave.
I promise it’s more interesting than just that, so I’ll try to explain as best as I can.
photos, words and illustrations
©Nathaniel Brown and Jieming Sun, 2015