It’s starting to snow less and less often which is a sign that I should be getting ready to leave Bishkek. I’m planning to meet some friends in Saint Petersburg in May which means that I need to get a Russian visa which isn’t realistically possible in Bishkek. (I’d need a statement from the Dutch government saying I don’t have a criminal record, which though true just seems like too much work, and forging a fake statement would be a little too heavy on irony). Luckily I can get a visa in Almaty. So I throw a few items of clothing in a day pack, head up to the border and sit down for a six-hour bus ride.
The consulate is only open two days a week, so I make sure I get there early with all the required documents and stand outside along with a dozen or so other people waiting to be called in in no discernible order. So I just sneak in behind a fellow tourist. The consular official is nice enough, but he explains it would take two weeks for me to get the visa, since it takes two weeks for Russians in Kazakhstan to get a visa for the Netherlands, which seems a bit petty, but all right. I tell him I don’t have enough things with me for a two week wait and I need to go back to Bishkek, collect my stuff and apply again in a few days.
A week later I’m back at the consulate. Unfortunately I’ve had to change my plans of hitchhiking a bit more through Kyrgyzstan, but I can travel around southern Kazakhstan a bit until my visa is ready. But the official says that due to World War Two commemorations it will now take me three weeks to get my visa, and gives me back my passport saying it’s better if I keep it with me, and then I can pick up the visa in a few weeks. I get a rare sensation of anger: if I’m allowed to keep my passport with me while waiting, why didn’t he mention this when I was there a week earlier? Still I don’t want to piss the guy off because I really need the visa so I just smile and say thank you.
I’ve been to Almaty a few times, and it’s not my favorite place. Unlike Bishkek I never figured out any good ways to pass the time. But I’ve met some Almaty-based fellow foreigners through the site Bewelcome in Bishkek and they invite me for a trip to the pilgrimage site of Turkistan and the ancient ruins of the once great cities of Sauran and Otrar (where Timur met his death).
Afterwards I spend some time in the cities of Shymkent and Taraz and though they’re not unpleasant places I feel traveling and doing touristic stuff is getting a a bit perfunctory. Maybe it’s because I feel like I’m just killing time or perhaps it’s that I haven’t started to hitchhike again which always adds another layer of spontaneity to my travel. I start to feel a bit better after wandering through the Victory Day celebrations in Almaty and picking up my visa. But I don’t want to lose time since I’m meeting my friends in a few weeks already. So I take public transport to Orenburg, a Russian city just on the other side of the northwestern border of Kazakhstan.