Kyrgyzstan Languages Travel

Day 1 in Kyrgyzstan

2. July 2016

To be honest, I do not know if it is really still day 1 of our journey to Kyrgyzstan. After all those flights with changing planes and time zones (Central Europe, Turkey, Central Asia) I am totally confused and would not be able to tell what day and time it is at my home place Bern in Switzerland. Sometimes, we were flying for four hours, but landed 8 hours past departing time because we travelled to the east, “towards the sun”. Or put like this: You can not watch as many movies on such a flight as you planned (namely only 2 instead of 4).

What else have I learned on this trip so far? The following:

  1. Although we felt well prepared, we were ripped off by a cab driver. At least a bit. We really tried not to pay too much. But then … ah, just go on:
    When we arrived at the airport of Bishkek (IATA code FRU because of the city’s former name, Frunse), there was immediately a guy who offered to bring us to the city center. Actually, that was exactly what we were looking for. But not at his price: 30 US Dollar was far too much.
    What we had read in our guidebooks, a prize between 10 and 15 Dollar would be acceptable. If there is luggage involved or the destination would be far in Bishkek’s south (the airport is outside the city, in the North) there might be additional costs.
    So we rejected the guy hoping he would come back with another offer. Which he did: instead of 30 Dollar he asked us for 2000 Som (the Kyrgyzian curreny).
    Very funny. If you know the exchange rate between US Dollar/Euro/Swiss Franc (which are more or less the same of value) and Kyrgyzstan’s Som is about 1:70 (so far, we haven’t got to know the official exchange rate which is also seems to be changing a lot) then you realize that 2000 Som and 30 Dollar are more or less the same.
    So: thanks, but no thanks.
    Finally, he asked us how much we would like to spend. We offered him 20 US Dollar (as we did not know how far in the South of Bishkek our Hotel would be and we did not want to be the Europeans to rip off the Kyrgyzian guy). Shortly after that, we sat in a car with a taxi sign on top, showed the address and a dot on a map to our driver and off we go.
    But, you know – addresses in foreign countries are always a bit of a game of chance. We could show our hotel’s address only in Latin letters which the taxi driver was unable to read, and the dot on the map in our smartphone was more or less an “approximation”. We realized that when we “arrived” at the place after a 40 minutes drive but there was no hotel at all.
    Lucky by chance (and facing the fact that I had booked a Swisscom 50 Megabyte data package for “World 2” – this is where Kyrgyzstan is) made us find the hotel a bit more precisely on the map, so 5 minutes later we arrived at the right place. That was at least what some pedestrians said who were interviewed by our cab driver. To us, this place did not look like a hotel at all but like a run-down apartment building. Doesn’t matter, life will go on.
    The taxi driver helped us unloading our backpacks and I wanted to hand him a wonderful, new and fresh 20 Dollars bill. But he refused. He wanted to be paid in Kyrgyzsian Som. On his calculator he wrote the number 1.500 which was acceptable as it is about 20 Dollar.
    Fortunately, at the airport of Bishkek, I had already exchanged some foreign money to local currency Som (and as far as we know we were not ripped off that time), so I gave two 1000 Som bills to the driver hoping to get back 500 Som in smaller bills. The guidebooks are suggesting to have small bills with you as not many people can give change to high amount bills. And as I had received only few small bills at the exchange office in the airport I thought this might be a chance to get some change from the cab driver.
    But the driver did not get his part in the game. He took the 2.000 Som and turned to his car, making no move to give back some change. That is why I said: “Ehm, sorry, you know, I still get back some cash” (which is Kyrgizian for “I don’t think your behaviour is correct and I protest against it”). The driver answered with some waving his hands and a few words which should tell me that he had to went up and down the streets several times becaue of us.
    Sorry, it is not really my fault that you can not read tourists’ addresses and actually don’t know where you are going to. So now we should tip you as we did some part of your work? I took the two bills from his hand which made him take out his wallet and show me that he has no 500 Som to give back. He counted the 250 Som he had available and gave them to  me. So finally, we had paid 1.750 Som which is like 25 US Dollar. Definitely not the best prize, but on the other hand there is a very small frontier between “I got totally ripped off” and “Actually, it is not that I could not afford this and I can rememberthis as a ‘very generous tip’.”
    Kyrgyzstan – Tourists: 1:0

    Speaking of arriving at an airport: getting your visa and entering the country really only takes some minutes. But the decision if you leave the airport using the green lane for “Nothing to declare” or the red one “I might have to declare some things” is not made by the travellers …

    … but by this nice guy who will lead you with a non-misunderstandable gesture of his hands. Doing so, he seems to prefer sending “Western” tourists to the left onto the green lane while travelling Asians are guided to the red lane to enjoy the full-service customs checks. This world is full of prejudices.

  2. Speaking of hotels: We are accommodated in Russian block of flats from the Soviet era. It is one of those run-down houses. Maybe I haven’t read the description on booking.com not very carefully, but calling this thing a “hotel” might be called a misleading advertisement. On the other hand, at least they have a reception desk (in the 8th floor).
    Also, I have to admit: Yes, at first, I was in fear of entering this building (you never know which Russian gang has barricaded themself in here living from human trafficking and dealing with guns). But in the meantime, I learnt to love this place. I eman, where could I stay more authentic??

    Remember the taxi driver who dropped us more or less somewhere out into nowhere? In a not so cosy area? At a house with not any sign saying “hotel” or something similiar? That was hereIf I had taken a closer look at the pictures on booking.com I could have known I was at the right place.

    And no matter what this house looks like – there is nothing bad you could say about the showers! Every traveller knows that showers in different countries and accommodations can have variable surprises. Sometimes you just don’t get which lever to turn into which direction to get hot or cold water; the water in some showers comes with almost no pressure; or there are only 5 liters of warm water and you can get this only between 07h00 and 07h15. But here, everything is obvious and there is always floating hot water. To me, this is already a lot of luxury.

  3. Somehow, to us, Bishkek is too Russian. We expected more Asian architecture instead of brutal block of flats from the times of Soviet Union. Even our plan to use Turkish language to communicate with the locals, because Turkish und Kyrgyz language have many words in common, faded to dust. There are too little corresponding words: besides the numbers only a few more terms. Not more. We are living here more or less deaf und dumb.
    And finally … friendly Asian faces that talk to us in Russian have something of a nightmare.
  4. Speaking of Asians: There is a stereotype that says that all Asians (East Asians that is) do look the same. I never could confirm that as long as I was in Europe: All my friends there having “Asian faces” are clearly distinguishable.
    But here in Bishkek, things are different. Me and my son who is travelling with me, we believe to recognize our taxi driver who brought us from the airport to our hotel in every second man we see. This is a bit scary, but real. Maybe this is the beginning of a real clone army.

    E.g. we are convinced that this guy on a cover of a magazine was also our cab driver from the airport to our hotel. No doubt. Maybe in this magazine he is talking about “1000 tricks to rip off tourists in a nice and elegant way”.

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