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05 Sep, 2009

Almaty: Part One

Posted by: Scott In: The Rally

We slept in on Monday and set off about the city in the early afternoon. We needed to develop a plan of action–we were running out of money and time. We needed to find a way to get to Ulaanbaatar soon. I figured that our best option from here would be to take a train to Russia and then hitch a ride on the Trans-Siberian Express towards Irkutsk and then south to Mongolia. It would take a bit of time, and wouldn’t be inexpensive, but it seemed like a good way to see the scenery in a similar way to what we had hoped to do (and it was less of a cop-out than flying). The problem was that our Russian visas, which still had an additional unused entry on them, expired in two days. We had to head to the Russian Consulate, on the other side of town, to extend our visas.

We get to the consulate at around 12:30 to find that they were closed for lunch. Not a big surprise there, seemed to be a running joke on us for everything to be closed whenever we show up…especially Russian Embassies. Visa applications would be accepted starting from 3:00. We decided to head to a brewery that happened to be located an easy twenty-minute walk from where we were (Ultra’s). Along with some decent sushi, we had some of the best beer since Europe for lunch. The service wasn’t great and the prices were high, but it definitely some good beer. We walked back to the embassy and talked to the guy inside who informed us that we could not extend the life of our current visas–we would have to purchase new ones. We’d need to get our forms filled out, passport pictures taken, passport and visa copies made, and any tickets purchased before applying for a visa. Once we got all of that done we could come back and he would give us the visa on the same day for the low, low price of $250 each (just to travel on a train through Russia for a few days!). So we could get all of that done the same day and come back again tomorrow (Wednesday). Or not. The consul worker informed us that the absolute earliest we could come back would be Friday morning–they were closed for the ext few days. Ahh, the strenuous work life of a Russian Embassy employee. So, it looked like we were being yet again delayed because of circumstances beyond our control.

The next stop was the train station all the way on the other side of town. We didn’t know the bus system so we decided to walk again–it was far. I go to the teller window and inquire about buying tickets from Almaty to Novosibirsk and then from there to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The earliest train that had available seats was leaving on September 5th, more than a week and a half away. That wouldn’t work. Novosibirsk to Mongolia? The earliest train out was on the 12th, so we’d have to stay a few days in Russia while waiting for the train. There were no more 2nd class compartment fares available, only 3rd class–with deluxe 64-bunk sleeping compartments. Who’d have thought that the trains would be totally booked?!

This presented some difficulties. We needed to get to Mongolia and get there soon. We were both running out of time and money–the death of our car had made things quite a bit more expensive than planned. Collin had to also get back home in time to start a new job so that he could repay the money he borrowed to participate in this trip. The train didn’t look doable–the earliest we’d get to Mongolia would be the 15th or so. We went outside to discuss our situation and collect our bearings. It looked like Collin might have no choice but to go home by himself while I continued on towards Mongolia alone. We decided to make a last-ditch effort and stop by a travel agency the next day to see what our options were.

That night we went to Cafe Coffeedelia to plunder its free wi-fi connection to update the blog/check travel options online. It turned out to be an expensive proposition though as the drinks that we ordered came out to a cool $10 a pop. We ordered four rounds. So much for conserving money! (At least they accepted credit cards though, unlike most establishments on our trip.)

Pictures have been posted in the gallery.

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