I debated for a long time about my next move after Osh. With the advice and encouragement of Dennis, the physics wiz from the Netherlands, I decided to head to Almaty, located a few hours northeast of Bishkek in neighboring Kazakhstan.
Before the sun had a chance to rise over Osh, I was boarding a plane back to Bishkek (a $30 convenience, because I didn’t have to sit on a bus for 12 hours back to the capital). It was a small plane, operated by Bishkek Air, so small that they didn’t bother to fill out the boarding pass. I had no problems on this flight, though, and found it simple enough to get from the Bishkek airport to the Zapadnaya bus station.
The driver of the 380 minibus, which goes from the airport to downtown, asked the usual questions – who are you, why do you speak Russian, why are you in Kyrgyzstan, are you married? before jumping to a question I hadn’t heard for a while, even in Turkey: “Will you marry me?” I hadn’t experienced any street harassment in Kyrgyzstan, a welcome change from Alanya – where in the days leading up to my trip, I was frustrated and overwhelmed with interactions on the street. It’s such an awkward question to deal with. I’ve read feminist arguments denouncing the “I have a boyfriend” approach to deflecting attention, so I instead went with “No thanks, I’m leaving the country.” It seemed to work, and he left me alone for the rest of the ride.
Buses work like this: there’s no set time of departure, they just leave whenever they’re full. I had the misfortune of getting to the bus station just after a full bus pulled away; and so I had to wait an hour and a half for enough interested passengers to show up. Armed with my 400 som bus ticket, a loaf of bread, and two bananas, I waited in the front seat listening to Beyonce. Finally, we set out for Almaty.
It was a short ride to the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border, and I was very nervous about crossing. I made friends with a woman sitting next to me on the bus; she became my border-crossing guardian angel, of sorts. She told me she works in Almaty, but her family lives in Bishkek, and so she makes the trip all the time. She showed me how to fill out the registration documents and waited for me patiently on the other side (it took a while for the border guard to flip through all my visas, ask me where my Kazakh visa was – which I didn’t need – and ask me about my business in Almaty).
I slept most of the way from the border to Almaty, but took a few photographs of the steppe in the moments I managed to keep my eyes open.
Finally, we reached the Almaty bus station. After refusing to take a taxi (he wanted 2000 tenge, a whole 12 dollars!), I stubbornly walked for forty-five minutes to my hostel. In the time it took to find the guest house, it became cold enough for the rain to become snow.