I’m so relieved that I booked myself a nice hotel in Bishkek after the journey that I had today. I’m staying in the Hotel Holiday, which is a nice hotel very close to the main shopping areas, and compared to some places I’ve stayed it’s complete luxury!
Today started with me saying my goodbyes to the group and the leaders before completing the necessary paperwork to sign myself off of the trip. It feels sad to be saying goodbye to some of them, although I’ll be glad to see the back of others, but leaving the trip and coming back early is something that I just have to do. I have seen everything that I wanted to see in the country so I have no regrets and in fact I think I would have been filled regret had I not decided to leave early.
I stuck around long enough to see the group leave and make their way to the hot springs resort, today’s destination had I remained with the trip, before collecting my belongings from the room and asking the hotel to arrange for a taxi to take me to the bus station. In the grand scheme of things the bus station wasn’t too far away, about a 20 minute walk, but it was hot, I was pressed for time and had a lot to carry so a taxi was the best option. When I arrived at the bus station there was already a bus loading passengers for the journey to Bishkek, although as buses only leave when they are full, it was about 40 minutes before we finally set off which was plenty of time to buy a ticket and supplies from the shop.
People who are used to a western, timetabled, public transport system would have to use their immagination in order to see the vehicle that took me to Bishkek as a bus. In Kyrgyzstan there are three methods available for people to travel around the country by public transport. The first is the local version of National Express / Greyhound which sticks to a vague timetable in large coaches which usually travel between cities overnight. They are safe, and fairly cheap, but the timings didn’t work out for me. At the other end of the scale is the second option – a shared taxi. In every village, town and city in Kyrgyzstan shared taxis follow set routes and will speed to their desination as soon as they are full. They are incredibly cheap, and you never normally have to wait long for one to leave as long as you are going to a large town or city, but they can be unsafe. I decided to go for the middle option – local buses calls Marshrutkas. These are a fleet of minubuses that follow set routes, have a price in the mid-range (although cheap by western standards), and are generally the preferred option for locals and tourists.
My particular vehicle was a 19-seater minibus that they somehow fit 21 people in before picking up more at the side of the road, had no leg room, no seat belts, was too hot, had a driver that didn’t know how to stick to a lane and which had two large cracks in the windscreen but it was cheap (I paid $5 for a 6 hour journey), reliable and got me there in one piece while showing me some sort of Russian movie on an overhead screen until it broke. I can’t ask for more than that, all things considered, but the journey definitely felt like an adventure. The route skirted the Kazakhstan border, at times being only metres away from the border fence, before making its way into Bishkek and dropping people at their destination.
About half way through the journey we stopped at a rest area so that people could stretch their legs, buy lunch, use the toilets etc. An announcement was made in Russian or Kyrgyz saying when we would be leaving but I didn’t understand it so stayed fairly close to the vehicle and made a few phone calls instead of getting lunch. I seem to believe we were there for about 20 minutes but the length of time probably depends on the time of day, how the driver is feeling and whether there have been any traffic delays.
Begaim told me that there would be a stop at the end of the road containing my hotel, and she wrote the name of the stop in the local alphabet, but I decided to just go all the way to the main bus terminal and get a taxi as it would be easier. The taxi driver got lost a few times but I eventually arrived at the hotel in the mid afternoon which left me plenty of time to explore the city.
I spent a few hours walking around the city taking in the sights before having dinner at a local Italian restaurant. I had planned to sample some good food at one of the local restaurants but all of the ones my guidebook recommended had all closed, or were full, but by the time I found the Italian restaurant my feet were hurting and I was exhausted so didn’t want to do any more walking. Bishkek looks a nice city and I wish I had one more day here, or was able to explore the city for longer, but I have a really early flight in the morning so couldn’t stay out too late.
I’m back in the hotel now and have some repacking to do before my flight back to London. I’m flying Aeroflot – wish me luck!