Monday, August 08, 2005

Tomsk to Almaty

Wow guys! Now that I am finally out of Russia I can start to think straight again.
Baikal was really nice. From there we went out west to Tomsk, just a little north-east of Novosibirsk. Tomsk is not on the trans-siberian railway so it is nice and quiet and doesn't see as many tourists as it should. It is a really nice place and we totally enjoyed our 2 1/2 days there. There are lots of colourful european-style buildings (and as it is a university town, pretty girls everywhere) mixed with old wooden houses that are falling apart. Some were sinking, some were burnt out, some had parts falling off but a few were being redone. It was good to just walk around and look at stuff. The people have been really friendly and helpful and quite surprised to see us as there aren't any tourists around. I think half the postal staff in Tomsk were trying to figure out what mom wanted when she tried to send some stuff home. Not many english speakers around. We've been really lucky because in Irkutsk we ran into the missionaries who then helped us out and got us train tickets. We got the phone # of the missionaries in Tomsk from them so we ended up calling them and going bowling (it was their P-day). Then we had them help us get the next set of train tickets. Good thing too because it's a bit of a nightmare out here with routings and everything being sold out. We ended up taking an overnight train due south to Barnaul in an attempt to get closer to Kazakhstan since all the international trains were booked for the next week at least. Arrived in Barnaul, no trains, so we crossed the street to the bus station and got the last 4 seats on a bus to Semey (aka Semepalatinsk) just across the border, leaving half an hour later. 10-11 hrs later we arrived, country #4. It was on this bus that we met Natasha. What can I say? She's great.....
Slept in town that night in a nice hotel (could only stay 12 hrs though). Checked out in the morning, met Natasha at the train station where she helped us to buy tickets to Almaty. Didn't really want to leave but the only train was 2 hrs later. Didn't have much of a choice. Couldn't quite convince Natasha to come with us to Almaty but she saw us off and on our way.
The 24hr train to Almaty was totally messed up. They should never have sold us tickets in the first place. The train was full. There's no other way to put it. We were in a 3rd class sleeper (open carriage, 54 beds, Jesse will remember this well). Anyway, there were no spots left. Somehow they got us 3 beds for 4 people so the girls had to share. I don't know how they managed but there were 2 uhh, rather large, ladies doing the same on the bed just below them too. There were a bunch of guys sleeping above the beds up in the storage area as well. We don't know what was going on but they were all very nice, helpful and so curious. I played cards with some kids (no idea what game but eventually I got the hang of it), mom was signing autographs in their books and Bre was doing what she does best, flirting with all the guys. It was fun but very, very rough.
Almost had my camera and mp3 player stolen while I was sleeping too. I was alone at the other end of the train car where nobody knew us. Damn that was close. I would've died without my camera. All's well though. The land out here is like the Gobi desert barren wasteland. No wonder all the Soviet nuke tests were done in the area near Semey...
Got to Almaty, took a taxi to an area with some hotels we had planned on going to. No sooner do we get out of the car than we've attracted a new helper. A 20 year old military officer that wanted to know who we were and practice his english. He followed us around for the entire day! As the first hotel was full he helped get us into another and then walked all over the city as we went sight-seeing and gathering info. Almaty is by far the most "normal" city we've been to on this trip. Doesn't feel like we've gone anywhere at all. Everything is organized, clean and new. Mountains to the south, mixed population and the streets are all tree-lined and green. Quite nice but expensive and not many tourists, if any. There are small casinos everywhere and everyone has at least a few gold teeth.
We'd like to stay longer and rest after all the movement of the last few days but we were kicked out of our hotel this morning (closed for renovations) and there is nowhere else cheap in town to stay. So we are currently sitting in an internet cafe killing time waiting for our express visas for Kyrgyzstan. We will then leave immediately for Bishkek or tomorrow morning at the latest. We intend to see a bit of Kyrgyzstan before heading back to China. We must be back in China before the 25th.
We are still having a good time, weather has been mostly hot (mid 30s) and sunny though we've had brief showers here and there. I can't believe we're out here....
Ammon

2 Comments:

At 9:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Guys!!
It was great to catch up on the Blog, and hear of the adventures, all of the writings paint so clearly a pictue. I remain insanely jealous of both your courage and the adventure itself. Each time I remain astonished at your adventures, and can't wait to hear more in person when you get back. Do you find that the cultures are different but the poeple underneath the same? Or is it so very different every place you go?

Ammon: ya shoulda bribed the hot looking chick to go with you, or got your Mom to vouche for you, ah well, it will give you something to dream about. Did you at least get her address? LOL

Magggie: I have this wicked overwhelming urge to describe cold crisp fuit and ice cold beverages... but I won't. Any idea on where you'll be around Christmas yet? Love you and hugs.

Savannah & Breanna - I love reading your slant on the adventures, they invariably paint a comic picture, and make me laugh. I love that you keep Ammon on his toes.

All of you thanks for sharing with the rest of us lurkers.
Big Bear Hugs - Shean

 
At 4:52 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bre stop flirting with strange foreigners! You know what, just stop flirting period.

Mom call me. I miss you guys. I might be going back to Iraq really soon..

Sky

 

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