Almaty has got to be just about the pleasantest city we’ve been through this summer. Set on the edge of the vast steppe at the foot of the Tian Shan mountains, this town is very Russian (lots were moved here during the USSR, and never left), very laid-back (a Kazakh characteristic, I’m told), and pretty darn upscale (this country’s got oil, tons of it, and the fancy shopping malls to go with it).
But what’s also great about Almaty is that we have friends here: two of my classmates in our little IR program back in Hangzhou are Kazakhs from this area. It’s been great to see them, here on their home turf. And for the first time for us in former-USSR Central Asia, we’ve felt like we actually had a little bit of an ‘in’ to what’s going on. Now pass the horse meat, please.
One thing to note about Almaty: they have the world’s best “ride-share” program going on here. Due to whatever bureaucratic red tape, regulations or laws, there aren’t nearly enough cabs to meet demand. I mean, you hardly ever see a cab out anywhere. So in their place, everybody just sells rides. Really, just about everybody. You walk to the side of the road, throw out your hand, and within five seconds you’ve got some guy going to the mall or a mom out doing errands stopping and asking where you’re going. If it’s reasonable for them to bring you there, the two of you quickly negotiate a price (cheap!) and then off you go. Fewer cars on the road, more people in them, and lots of people (briefly) meeting new people all over town every day. Since we never got mugged, kidnapped, or even slightly weirded out, I’ll just go ahead and say it’s a fantastic system.
Most of the pictures below were taken on a hike we did on our second day in the mountains outside the city. Actually, they’re from the first half of the hike, before a swirl of angry clouds formed suddenly and sent us slip-sliding down the other side of the mountain to get away from the nearby lightning. It was exciting enough to make us wish we could have kept scurrying all the way back into nearby Kyrgyzstan. Alas, our visas were single-entry only, and it was getting near dinner time, so we hoofed it down an adjacent valley back to a road into town.
And with definitely no cabs out that far, thank goodness for the Almaty ride-share program!