Kazakhstan part 6 – checking out

Previous in this series:

Part 1 – Arrival

Part 2- Almaty

Part 3- Charyn

Part 4- Hiking and horses

Part 5-Altyn Emel


My trip to Kazakhstan was an overwhelmingly positive and life-enriching experience in many ways, one that opened up for me an interest in Central Asia that I hope to explore further in the future. That said, it wasn’t all sunshine and shubat. Kazakhstan gives the impression of being something of a police state, with police and military officials highly visible and plenty of checkpoints. Other travellers had told us stories of intimidation at the hands of bribe-hungry officers but we had largely managed to avoid getting into trouble, despite having our belongings looking over a couple of times when going to use public transport. Still, as if our experience of the local culture would not be complete without at least some officious harassment from the authorities, we ran afoul of the customs officials on our way out at the airport.

Because of my rockstar look and rare (Gibraltar) passport, I’m used to hassle at border checkpoints but I actually was waved though after a cursory inspection. I waited for my girlfriend to join me on the other side of the checkpoint, but it looked like she was being subject to a much longer inspection. The officer had taken her passport and left the booth, leaving a very worried and stressed Spanish girl across the border from me. Naturally, when it was noticed that I was waiting for her, my passport was also taken for another look over. The officer that had checked my girlfriend had a triumphant look in her eyes and a gloating smile, confident that she’d caught some kind of criminal – ‘fake passport!’ was the only communication in English that we could get out of her. Thankfully another customs officer with a nicer attitude and good English came over to play good cop and ask us some questions. She seemed particularly interested in whether we had visited any neighbouring countries, particularly Kyrgyzstan (we hadn’t been, but we’d heard it wasn’t so uncommon, but just as a tip to fellow travellers, this is something that the authorities apparently have a problem with). All the while a group of officers huddled around both our passports in one booth, apparently in discussion about this. Tense and nervous, we waited for nearly half an hour while they deliberated our fate. Luckily reason won out and we were handed our passports and told to get on our way, the original lady shooting daggers at us from her eyes. Suffice to say that the atmosphere in the departure lounge wasn’t super good for us for the remainder of our time in Kazakhstan.

We had a similar obstruction transferring through Borispol airport in Kiev. A flight delay had made us late for our connection and we were hurried through security to catch our plane. By the time we had arrived, there was no line at the gate, but after my passport was checked by the airline clerk, it was snatched from her by a brawny, ogrish looking man who proceeded to subject it to an intense, prolonged troglodytic squint as he incessantly flicked the photo page with his sausage-like digit. This person seemed to be unaffiliated with the airline and completely unresponsive to my protests, but the airline clerk, seeing me flip out within 3 minutes of missing my flight, placated him with an exasperated look before I ended up stranded in the Ukraine.

My girlfriend wrote to her consulate, and they confirmed that it was likely that the officials at Almaty were holding out for a bribe. How exactly we got out of that I’m not sure (we definitely don’t look flush with cash), but it’s something I’d caution other travellers to be wary of. Coming back was a stress, but it hasn’t been enough to discourage the possibility of more visits to Central Asia in my mind.





~ by theserpentscircle on July 6, 2016.

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