Sunday, August 8, 2010

Almaty Take 1: Where Petrol’s cheaper than water

If I may paraphrase a fellow cycle tourist, ‘Almaty is, in a word, expensive’. It is a city whose theme is grand buildings, green parks and water fountains. A cosmopolitan hub that seems out of place relative to the places we’ve cycled through to get here. Where oil money is fueling disposable incomes. Where mercs are the rule. Where gorgeous snow capped peaks are visible between tall man-made urban mountains. Where water isn’t the cheapest fluid going around.

Following a day or so in Alma-Ata, I felt I could live here. Not in the way you imagine yourself living as an expat and doing it gritty, albeit, temporarily in a developing city. No, I felt I could manage some actual Melbourne-esque comfortable city living. Yet by day 3 I was harbouring those niggling desires to be free of Almaty. Maybe it was the dirty dormitory that exploited us for $28/night while mastering the crisis accommodation atmosphere. Maybe it because we could only taste the westernized outer-shell and not get to the moreish underbelly this place must have. Maybe it was those amazing peaks of the Tien Shan beckoning us to play outside.

Maybe it was also because mobile reception was holding us captive. Planning out the logistics of applying for, organizing and conducting interviews on the steppe kept us tied to Almaty for several days (more on this in Ali’s coming blogs). Stockholm Syndrome would not be a problem. We took daily refuge at 4a Coffee, a little place, down a little alleyway that feels a little like Melbourne. Almaty’s position at the foot of a spur of the Tien Shan range means that is it all downhill to our morning long black. Downhill for the glacial river that races down the gutters, presumably fueling the countless fountains and downhill for those with a spare Surly lying around. 

It was while searching for a 4a ‘americano’ that we came across Dimi. The chunky schwalbe tyres, SPD cleats and light aluminium frame gave away his presence in the café. A group of his friends were perched over their respective bowls of caffeine while they discussed their approaching events. An MTB day trip into greater Medeu, a bike club meeting that night and a weekend overnight hike to a nearby glacier. 

After rudely interrupting proceedings and asking after the owner of the fine beast parked outside, we were soon invited to all three. Sadly, we were forced to decline the tempting offers on account of lacking suspension, Ali lacking a robust gastrointestinal tract and lacking the equipment to hike and camp without bikes…they get jealous.

But we were nonetheless lifted. Here was our glimpse of rugged, exciting Almaty. It played outdoors and it was about time we joined in on the game. Interviews would have to work around the canyons and gorges we were planning to pedal to….now if only mobile reception would be so flexible.

Cycling Summary
Around Almaty: 93km
Medeu and Back: 30km



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