Of course leaving the city wasn’t as easy as… wait, nothing had been easy during my stay in Almaty, so there is nothing really for me to compare it to. However, no previous experiences had involved early morning trysts, inhaling strangers’ sock odors, and ducking flying fists.
Flights leave and arrive in Almaty at somewhat unconventional hours. I thus wandered about the sanatorium corridors, trying to evade the wrath of the matrons seated at each junction, meeting equally forlorn colleagues at regular intervals along my desolate way.This game of silent hide-and-seek lasted until 1 AM when a white unmarked van pulled up to the imposing front steps and we were whisked off to Almaty International Airport.
At Almaty International Airport, we managed to pass through the airline’s check-in system without much trouble; our carry-ons were scanned, the important white pieces of paper we had been given upon entry were taken away by sullen customs officers, who gave us the last Soviet-era glares (given this time someone actually had a reason – it was 3 AM), and we proceeded to the waiting area where we were to spend the next two hours.
In extreme discomfort, as it happened, because everywhere a weary traveler could have sat down, there was an inert body clothed in black. I don’t know why Almaty is not even listed in the ultimate guide to airport sleeping; that seemed to be the central activity of everybody present. And I don’t mean nodding-off-in-your-seat-with-your-feet-firmly-planted-on-your-carryon sleeping; I mean taking-off-your-shoes-and-lying-across-four-adjacent-seats-while-your-snoring-is-only-somewhat-muffled-by-your-ski-mask-and-your-foot-odor-is-not-at-all-muffled-by-your-socks sleeping.
We thus resigned ourselves to sitting on the cold floor right between the gift shop and the bathroom, as that was the only sliver of unoccupied space, and took to solitary reflections on why people would arrive at the airport hours before their flight only to camp out in the waiting area.
The mystery was soon solved; about an hour into our wait, a counter was opened up by the departure gate to Bishkent. The sleeping cocoons let out butterflies (well, more like murky moths) who flitted (ran) to the counter. Young men jostled wrinkled, handkerchiefed ladies, who protested that there own grandchildren would never behave so rudely, and really, where was the respect of the younger generation? (Some messages sound the same in all languages).
The airline employee was soon surrounded by a clamoring group, and she yelled out last names – the owners of the names would materialize in the shape of a hand desperately grabbing at a boarding pass she waved around. It was even worse then the garter toss at some weddings (yes, I’m not kidding! That violent!)
I would love to know what exactly was going on that day at 4 AM, and whether the standard boarding procedure for travel between Central Asian countries really is on a first-come, first-served basis. If you don’t grab your boarding pass in time, what happens? You have to spend another night at the airport?
I’ve googled around for answers, but haven’t found any. Maybe an experienced travel in the region will enlighten me, someday.
Meanwhile, all I can say is I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to witness a Frankfurt airport sunrise.