Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Crossing the River Bureaucracy, By Tom Unkles (Border crossing Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan)

It was a warm August morn as we departed Almaty. We symbolically waved away the beautiful city of fun and friends, handing back our keys to our stunningly gold toothed landlady, Laauurra. A two and a half hour highland drive took us to the Kyrgyz border where the honour befell me to undertake the crossing.

Greeting us at the border in traditional and true soviet fashion was a forty minute queue. Slowly negotiating our way through, we arrived at the imposing gates to be split up in an imposing fashion by an imposing guard. "It's just me and Trev from here" is something I probably would say if I believed I was in a movie. Sadly though, I wasn't, so I continued to wait another half an hour for the imposing guard to open the gates. At long last however, a ray of sunshine shone into my dreary wait as the guard wrestled open the gates of fortune; with a roar (no scratch that) with a thunkedy-clunk, the surrounding Ladas and Japanese insurance write-offs rose to life and a mad twenty metre rally began as we sped through the gates to join queue number two.

Well, I did join queue number two. But I was promptly redirected to park. Somewhere else. To commence the exit paperwork procedures. Departing trusty Trev I then engaged several military fatigued border guards who pointed me in the several opposing directions I was supposed to take my paperwork. In frustration I entered the customs office building and was directed by an English speaking guard to take my paperwork into an office. After much deliberation as to whose responsibility it was to take care of the paperwork it was decided that the English-ish speaking Guard should do it. "Fiiill iin zis forrrm and zis one. Aaand zis one. Aaaand signnn heer." She continued for twenty minutes, directing me through the now familiar Russian forms. Thankfully with the hope of avoiding excess work for both of us she asked me to sign paperwork as both myself and Benjamin Andrew Crowley (who had stamped the car into Kazakhstan,) omitting any difference in our persons. Finally, we signed off our last form and she let me know the next step:

Guard: "Take three photocopies of this form to the outside window."

Me: "Sorry?"

Guard: "Take three photocopies of this form to the outside window."

Ok. As expected they did not have a photocopier I could use, but a friend/relative/shopkeeper/partner-in-crime based just back inside the Kazakh border town would be more than happy to oblige for a more than unreasonable price. A great scam really, but it could've been improved with some signage for the Copy Shop. Forty minutes later I returned, copies in hand, slightly indignant that a border guard was collecting the day’s takings from the shop as I walked in.

As instructed I move Trev up to the queue and as the usual kerfuffle ensues it is decided I should park again and move through immigration. As directed I move through a suspiciously efficient queue and a border matron stamped me out. Back to Trev.

Ok now things are moving. The various guards point me in the usual opposing directions but I find my window easily enough. Presenting passport I am told: "Niet. You make mistake." Commence ten minute staring competition and eventually I am enlightened with the knowledge that he himself should have stamped me out of Kazakhstan, and that I now will be stamped out of Kazakhstan twice. Ok. He is now prepared to look at my car paperwork. Commence staring competition number two. As victor I am rewarded with more paperwork and a third staring competition. Finally, I'm allowed to get Trev, just in time to arrive at the very back of the next queue.

Bizarrely, imposing guard #1 has little interest in searching Trev as all other cars have been. Our collection of State secrets remains intact... He is however, interested in our missing document. Back to staring guard. This time it was his mistake and he hands over a small piece of paper with a scribble on it. My key to exit Kazakhstan apparently as it's checked five times as I cross into Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan! And a surprisingly efficient entry. As I drove past the others who have now been waiting for over two hours, I'm pulled up by the first mean looking guard. Usual salutes and an unmistakable play for a few dollars is cut short as a young off duty guard runs over to demonstrate his best kangaroo impression. Pretty good really! Even better he has alerted the guard to the fact that we're Australian (and not American); the on-duty guard waves us through with a handshake.

From here the rest of the crossing is pretty standard. Forms, forms, forms and the usual ratio of four border officials watching  TV to every one official working. Short straw system I guess! Trev is stamped through in about half an hour, the crew are collected and very happy to be out of no-man’s land as we roll on to Bishkek.

Crossing from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan. Two and a half stars!

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