Camping in Medeu and Shymbulak mountains can be dangerous and is not advised by local authorities. many bandits are on the mountains and there is a few number of people that actually only live from this job: robbing people camping on the mountains alone. remember they rob local people also, so they will not blink their eyes on getting your stuff!
i went there alone and i was ok. but i knew the danger i was on. everythink went ok and i had no problems, but indeed this is a dangerous thing.
On the mountains after Medeu on the way to Shymbulak, Extremely cold water in medeu river can be found. i entered the river for the first time and i had to run for the first log i founf on the river. ahhhh so cold i could image where i was. the cold ice water just freezes your blood and you get this huge pain on your muscles all the way to your knees.
this is the cold water coming down the mountains. in the summer, a big part of the mountain snow melts and gives lives to many waterfalls and rivers.
Horses runing in Medeu are scary and can actually get you by suprise. no one warned me about the horses coming runing towards me so i really had to run to avoid being hit by them. all these horses are scared of the man coming with them on another horse, conducting them to a different place, so they just run and SAVE YOUR ASS cos they will not move!
these are the horses for horse riding on top of the hill in medeu after the olympic stadium.
Hidden spots in town can get tricky. avoid hidden places and small narrow streets far away from bigger streets. i didnt really took this advice in consideration as i walked everywhere in town without a problem, but, this doesnt mean i dont have knowledge of this problem and the probabilities of something like a robbery to happen. just feel confident, strong inside and go everywhere you think that in that exact momment feels ok and without a problem.
Taxi to Bishkek is one of the most common problems for tourist in the area. so you have some shared taxis that can take you fast and cheap to Kyrgistan's capital Bishkek. everybook says you should avoid this type of transportation. but still people do it without any responsability and care. The normal thing to happen is that somehow you get kidnapped and they ask for all your stuff either back home, or they just leave you somehwere far from civilization without papers, bags, money etc. i guess you should be happy to stay alive as some tourists also disapear.
another small story:
I was on Uzbekistan's embassy to get my visa where I met this American guy getting is uzbekistan visa for the second time the current month. why? he got a bishkek shared taxi and he was robbed and almost stabbed to death somewhere about 30km away from the city. he said he was cereful choosing a taxi with someone already inside not to go alone with the dirver but he forgot the chance of the driver having something to do with the other passanger. suddendly inside the taxi the other passanger pointed him a big knove and asked for all his money passport and important stuff. after a few minutes in panic and impotent feeling he saw this off road coming where nothing existed and he tought "...ok, now that they rob me they maybe will kill me and live my body somewhere wher people cant find it like this desertic place about 4 km off the national road..."
nothing happen to him and he was just left there alone witouth his belongings. this sucks i guess. sorry man, but you should avoid this taxis unless you go with more friends, up to a big number inside the taxi. even like this someone can be waiting for the driver along the road with some guns or with a larger number of people, enough to get your guys money and documents.
he got a new american provisory passport and needed new visas.
another solutino for this problem is to get a few more time and go to bishkek by bus.
Traffic in Almaty is one of the most difficult i have seen. not becuse of the large quanitity of cars that also exist in town but due to the lack of dirving skils vs respect from dirvers.
expect everything from NOT STOPING ON ZEBRAS, RED LIGHTS, PASSING BY YOU ON THE LEFT SIDE, NOT LETTING YOU PASS SIDE WALK TO SIDE WALK; DRIVING ON SIDEWALKS (also I have see this in Russia);
A small story:
My Italian friend Marco whom I met in Almaty one day was expecting for a friend somwhere near Dinamo Stadium while he saw a lady requesting for a taxi to stop. so far so good right? so the taxi stoped a bit further of the lady and even without looking he starting driving backwards to pick the lady a bit more closer since she had a couple of bags. the problem here was that the lady also didnt look and she was hit by the car bumper on her knee and he saw exactly that moment while the knee was broken, while the leg bended to the car, PLOCK!
so with this becareful when taxis come back to pick you up a bit closer. usually they dont look where they are going so they might as well just hit you instead.
Almaty was the city in the world where i saw more accidents per day. i actually counted them and i came up with an average number of 7 accidents I HAVE SEEN per day! not that i saw the exact moment of the accident but where i saw cars stoped due to crash.
As I was walking through the halls of the Museum of Musical Instruments, an old man suddenly came out to greet me. I was pleasantly surprised because he was really friendly, and even though we couldn't speak the same language, we managed to somehow communicate. He introduced the instruments to me, telling me where each instrument came from. And then he took out his dombra...
The dombra is one of Kazakhstan's traditional instruments. The man played many songs in different styles and languages. He wasn't a particularly good strummer, but his voice was loud and penetrating. After singing songs in Kazakh, Russian, Mongolian, Indian, and Chinese, he asked me if I liked it. I politely said "yes", and then he took out a cassette tape from his pocket with his songs on it!!!
I knew it! I tried to escape, but he cornered me into listening to his music. He offered his tape at 500 Tenge! This old man wasn't letting me go easily, and I didn't want to run into trouble. Somehow I managed to bring him down to 300 Tenge, and I bought the cheesy tape.
I walked out with a fake smile on my face, half thinking that the tape was blank. Luckily, I had a tape player on me and checked it out. The tape was legit, but the songs sucked.
I'll get you for this, old man!!!
I remember precariously trying to cross busy streets in Almaty. There are no zebra-painted crosswalks that I saw so be careful pedestrians don't have the RIGHT-OF-WAY!
Also some major intersections don't have traffic lights. I remember riding in my colleagues car trying to turn right without the aid of a traffic light, it was pretty crazy.
Never surrender your passport to any police on the streets of cities in Central Asia. Give them a copy or tell them it's in your hotel.
The problem is supposedly getting better across the region, but there are still people being forced to buy their passports back by paying a 'fine'.
Almaty is located at about 1000 meters above the sea level. And when you travel in mountains (even a one-day trip), altidutes may be as high as 3000 meters. There are two major consequences:
a) Intense UV radiation. In mountains always use sun-protecting cream and a hat. Especially in Summer: air in mountains may not be too hot, but the sun is insensibly frying you up.
b) Low average atmospheric pressure (about 690 mm). Hypertensive people must be aware of it and watch their health. Healthy people may also have some discomfort because of it during acclimatisation.
Because of frequent airport scamming, avoid using private taxi drivers (cars without taxi signs) and try to find a regular taxi although it may be a little more expensive. Be ready to pay for the trip from the airport between $10 and $20. You do not have to pay in dollars. When making reservation at a local hotel check if they can pick you up from the airport. Some more expensive hotels do it for free.
It is currently the regulation that any foreigner staying in any city for three days or more must have a 'Police Registration' stamp in their passport. It is possible to be stopped by the police and have your 'papers' checked at any time.
Hotels and other travel agents can have this done for you and it costs around US$10.
Personally, I leave my original passport in the safe at the hotel, and carry a photocopy of the main passport ID page on my person.
It is also a good idea to always carry a Business Card from your hotel on you, and possibly a card from your interpreter.
The airports in Kazakhstan are regarded as military property, and as such are very well guarded and secret. Do not attempt to take any photographs in or around the airport grounds. Many airforce planes and helicoptors are parked near the terminals. You will occasionally see people snap a family photo inside the waiting halls, but the guards are wary of this as well.
As everywhere, taxis are the problem. The official ones are rare, yellow and usually driven by a thuggish-looking Kazakh who, you can be sure, is well connected with various criminal elements in the city. Avoid them. It is easier, cheaper and safer to stick out your hand on any street. Within a few seconds, a car will have screamed to a halt. Don't get into any car with more than one person on board. When I was there, the standard/accepted amount to pay for a short journey (as a 'wealthy' foreigner) would be maybe 150 tenge (then, about US$2). For a very long journey to, say, the airport to the north, expect to pay a lot more, in 1997 at least 600 tenge. although I had the use of cars from the firm for which I worked, I often took 'wild' 'taxis', maybe 500 times in all. Out of these, I had about four or five --usually middle-aged, usually Kazakh rather than Russian-- drivers demand a bit more (not much. Only once did a fight ensue, the driver being a mad Kazakh who seemed mentally unbalanced. We had a scuffle in the car and he broke my sunglasses and nearly tore off my shirtsleeve, but he ended up with what I originally offered and I managed to get out with suit jacket and briefcase intact! The perfect end to a hard day at the office. It might have been worse, but I lived in the 'Military Settlement' area right next to the old KGB school, which is, by local standards, well patrolled. No one messes with the Almaty police.
The most common problem faced by visitors to Almaty is upset stomach/food poisoning. I never had a problem in a year of eating things which included chicken shashlik from stalls, prepared salads etc from the bazaar etc. But many do. Avoid meat shashlik, especially pork (common despite Kazakhstan having a high proportion of --notional-- Muslims). Other than that, hard to say, except that is is probably wiser to buy mineral water rather than drink from the tap water, quality of which varies in different parts of the city (because it comes from different parts of the mountains beyond in different pipes etc). Don't worry---you'll live!
The worst nuisance you are likely to encounter on any sort of regular basis is the presence of loud American groups, either 'students' from the KIMEP institute, or other expats. Many are OK individually, but in groups...well, think noisy/arrogant/ill-informed...better avoided, frankly. If you keep your vists to Pizza parlours to a minimum, you will not be bothered too much by them.
The landscape is fantastic. High snowcapped mountains and in summer meadows with many flowers all around you.
BUT: every beautiful view is occupied by enormous large advertising signs!