I like walking. I like to walk to work, to the shops, I like to walk around the place I live in.
Unfortunately, my apartment is nearly 6km from where I work, so unless I set off from my house at 5.30 every morning, I decided this was not going to be an option in Astana, particularly when it is -40°C and the snow reaches my knees (there was one time I remember, in Russia when I attempted it and I ended up swimming through the snow and almost drowned).
Luckily, work provides transport to take the staff to and from work. Alas, as we are first on the pick up route and therefore last on the drop off, I managed to miss it nearly everyday and decided that I was going to have to find an alternative.
First, I decided to check out the buses. In the main cities of the UK it is all quite simple as there are electronic signs which say the name and number of the bus and its expected time. There are large maps and timetable on nearly all bus stops (in the places I have lived in anyway). It is not quite the same in Astana, a capital city.
Although the buses in the city are all new and white, there are no timetables at the bus stops and no signs to show which buses use them.
On the side of each bus there is a number and a brief description of where it goes, but for those new to the city and non-Kazakh speakers that is of a little use. It is necessary to ask the conductor every time and they often don’t seem to know or say yes, leading you to discover that the bus does go there but it also goes around the whole city beforehand!
As cars are mainly for the rich, buses get very congested and there is little room to breathe on them at “Chas Pik” (rush hour).
To pay the conductor money is passed over the heads of the other passengers. It is better than in Almaty though. The buses there date back to Soviet times, many from East Germany still with the graffiti and adverts of the era. The bus drivers take little seriously and are often on their mobiles, having a cigarette and chatting to friends – all at the same time. Music is once more pumping out of the sound system and the whole experience can be quite scary.
Seeing as most people seemed to use the bus, we thought that this would be a possible way of getting to school. We eventually discovered that one bus past our workplace but, as it turned out, only going in one direction!
I then thought about buying a car but a cheap second hand 1980s saloon would cost around 5000 USD plus insurance, tax and although petrol is a quarter of the price of the UK, I don’t quite have those funds to spend on a car that would more than likely break down the next day.
The final option (as there is no underground in Astana as yet) was a taxi. In order to get around in Kazakhstan it is possible to get a so called “gypsy cab”.
This involves sticking your arm out on the side of the street, a car stopping and negotiating with a price with the driver to take you to where you wish to go.
This is how we got to school on a number of occasions but it runs the risk of the driver not knowing where he is going or charging double or triple the price he should. Apart from that, further danger seems to be the lack of seatbelts and the condition of the cars – windscreens are often a spider web of cracks and the selection of noises emanating from below the cars are hard to ignore.
To save us from this, my assistant gave me a number for a legitimate taxi firm, and I managed to organise a car to take us and pick my flatmate and I up from school every day for £6.