Medeo & Shymbulak, Kazakhstan

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of Kazakhstan  ,
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

There was much to occupy me in the city but the Alatau Shan mountains were beckoning me on my second day in Almaty, so I bought a few maps and planned out an aggressive loop trek that would take me over two passes, recognizing I might have to modify my plans if it was too long to complete in a day.  While Almaty is around 3,000 feet the peaks in view reach over 15,000 feet creating a backdrop similar to Denver's but with a significantly greater elevation difference.  I took the city bus to Medeo, home of the world's largest ice skating rink and then hoofed it a few miles uphill along the road to Shymbulak, Kazakhstan's largest ski resort and the future location of the 2014 Olympic downhill skiing events if Almaty had been awarded the games.  Shymbulak, though, is a only small village of new vacation villas and small hotels, the resort's facilities all quite basic, and the five or so ski lifts all slow two-seaters.  It was a long slog up alongside the ski slopes to the top at Talgursku pass, the separation between two valleys at around 10,600 feet with 15,000 foot glaciated peaks all around.  I enjoyed the spectacular views in all directions from snowfield at the top but then descended quickly, abandoning my plans for the loop hike because of time constraints.

I stopped for a beer at a restaurant at the base lodge and also ordered a couple of my favorite Kazakh snacks - Kazy (horsemeat salami) and a horsemeat shashlyk.  Although there seems to be some kind of taboo about eating horse in America, I find it to be one of the finest meats and usually seek when traveling in out in places like Quebec, France, Belgium, and now Kazakhstan where it's considered a delicacy.  Yumm!

I suppose I must have looked especially pathetic as I was shuffling back down along the road after my long hike and 5,000 foot ascent because about 45 minutes or so from the bus stop at Medeo a big Sportage SUV heading my way stopped and backed up towards me.  "Gorod?" (city?), the middle-aged Russian man asked me.  I responded with a big "Da!", and he motioned for me to hop in.  Language limited conversation between us during the roughly 30-minute ride back to Almaty, but I did gather that he saw me hiking at the ski area, that he worked there and drove the snowcat at the resort in winter, and that his named was Boris.  Driving a snowcat must be a really good job in Kazakhstan because Boris commutes in a pretty plush piece of equipment.  Talk about service - Boris dropped me off right in front of my hotel.

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