Dodgy, Dodgy, Dodgy exit from China

Trip Start Apr 26, 2012
Trip End Oct 31, 2012

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Flag of China  , Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu,
Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Well, I guess after over 40 hours of being enroute we didn't end up in bad a state when we exited Yining station at 8am. We had had English speakers in our carriage from both Kashgar to Urumqi and then Urumqi to Yining so we had had quite a pleasant time of it. Not only that our new best friend had written that we wanted to buy a bus ticket to Almaty in Chinese so we thought we had things sorted.

The taxi queue looked quite orderly so we jumped straight in…Bingo…rip-off alert…the meter isn’t running..How much to the place to buy a ticket to Almaty…60 RMB ($10!)…Stop the cab….that’s bullshit and you know it….finally we got him down to 30!!! But still not happy as the meter would have been pushed to top 20…

Trying to get to the bus ticket office was all too hard in the end so we got him to drop us at the Yining Hotel, a hotel in huge forested grounds with unfortunately NO free rooms! Bugger. So drop the packs and I went looking. About 20 minutes later after checking a couple of local guesthouses
with no luck, I found a large hotel wanting $50 a night. Screw it. We had the cash and it was our last night in China and I really couldn’t be asked going any further…I must be getting soft. I trundled back to Tim and the bags and we dragged our weary butts back up there.

First job before resting was to find this elusive bus ticket office. It was most bizarre. The Kazakhstan border is only 100km due west from Yining but no-one seemed to know what the hell I was talking about even when I showed them a map, clearly showing Yining, Urumqi, the border and Almaty….Pakistan???? No Kazakhstan…..There was even a bus in the carpark of the hotel with Almaty in the window as a destination but no-one knew where I could buy tickets..???? Very weird. It was like the world ended at the Chinese border…!

Finally in frustration I headed up the road in the direction indicated by the lonely planet. About a km away I spotted an old crappy sleeper bus with Almaty in the window. I asked the drink seller nearby where I could buy tickets and he pointed to a ramshackle shed next to the bus and told me to come back at 3pm. The bus left the next morning at 6pm…OK. That was progress.

Back at the hotel we tried in vain to hook up the LAN cable.It simply pushed the socket into the wall cavity. Bugger…You would expect a bit more from a $50 hotel but not in China. We do not believe that there is a translation for the word "maintenance". All the building going on and most things start to decay rapidly within one or two years.

Anyway, to cut a long story short I went and got the maid who went and got a guy who kind of spoke English who fixed the cable. He then went away and got his computer, pulled up a translation program and proceeded  to try and help us buy a ticket. When he finally understood where we wanted to go ( a few more puzzled Pakistan??? No Kazakhstan’s!!) he made a few phone calls and then took Tim up the road (quite close to where I had found the other bus) to buy tickets.

If it looks dodgy, smells dodgy, sounds dodgy and feels dodgy it probably is. The ramshackle buses were out the back of some run down buildings in what appeared to be a police car park. Hmmm. The bedding in the bus looked like it belonged to homeless people and the guy doing the talking like head dodgy brother himself with a couple of dodgy henchmen. Rather than pay the full 300 RMB ($50)/ticket he paid 100 for each of us and got a business card back…Hmm. Be there at 5am the next morning…Ouch. But it should only take 5 hours….Yay…but weird as the LP says 10-12. Hmmm.

It suddenly dawned on us that the quoted times were “Xinjiang time”. Sick of the stupidity of working off Beijing time, the locals had adopted their own 2 hour time unofficial time difference. Not wanting to chance it though we went back to double check we actually didn’t have to be there until 7am (BT)!

At that point…about 2.30  in the afternoon we realized we hadn’t eaten anything since the night before and that had only consisted of a bread roll and a couple of boiled eggs for Tim. So off we went to explore the city and find food. We found a supermarket, stocked up on beer and crap for the evening and then tried to find some real food. Surprise, surprise…this ended up being mutton shishkebabs on the BBQ as was usual these days with a slab of bread. Hoping we don’t end up with scurvy soon!

Bright and early the next morning we trundled off to “bus station” by 6.45am (BT!). The sky was heavy and threatening to rain on us. Thankfully it held off till we were almost on the bus….The unfortunate consequence of this was that all the passengers then wanted to get on at the same time and we were left trying to, fend off the grannies and mount the 180 degree steps with a full pack on and take our sandals off at the same time so as not to muddy the rug which all the passengers without beds would be sitting on. Thankfully no slipped discs!

Once on the bus we squirmed our way onto our allotted bottom bunks. Not to bad for me being on 163cm but damn near impossible for Tim who decided it was more comfortable to sit on the floor. All of a sudden at 7am…an hour earlier than supposed departure we were off…awesome. Maybe we would be in Almaty by lunchtime and we could register and get our onward visas sorted that day….Wow….BUT NUP! Not long after that positive thought the trip went to shit….with a capital S!

We arrived an hour and a half later at the border at 7.30 Xinjiang time…which I will use from now on as it is also Kazakh time. Everyone got off the bus to have breakfast. What time does the border open I asked….9am??? WTF. Why did we break our neck to get here only to have to wait for an hour and a half. Still, no probs…we’re cool. No we don’t need breakfast….we can wait till we get to Almaty in 3.5 hours…ha, ha!!!

About 8.00 the driver starts up the bus and moves into line. Excellent…we’re about 6  from the front…we should be through in no time once the gate opens. Out jumps the driver and the ticket guy to have their breakkie and they tell us to be back at the bus by 8.30…No probs we aren’t going anywhere (still a bit suspicious we might get dumped at the border).

8.30 comes and most of the other bus crews are back and revving the engines…no sign of ours. 8.45 and the front of the line starts to move towards the gates…., still no sign of our guys. 9am, gates open, front buses go through….buses behind us overtake us and still no sign of them….9.30 and they finally dawdle back in time to get us on the BACK of the line!!! Even the other passengers were getting hot under the collar by now.

Back on the bus everyone and we wait.  And wait and wait as the line inches forward painfully slowly. Beside, a huge line of massive trucks are doing the same. The sun is out buy now and things are heating up! About40 minutes later we finally reach the gate to the border control but NO…we still have to stay on board. Another 30 minutes passes before we are allowed to unload our luggage and head for immigration. No probs, only 10.40am plenty of time.

The stamp out for us is painless and we exit into no man’s land to wait for the rest of the passengers and the bus to be cleared. While we wait and wait and wait, stood on the hard concrete pavement we witness the most amazing array of goods being carried through the customs point and bus after bus get cleared before ours. What was that word again….Dodgy!!! Finally, another 3 F$%king hours later we are cleared to get back on the bus and drive in a ridiculous 10km arc to arrive at the other border post about 500m away in a straight line…

OK…do we need to take our luggage…no. Excellent, this should be quick then. And it was until we got to customs and they told us to go back and get our bags to have them X-rayed. No probs, will do. Go back and get packs…meantime the driver and his dodgy mate are trying to convince us not to take our packs but to take some of the other luggage which has mysteriously appeared through…What do we look like….total losers??

Bags on X-ray, no-one cares, out through the door and we wait. And wait and wait again as new passengers, unseen previously to this point appear with tons and tons and tons of new luggage. Hmmm…We watch the totally dodgy antics as they play out. One woman had about 20 or more loads of stuff! Obviously well known, Zora strutted around like she owned the joint, intimidating anyone not involved in her proceedings. Smarmy cow! Another woman appeared with almost as much stuff but for some reason ha been held up. Obviously she wasn’t paying someone enough to smooth her progress.  Another 5 hours later and we finally get going when second super bitch realizes she has left her purse at customs! Stop the bus again while she goes back by taxi to get it….Aaaaarrrrrgggghhhhh!

OK still only 6.30. Only about 400km to go (we had come 100)..with a straight run through we would be in Almaty by midnight.Huh!! I ring the hotel in Almaty to tell them we will be really late…

At 7pm we’re stopped by the cops. At 7.45 we stop for dinner. At 8.30 we get going again and I give up, curl up in a ball and try to go to sleep…..The only blessing at this stage was that there was a girl on the bus who spoke excellent English.

At 3am the next morning the lights go on in the bus and we feel it reversing into a tight driveway. Where the hell are we? We are told that we will be sleeping on the bus and we would go to the bus station tomorrow. The hell we would! Tim crawls over all the sleeping passengers on the floor to get our packs and thank goodness the English speaking girl decides she would rather go home too. The main road outside is deserted but for a few cars, one of which she waves down. A big black Merc with two big guys in the front. "Don’t worry" she says…"in Kazakhstan everyone is a taxi". For the equivalent of $7 they would take us to our hotel and then her onto her apartment. Too tired to care we agreed. What else were we going to do?? Luckily I had changed our
excess RMB at the border so we had the cash.

Driving through the back streets of Almaty at 3.30am the thought did cross our minds we might be taken somewhere remote and robbed or possibly worse but our new best friend allayed our fears by swapping phone numbers and email addresses like this was the most natural thing in the world.

Sure enough, 15 minutes late we stopped in a deserted area, obviously a market. The driver points across the road at a grim soviet building and tells us this is our hotel. Oh well. A few stray people about, one of which…blond and pissed asks us do we need a place to stay… No thanks we have a room …We hope!...

We walk down to the corner of the building and sure enough…here is the well lit lobby of the Turkistan Hotel. Yes they were expecting us. No problems and yes they had a cold beer. Alleluia. We had made it. Not one of our best days but we were finally safe and sound in our first “Stan”.

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