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22.04.09 12:39 Age: 9 yrs

The plane journey

By: Roger and Megan

Some dilemmas and setbacks but arrived safely in Almaty

After about 2 hours sleep (4 am-6 am) and some more last minute running around we drove to the airport on Tuesday with our remaining luggage (93 kg worth). We had to be at the airport before 5.30 pm for our 10.20 pm flight, because the freight company that was to handle our excess luggage to Astana (for cheap - this was the special deal Roger had arranged last week with the CEO of the company) closed business at 6.30 pm. After lots of heavy lifting we finally arrived at the freight counter, but strangely the counter was unattended and bare. After abit of waiting around, we decided to call the number of the freight forwarder, but the number didn't seem to be connecting... We decided to ask one of the other airport staff about why the counter was unattended. The lady we asked said "Oh sorry, they have just gone out of business, and closed shop only a day or two ago, because of the economic crisis."

Hmmm.....

It was only a few days ago that we had organised with the company to freight our gear today (excess baggage is normally AUD$58 per kilo). So now we were stuck at the airport with what we thought was 33 kg excess baggage (after wearing 16 kg of it). In the end after talking to airport management we found that because of the economic crisis, all freight forwarders at the airport had closed down and gone out of business, so our only remaining option was to check it in as excess baggage....and pay for it. After meekly walking up to the check-in counter (wearing 16 kg of luggage so it wouldnt count as baggage since it was clothing on our person...) we were kindly informed that we were actually allowed 30 kg each (not 20 kg as we were led to believe), and that she would only charge us for an extra $300. Considering we were facing a possible $1800 bill, $300 sounded rather reasonable. So that was a great relief.

Fortunately the first few days of the flight to Astana went fairly smoothly for us, because otherwise we would have been a complete wreck (14 h Melbourne - Abu Dhabi, 4 hour stopover, 6 h Abu Dhabi to Almaty). Getting through customs was no hassle (just a long queue because we were initially in the wrong line), but we nearly ran into trouble picking up our luggage. While Roger was been scrutineered by the passport control lady (the passport photo was pre hair cut), two Kazakhstani men had started picking up our luggage and putting it onto a trolley for us. This might seem like a nice friendly gesture (it did to Megan!) but when Roger arrived too he saw straight through it and insisted that we can do it ourselves. We don't know much Russian, but we know the essential "nyet nyet!" (no no!). When they started saying "twenty dollars?" "ten dollars?" Megan finally worked out that friendly gestures aren't always for free!

We were very relieved to see Vitaliy's face through the gates at the airport. We hadn't met him before (just seen his photo in the Discovery Kazakhstan magazine) but we knew he also recognised us too - oh, the Australian Geographic T-shirts might have been a clue!

After a 40 min bus ride with him through Almaty, we arrived at the flat he and his other colleagues had rented for a few days for their business trip to Almaty. At that time it was some 24 hours we had left Melbourne, so we were extremely tired. Nonetheless, we were informed that we were to be thrown a party that night by the Historico-Geographic Society, and that some journalists would be attending and that we would be interviewed by the daily, national newspaper. During the interview, we could hardly comprehend English, let alone Russian, but we managed to hold up OK during the interview (thanks to the interpreter) and are just about to hit the sack. Got a few days' of sleep to catch up on, if we can.

Tomorrow, on to Astana, or maybe Karaganda - who knows?!