November 24, 2008
Today Emilia and I went on a grand adventure. We took a cab clear across town to Kok-Tobe, a place where you take a gondola ride up the side of a mountain and then admire the views of Almaty. Emilia wasn’t afraid of the gondola, and we enjoyed looking at all of the houses below, some of them quite grand and others mere hovels. Although it was a sunny day, we couldn’t see very far. The smog, which seems to have established a permanent presence here (Almaty is like a fish bowl due to the mountains, so pollution gets trapped), made the buildings seem like distant shadows. Still, we enjoyed walking the trails at the top of the mountain and looking at the view and the various buildings in the park.
I’m sure Kok-Tobe is even better in warmer weather, though I liked the touches of snow and ice on the ground. We noticed a few restaurants, including one that looked like three yurts, but they were closed. There was also a roller coaster ride, which looked like it could be fun, as it hugged the side of the mountain, but it was also closed. Even if it had been open, I believe Em and I would have taken a pass. A few souvenir shops were open, and an old woman, who was sewing slippers (the kind a Sultan would wear), invited us in. Although she couldn’t speak English, she conveyed that she had sewn all the ornaments, which were very pretty. This woman really wanted to talk to us, and I would have liked to talk to her – she had many hand-made things in her shop – but we had to make do with limited communication. One thing for sure was that she loved Emilia, as she kept calling her “kookla” (doll) over and over again. When we were heading out the door, she gave me a small bird ornament as a gift for the baby. If I understood her correctly, she was saying it was just a small thing out of all the things in the store, but to me it was a wonderful gesture of kindness and thoughtfulness. I could tell this woman had a beautiful heart. I only wish I could have conveyed that thought to her, as I felt the moment quite touching.
I figured that since Kok-Tobe is a tourist attraction, there would be cabs waiting near the entrance to pick up passengers; I thought wrong. As I headed toward the street, which was busy with traffic, I couldn’t spot a cab. So, I asked a young man standing nearby for assistance. We had a funny exchange, as I was trying to explain to him that I needed a taxi, but he figured I thought he was a taxi driver. He did hail a cab for me (a Mercedes no less) and even pulled out a bill to show me how much the ride would cost (significantly less than the first driver, who I believe took advantage of the situation). I really appreciated this young man’s efforts. He exhibited true Kaz hospitality.
Tomorrow will be our last full day in Almaty, and the thought of going home makes my heart skip a beat. Sonya has Emilia’s passport in hand, and we will go to the embassy tomorrow at 2:30 for our interview. Then Em and I will be flying out in the wee morning hours on the 26th and journey backwards through many time zones. We will make it home just in time for Thanksgiving! Thank the good Lord! This year we truly have so much for which to be thankful.