After returning from Cholpon-Ata and staying in Bishkek for the night, I made my way across the Kyrgyz-Kazakh border and toward Almaty.
I had a little scare crossing the border because I thought I lost my marshrutka group and my ride. This is how a border crossing works in a lot of Asia; your shared ride arrives at the border and everyone gets off to go through border control on each side. Once you come out the other side, you have to go look for your ride again to continue the journey. It pays to remember who the other people who came with you look like because they are usually locals and they usually know where to go look for their ride because they ask the driver about this before going into border control. I’ve had good luck just following people around after we alight but sometimes, I might have to go use a restroom or I accidentally lose them for whatever reason. I’ve also been fortunate when I lose a group of people and knowing that I’m a foreigner (my bright green “backpacker” backpack often gives this away), they look out for me. Having been through this scenario many times in the past, I also take a picture of my van and license plate #, just in case. Once, I even took a picture of the driver.
Anyway, I had followed a guy from my marshrutka and he ended up going to a cell-phone SIM card mobile office to get Kazakh cell data service. As this is normally one of the first things I myself try to do upon arriving in a new country, I line up behind him to get a SIM card. The problem is, after he got done, I asked him, in English, and with some hand gestures thrown in, to wait for me but I don’t think he understood and when I turned around, he left. (I should’ve asked the SIM card guy, who spoke very basic English, to tell the other guy “Would you mind waiting for me as I need to follow you to find our ride into Almaty?” but this all happened very quickly.)
In any case, feeling confident that I’d be able to locate my ride again, I continued the transaction to get cell data. Upon finishing, I walked outside, into the swarm of vehicles and people. I looked around, trying to find my marshrutka, a big white van. But of course, there were many other white vans as well. I scrambled, trying to find the one with the same plate # as the picture I captured, worrying all the time that this might take a while and the marshrutka would leave without all the passengers they arrived with, because sometimes, they actually do, thinking some passengers actually go off on their own once they cross.
Luckily for me, from afar, I noticed some people waving at me. It was my group and they recognized me (or rather, my backpack!) and wanted to let me know that’s where they were told to wait, which they knew because they were likely told so by the driver in Kyrgyz/Russian, probably before getting off at border control, but I didn’t because I was oblivious.