One of the program managers in the office talked her daughter’s friend into serving as a driver and interpreter for a group of us wanting a short excursion out of the city this weekend. He turned out to be a lot of fun to hang out with. Originally from western Kazakhstan, his English was a bit limited as he had only begun studying it 3 months ago. This made the day all the more interesting and fun, however, as we had to sometimes find creative ways to communicate seemingly common phrases.
We started the day by heading south into the mountains to Medeu. Constructed in 1972, it remains the world’s largest outdoor ice skating rink. During the Soviet era, it was the major training ground for their winter Olympians. Many speed skating world records were set here.
The entire facility is currently undergoing major renovation for the upcoming Asian Winter Games in January. As a result, we had to avoid lots of construction equipment and trucks on our way up to and around the area. It’s a very impressive arena. I’m told that in the summer, the arena normally plays host to major outdoor concerts as well as turning into a roller rink pumping out techno music. Not so this summer, though, given the renovation activities.
We took the road further up the mountain in order to gain a bird’s eye view of Medeu. The road continues all the way to the region’s famous ski resort, Chimbulak. Currently they are installing a cable car system that will eventually allow you to ride all the way up from Almaty in the valley below. A pretty impressive feat, considering the city sits almost 20 km from the resort!
I would definitely like to come back to this area at some later point. There looked to be some great hiking. We also saw a lot of off-road trails and people tooling around in ATVs. We didn’t continue on to Chimbulak, though, but instead headed back down the mountain a bit to stop at Kok-Tobe.
The name Kok-Tobe means ‘Green Mountain’ and dates back to the Silk Road days of the Middle Ages. It’s now a city park and provides an amazing view of Almaty, day or night. There’s a cable car that comes up from the city below. The park itself has amusement rides, a small zoo, an outdoor concert venue, and some shops and restaurants.
The most surprising guests at the zoo were two camels! You could ride this one for $8.00 but I decided to pass on this opportunity.
We ended our stay at Kok-Tobe with a nice lunch at their patio restaurant. I would definitely like to come back for a late dinner and see the city at night from this vantage point.