My time spent in Kazakhstan was brief, only two or three days, but in those brief moments I spent in Almaty, I lived true. In that time I had dinner and went shot for shot with politically eccentric dissidents, whose views were united only in their hatred for President Nazarbayev, saw a chamber music concert, which in reality was covers of modern–day pop and rock songs, went ice skating at an olympic training center, saw piles and piles of museums and monuments, and my personal favorite, hung out at Kok-Tobe (or “Көк-Төбе” in Kazakh). For all those who aren’t into opening wikipedia links, Kok-Tobe means, more or less, “Green Summit.“ It is the highest point in the city of Almaty, and at the top there are all sorts of amusements, and even its own little community.
We were up early on the day that we were to leave for Turkmenistan and had not much to do, so we decided we would go to Kok-Tobe. When we got there, there was a shuttle that met us at the bottom of the mountain at a security checkpoint type of situation. You then hop into the van, and they bring you up to where the fair grounds are.
One thing about Almaty is that it is famous for its fog and smog. It was apparent down in the city, and the further we climbed, the more apparent it got. I am talking raccoon city/silent hill eerie foggy. But anyway, we got out and entered onto the fairgrounds. Save for a few employees, we were the only ones, and I am talking the only ones, there. Something about it was charming though. Walkways running through the forested areas with giant swing-like contraptions and sculptures dedicated to famous people, like the Beatles (why them? I couldn’t tell you).
The fog really added something to the abandoned theme park feel there. Most of the attractions were usual kinds of things you would see. There was a petting zoo with some thoroughly miserable-looking animals, shops that sold all the usual gizmos and knickknacks, and then there was the Holy Grail. There was a one-man roller coaster called “fastcoaster.”
This was a rollercoaster that that allowed the one person sitting in it to control how fast it went. It is the kind of thing that would never ever fly in America. It is a sue-happy soccer mom’s dream. It didn’t in any way look safe; it looked old and not-so-well maintained. But what am I, some kind of sissy? So I strapped on my Gopro camera and decided to go along for a ride on a rickety-looking post-soviet one-man roller coaster like a good idiot. I started slow, and got used to it, then started speeding it up a bit, letting loose and opening her up. It didn’t feel so unsafe, oddly enough. There was only one moment where I felt like the cart was going to slip off the track and get thrown onto the ground like a ragdoll. But all was right in the end, and I didn’t get thrown out. The fog certainly added to the fun of it, because I really couldn’t see so far in front of me and where I was going.
There is also a cable car line that can take you from the city of Almaty all of the way up to the summit. I remember looking over the edge of the mountain and seeing nothing but fog. It really was the closest thing to a true abyss that I have ever seen (and it made me have a lot of existential thoughts). Seeing the cable car descend from the mountain into that abyss definitely poured gasoline on that fire.
It all was surreal, and the abandoned-and-foggy aesthetic added to that. But I loved it. They also had pictures of all the famous people who had come to the park. Steven Seagal was one of them and there were a disproportionate amount of photographs of him doing his thing. This took the bizarre factor to the next level, and I don’t really know what else to say at this point. But hey, if you like the more eccentric parts of your travels, hop on up to Kok-Tobe if you are ever in Almaty, it will not disappoint…. Or it will disappoint… I don’t know.