This post is part of a L’appel Du Vide feature, Misadventure Mondays. In each segment, I’ll ask one of my favorite travel bloggers to share one of their Travel Misadventures. This Monday, Brooke Schoenmen from Brooke vs. the World shares her tale of getting stuck at the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border.
Tell me a little about yourself and your current/next trip:
I am the blogger behind Brooke vs. the World. When it comes to travel bloggers, I guess you could say I’m one of the trailblazers in this sphere with RTW travel plannings reaching back to 2006.
I set off in late 2007, participated in an archaeological dig in Spain, learned Spanish in Guatemala, picked up some Russian in Kyrgyzstan, and taught English in Ukraine — all before deciding to move down under to be with my now boyfriend, Patrick.
It’s been 3 years, and I still live in Australia, but you’ll be excited to know that Pat and I are leaving April 7th for a 3.5 month trip to places like Turkey, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia and Russia!
Describe your travel style:
Budget, thrifty, independent most of the time, but with organized tours when necessary.
What’s been your best/worst travel misadventure? Tell me about where you were, who you were with, and what happened.
Well, besides the time I left our passports on a Sydney train while trying to get to the Russian Consulate to apply for our visas, my biggest misadventure would probably be the time I got rejected at the Kazakh-Kyrgyz border.
I was by myself on this one, and boy do I wish I would have been anything but. See, I was studying Russian in Kyrgyzstan, but wanted to visit a friend in Kazakhstan. The language school said that on my current visa, I could exit Kyrgyzstan and re-enter (but have to get some sort of exit visa when heading out again). This idea seemed so far-fetched that I even took my visa down to the official visa office and received the same information.
Unfortunately, the lovely Kazakh border guards upon my attempt to re-enter didn’t see it quite the same way. Instead of letting little old me through the border, they brought me into the building, into a little room to sit with giant, suited up Kazakh guards where I had to attempt to explain myself in VERY broken Russian. Intimidated doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt!
These guys flipped through the pages of my passport, scrutinizing every little detail, drawing out the process, questioning me, making me feel silly and little the entire time. I tried to tell them that the Kyrgyz visa office said I could re-enter over and over, so finally, the big Kazakh border guards walked me across to the Kyrgyz border facility, and directly into the office of the top dog. So, I then sat in a room with not only Kazakh border guards but also Kyrgyz — which is when I had to try to tell the whole story yet again.
They laughed at me like I was a silly American girl, and I tried desperately to phone the student aid at the language school to help. Of course she didn’t pick up.
The conclusion was that I had to return to Kazakhstan and apply for a new Kyrgyz visa in Almaty, so I walked outside and towards the taxis that congregated until I was stopped yet again by the Kazakh guards outside.
One of them asked for my passport again and disappeared into the building, which is also when I noticed more and more Kazakh guards circling me, asking me questions like whether or not I was married. It got awkward to the point that one of them took my phone, used it to call theirs to get the number, and then passed that number on to other guards. I couldn’t do anything; I didn’t have my passport, and I was alone!
What were the negative or positive outcomes of your misadventure?
This situation was all negative! When I finally got my passport back, I had to head back to expensive (relatively) Almaty for a few days, apply for a new visa and jump through hoops.
What did you learn from this misadventure that you can share with other travelers?
When I made it back to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan and to my language school, the administration there were disappointed and said that the guards probably just wanted my money. In other words, they wanted a bribe. I’ve never had to pay a bribe before, ever, but I’m guessing that if I had tried, it could have saved me money.
What’s the one other lesson you’ve learned on your trip that you wish you had known before you left?
If you’re not officially married in Central Asia, you are still on the market. No matter how many times you say you have a boyfriend and are in a committed relationship, if they are not there with you and there is no ring on your finger, then you might as well save your breath.
Thanks Brooke for sharing!
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