Three ridiculous excuses Kazakh cops will use to fine you

We had a few more encounters with the Kazakh police. Each time, we were amazed at how imaginative they can be when it comes to charging you with something.

Kazakhstan police patch

Kazakhstan police patch

1) The passport trick

One night during our stay at Hostel Park in Almaty, a brilliant hostel run by a super efficient Kazakh, Chuck couldn’t sleep so decided to go for a 2am wander to the shop around the corner. Barely 50m from the hostel he was stopped by a couple of policeman and put into a police car.

“Passport”  they demanded.

Wearing only his pyjamas Chuck explained to them that his passport was in the hostel just around the corner. The policeman couldn’t speak any English so a friendly passer-by stopped to try to help. He told Chuck he should pay them money. Chuck tried to pay them money but they refused and kept him in the car for nearly two hours while the conversation went round and round in circles. Eventually, around 4am, I was woken by Chuck asking for his passport.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, half asleep and confused.

“I think I’m being arrested for not having my passport on me. The police say they are taking me to the police station”.

Still confused, I found Chuck’s passport and went outside with him to talk to the policemen. I demanded to know what was going on and to see the policeman’s identity badge. He refused to show me his ID and was very arrogant and rude, telling me over and over that Chuck didn’t have his passport so now he had to go to the police station.

I could see there was no point arguing with this man so I made him write his name down and then Chuck, insisting he would be fine, went with them to the police car. I went back inside and lay awake waiting. About ten minutes later Chuck re-appeared. They had taken him round the corner, one policeman had walked in the opposite direction whilst the other one asked for money. The whole thing had been a complete farce and waste of time. All they wanted was a bribe which Chuck had tried to give them three hours before! And never again did Chuck go for a 2am wander!

2) The jeep chase

Our next, slightly comical, encounter with authority was on our way to Altyn-Emel National Park. 280km North East of Almaty and famous for its huge red sand dune, the ‘Singing Dune’. We had hoped to do the drive in one day, however it got quite late before we made it to town of Basshiy where you must buy a permit to enter the park. So we turned off the road and drove into the hills to camp for the night.

The Singing Dune, Altyn-Emel National Park

The Singing Dune, Altyn-Emel National Park

The next morning as we drove down from the hills and across a field I looked to the left and saw a jeep speeding across the field towards us.

“Phil, that jeep is headed our way, drive faster!”

“Phil, that jeep is coming across the field straight at us and flashing it’s lights, maybe we should stop!”

We stopped the car and waited for the jeep to reach us. When it did, four men in army get-up, one carrying a rifle, jumped out and came at us yelling in Russian.  We explained we were tourists and only spoke English. They calmed down a little but were still looking gruff. From the few English words they spoke and the charades, we gathered they were rangers and we were already on National Park land and had camped illegally. We tried to explain that we were on our way to Basshiy to buy permits to visit the National Park.

“Ahh, Basshiy. We will take you there.”

Worried we might make a run for it, they took Chuck hostage in their Jeep and one of their men got in our car and we drove to the office of the National Park. They found a member of staff in the office who could speak a little English. He told us we had camped illegally and we must be fined. We explained that we didn’t know we were already on National Park land, there had been no signs and the hills we still dotted with farm houses. We also explained that we were here to buy our permits to visit the National Park, and that it was too late the day before to get here, hence our illegal camp in the hills.

Eventually they decided not to fine us, instead making us pay for two nights instead of one.  Relieved by this reasonable outcome we set off into the National Park to see some Prezwalski’s horses and the ‘Singing Dune’.

3) The missing car document

The next time we would be detained was slightly more serious than our encounter with the National Parks Rangers. When we tried to cross the border from Kazakhstan into Kyrgyzstan the customs officials asked for all our car documents. We weren’t sure which one they wanted specifically as they couldn’t speak English and all our documents are in Russian, so we produced everything and they found the one they were looking for. They pointed to the date. The document was dated 30th July. It was our Russian customs clearance dated to match our Russian visas. We were confused as to why this was a problem. It was now the 21st of August and pointing to the date on the document they said “Big problem!”.

One of the girls in the office could speak a little bit of English and she told us that our document was expired and that this was a big problem, we would have to go back to Almaty and go to the Customs Department.

The customs official told us that Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus fall under the same customs legislation and that our Russian customs declaration was also for Kazakhstan. This had never been mentioned before by anyone we had dealt with and when we had crossed the border from Russia into Kazakhstan they had looked at all our documents, the car had been checked and cleared and we had been allowed in.

Still quite confused over how this mistake was made we decided to do as they said and get in the car and go back to Almaty to sought it out at the customs office. We started up the car and were about to leave when the customs official came out of the office and told us we were not permitted to leave.

Sunset from behind prison walls

Sunset from behind prison walls

Even more confused now, we went back inside and got on the phone to the British Consulate in Almaty so they could maybe help by translating and explaining what exactly was going on. We were told that because our car had been in the country illegally we would have to go to court and pay a large fine. We would also have to spend the night at the border and take one of the customs officials with us to Almaty the next day. There was nothing we could do but accept our fate and set up our tent in the yard behind the customs office next to the dog kennels and wait until morning. They locked the gates so we couldn’t escape in the night and the next few days were spent in Almaty where Phil had to go to court to pay a fine and get a new customs declaration.  Kazakhstan is a beautiful country but we were tired of feeling like prisoners and very relieved once we finally made it into Kyrgyzstan!

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