Michael adds to Ian's post, describing the drama of the border crossing.
We arrived at the border at midnight. We followed Mr Fixer (a nom de guerre) into the 'cafe' as he said we had to wait an hour. This is good. We’ll be in bed in Bishkek by 2am. Wrong.
A terrific meal in the cafe; chips, chocolate, water and tea. Then Mr F said we should go back to the cars and wait a bit more. The wind is really cold. We 'bed down' in the cars with Mr F in the Toyota with me behind him. About 1am a tap on the window and Mr F jumps out and embraces a very rough looking guy wearing a camouflage cap, Adidas trackies and a tight leather jacket. They talk awhile and Mr F gets back in and I asked him who the guy was and what's happening. He replies "our local contact and all is good; just have to wait".
And wait we do with Mr F away now. At 2.20am Mr F comes back and he brings 4 bags of hot chips and you can imagine; Mr F and Gerry in the front, the cop, still wearing my Gortex, and me in the back, feasting on hot chips. But they tasted pretty good. Then Mr F tells us we need to wait ‘til 4am and then we can cross straight through. And wait we do.
It's 3.45am, the tension is mounting (really). Ian has by now paid the appropriate 'fee for service'. Will we get across or are we being dudded? We are out of the cars, walking around trying to keep warm, too anxious to be tired. Now 3.55am, we get into the cars, start the engines and line up at the car yard entrance behind the Toyota with Mr F outside on the fence holding his phone. 4am, nothing and then at 4.07am Mr F holds up his phone, starts talking and then comes back into the Toyota.
"Let's go" he says and directs us around a few barriers into an outside lane leading up to the checkpoint. The old cars follow and around we go. We stop and he tells me "you get out here. You are not part of the cars and you go through there" pointing to a door for pedestrians which leads into the customs hall. Out I go and the cars move up to the checkpoint. Mr F is with me and we see guys in camouflage uniform checking the cars. The back of the Toyota opens and someone else has a torch and is looking under the car. I ask Mr F "what's going on, what are they trying to find?" He says "don't worry, there are cameras all around. They are inspectors and they must be seen by the cameras to be doing their job".
With those words of reassurance I walk into the customs hall, line up behind about 25 workers or something and after about 20 minutes I am through, past the 3 cars still being processed, into no-mans land, walk about 200 metres and I am in Krygyzstan. And then through their immigration in about 2 minutes. Incredible.
My job now is to find a taxi who will lead the 3 cars to our hotel at Bishkek. In the east towards Kazakastan dawn is starting with just a bit of light emerging. I look back and see no sign of the 2 old cars. I walk through the dark towards where I am told are taxis. I keep calling out "taxi, English, taxi, English" ***. A few guys run out to me but none speak English. How do you explain when you don't speak Russian that you want a taxi for me, to lead 3 cars that are still, I think, to come out of Kazakhstan, to a hotel in Bishkek? Pretty difficult, but with a map showing our hotel and after much gesturing I find someone who thinks he knows what I want and who will travel in the Toyota.
All this has taken about 1/2 hour and I see the cars in the distant 1/2 light coming into Krygyzstan, but they still need to go through their Customs. They get through after about another 1/2 hour. Unbelievable, after all the dramas.
We start the drive to Bishkek with the 2 old cars behind and the 'guide' in the back seat of Toyota. It's getting lighter all the time and we see beautiful snow capped mountains in the distance. Quite lovely. Beautiful Kyrgyzstan.
*** Mr Noyce graduated in a one week course in Russian at Sydney University in January.