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Marshrutka Mayhem


The marshrutka is the main mode of public transport here in Bishkek, and like a bad metal concert in Peoria, it’s cheap, hot, overcrowded, and sometimes filled with drunk people. Mentioned in earlier Bishkek posts, I despise these little beasts, and yet often find myself stamping my foot for the next one to come. In that sense, I guess they are a lot like men: can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without ‘em. No?

marshrutka mayhem

Wikipedia even says the following:

In Central Asia (at least Uzbekistan,Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan), standing room is allowed on marshrutkas. Indeed, drivers will often encourage passengers to board the marshrutka and cram together until there is physically not enough space for another passenger to board; in such a case, once a passenger exits the marshrutka, the driver will stop for others and allow them on until it is full again. Marshrutkas may be boarded at bus stops, but will usually stop other places if hailed, and often won’t stop at bus stops unless a passenger requests an exit or a prospective passenger hails the marshrutka. Passengers may request to exit at any point, but may have to wait until the driver deems that it is convenient to stop.

I, and other students here, have had plenty of interesting marshrutka experiences thus far. To get a better idea of we are dealing with, here is a run-down of the marshrutka ride.

1) You pile into the little van, past the point where you think the door will not even shut anymore. Of course, you are standing in an awkward position, often with your neck bent against the roof. Someone’s crotch might be pressed against you in an uncomfortable place, and whose hand is that?

2) Since the car is so crowded, you can’t see out the windows to know when to get off. Being the new guy (gal) in town, it’s hard enough to keep all these monotonous streets straight. You finally decide you might be in the right place and push your way to the door with a few direct moshno’s.

3) Out on the street, covered in sweat, you realize that you have absolutely no idea where you are, and since class starts in just a few minutes, you run to catch a taxi – thus defeating the whole purpose of riding in a cheap marshrutka in the first place.

I’m quite used to this little song and dance nowadays, but was surprised this past weekend by an exceptionally strenuous marshrutka day. Three various experiences make last Saturday one to remember:

1) Midday, I popped onto a marshrutka to get to the center of town. The sun was blazing hot this day, and since the marshrutkas have NO OPENING WINDOWS, they become an oven. Sweat was dripping off my face. The only window that does work is the one by the driver, but just behind him someone was standing and taking all my fresh air. I stood in agony, just praying this guy next to me would ever so slightly move his head in hopes of getting a short burst of cooling-off goodness. Finally, he exited. I started to feel a bit faint from not eating yet and being so hot. I snatched up the coveted spot behind the driver, and just then, as we are sitting at the stoplight, I noticed the insane amounts of dust flowing in through the window. Yes, that would be the same air I so desperately wanted to hit my face just seconds before, but then, I began to fear the Bishkek dirt layer would end up covering my freshly showered body. What a dilemma! I cannot wait until it is actually considered HOT here.

2) Later in the day, Ryan, Chris and I decided to pop onto a marshrutka to cut down our walk time up to Vefa Center. At the stoplight, we popped into one, handed over our money, only to be concerned when he pulled the van over at the next block shouting the words “Ostanovka, Ostanovka!” to us. Uhm, what? Ok, you’re stopping, but this isn’t our stop. The driver grabbed a bunch of money and headed over to a cop. He came back, looked at us angrily, grabbed some more money and headed back to the cop. Apparently, this guy was paying a bribe to the cop because he let us on in an unauthorized marshrutka stopping zone. We didn’t know! The driver got back on one more time, handed us our money, and made us get out of the van – wide eyed and ever so confused about what just happened. It took us a while to realize we cost the guy some money, but then why would he not keep our money and take us up the road with everyone else? Guess he didn’t think we deserved it anymore. Have you ever been kicked off a marshrutka?

3) The final ride of the day ended up being yet another to remember. Ryan said that he thought 164 went by our street, so we hopped on and grabbed a seat for the ride. When the marshrutka passed where we would normally turn, we didn’t fret. We just figured it went around and came back up our street. A few minutes later, we started to hit dirt roads and dodging potholes. Hmm… Things were starting to look a bit desolate. At this point, we just figured we’d stay on and ride back into town when it turns around, but low and behold, this marshrutka was NOT going to go back into town. We ended up in a place where marshrutkas go to sleep – end of the line! Luckily, there was another one that was getting ready to ride into town, so we hopped on that one and went back to where we started off to begin with. At least the mountains looked nice from that area or else the ride would have been a total bummer!

And thus concludes my Marshrutka Mayhem – at least for now. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more stories to tell in the months ahead! And, there’s always a trolleybus around to switch things up.


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10 Responses to Marshrutka Mayhem

  1. kelly May 7, 2008 at 9:37 am #

    Hi Brooke, I have enjoyed reading about your travels. You have one of the coolest travel blogs I’ve seen… I’m taking notes!! I really like the current location and past travels part.

  2. thetalkingwendycommercialiscre May 8, 2008 at 3:53 am #

    sounds fun – kinda. Post some pictures from the inside of the marshrutka – i want to see 🙂

  3. Justin May 9, 2008 at 8:58 am #

    Just came across this blog post on and wanted to say it was very interesting and cant wait to read through the rest of your travels. Cheers!

  4. Alex May 19, 2008 at 6:05 am #

    Hey Brooke, just stumbled across this site of yours. Don’t know if you remember me: I was visiting Sarah from Germany, while you guys were staying in Italy. Very cool thing, your travelling. Kudos. If you ever need a place to stay in Germany, be my guest. 🙂 Alex

  5. Brooke May 20, 2008 at 3:57 am #

    Kelly, Wow, one of the coolest, eh?! Thank you!

    Beth, maybe someday I will take a picture of the inside… not sure though 🙂

    Thanks for the kind words, Justin!

    Alex, of course I remember you! I might have to take you up on your offer because at this moment that would be the only way I’m going back to Western Europe 🙂


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