When I lived in the US, I never took taxis. In fact, I don’t think I have ever taken a taxi in the US. But in my time living in Central Asia, I’ve made regular use of them. In Kazakhstan, while they do have taxi companies, any car can be a taxi. You just stand on the roadside and stick out your hand. Eventually someone will stop, usually not too long of a wait, and you negotiate a price for the trip. That practice is illegal in Kyrgyzstan. Here, you actually use taxi companies and either call the dispatcher or try to flag one down. Some here even use meters! For most however, you negotiate the price before getting in the taxi. Though in Karakol, the price is 50 som, anywhere in town.
The other day, we were in Bishkek getting ready to fly out to Istanbul to have our baby. We had loaned our car to some friends there and so we had to take taxis again. These taxi rides became a good opportunity to practice my Russian. Almost every taxi I get in over here, the driver wants to know about us. After all, what are these Americans doing in Kyrgyzstan? It makes a great conversation starter and almost always results in either: they know someone in the area needing English classes, or they think I should move to Bishkek and get a job teaching English there.
It always amazes me how many times our drivers in Bishkek are somehow connected to Karakol even though the cities are nearly a 7 hour drive apart. Our drivers in Bishkek this time seemed to either be from Karakol or had family in Karakol. Those not from or with family in Karakol fall into two other categories. They are from the Bishkek area or they are from a village near Karakol. I know that isn’t true of all the taxi drivers in Bishkek, but it seems to have held pretty true for me.
There is one more type of taxi, the Scott Taxi, but I’ll save that for next week.