Thursday 24 to Sunday 27 May 2012, Uralsk

Immediately noticeable are the people. The border officials all have Mongolian features. They are friendly, willing to help communicate and laugh quite often. First impressions are of a lovely happy people. I have not been given any reason to change it. The majority of the population claim to be Muslim but the country is definitely not a Muslim republic. Very few women wear traditional dress and none of the men. Some young women wear short shorts and sleeveless tops, especially in the towns. The streets are reasonably clean and you don't find the piles of rubbish as in Muslim countries. You can find real coffee in the big towns, at a price!

We were very glad to find the hotel mentioned in the LP. A hot shower and clean clothes did wonders for us. Then there was wifi and a buffet breakfast as well. The breakfast was different. It consisted of salad, boiled or scrambled eggs, porridge, other unidentified hot dishes (sausage stew, rice maybe?), bread around sausage, some fruit cut into very small slices, cereals, pancakes, cakes and lots of bread. I was amazed at the amount of bread and cake other guests ate. We had dinner in restaurants. Three meals of pork in 4 days and this is a country where most people claim to be Muslim. Obviously of the non-practising variety. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and felt very rested after 4 days. I managed to get the website up to date and looked up a couple of HTML tutorials. Maybe I will modernise the Home and Menu pages. We'll see. I will need wifi and lots of time. I didn't really enjoy getting the washing up to date but then I am too skint to pay the hotel to do it. The sheets will have to wait for another day.

The one thing we had to do in Uralsk is register with the police. The immigration form from the border says so in English and the paragraph was specifically pointed out to me. There could be no misunderstanding. The hotel staff, who can't speak English, phoned the office for the opening times and organised a taxi. We duly arrived and were presented with a form to complete - all in Cyrillic!!! I just looked at it and the man at the counter and showed total incomprehension. He very kindly completed the forms for us. All we had to do was sign.....then wait for the boss to see us so he could enter the details into the computer. No-one could speak English. As I said at the beginning they are all so helfull.

Monday 28 to Tuesday 29 May 2012, to Aralsk

The road is being redone completely. This results in driving for kilometers on very good roads, then on diversions which range between good to not so good. The very bad patches were minimal. I class the deviations as 50kph roads. There are fewer trees now, but lots of grassland some of it cultivated. We camped behind a low hill one night and behind some sparse trees the next. Pieter really enjoys his air rifle and his aim is improving again with practise.

We stopped for coffee at a Cafe. The coffee was actually expensive weak instant chicory with milk and sugar. There was extra sugar as well if needed. At least they didn't load in the sugar so I could still drink it. While we were relaxing two men came in for lunch. The table was on a platform with no chairs. They sat with their legs away from the table and their left arm resting on a cushion. The coleslaw was eaten from the communal bowl with a teaspoon. Theyalso had raw onion rings, pickled cucumber and the inevitable half loaf of thickly sliced bread.

In Aktobe we stopped for lunch and I had a vanilla milk shake! Oh what bliss. Usually these are difficult to find when out of Westernised countries.

Near Aralsk we came across herds of wild Bactrian camels. There are young, it is after all spring, and the older ones are shedding their winter coats. These coats are very thick to cope with the extreme winters. Their humps can be quite floppy. Someseem to have only a high back.

The weather is hot, hot, hot. It is only a few weeks ago that I was wearing woollen clothing to bed! Now I start with nothing and gradually move to a sheet tnen blanket, then a small polar fleece blanket for maybe an hour. During the day the windis lovely and cooling.

          The endless Steppe           Russian Orthodox Cathederal, Aktobe            Bactrian Camel            Ornate graves

Wednesday 30 to Thursday 31 May 2012, Aralsk

Dry Aral HarbourThe boltThe main reason for coming to Aralsk is to see the ship graveyard and the sea. We did neither. Yesterday we had a flat tyre and still drove about 500k with one spare tyre. Pieter was tired and didn't want to risk the tyres on the bad road out to these sights. I asked about pricesto hire a jeep and driver for me. Unfortunately prices had gone up 50% since the LP was published. To spend so much on me isdifficult for me to do. It may not have been worth it any way. Instead we had a day of rest and had the tyre fixed. The boltthat caused the flat tyre was 12 centimeters long! There was another nail as well. The tyre is a write off. At least it was the worstof the second hand Mauritanian tyres. We were not the only ones to have a flat. In such long distances we passed many with similar problems. Rest stops along the way often serve as bus stops. Besides a shelter and toilet there is also a huge ramp to allow a truck to be driven on to it and worked on from underneath. Good idea in a area with few towns and fewer mechanics.

For dinner we had our first Kazakh soup. There was a huge problem with communication. We asked for soup. They seemed to understandbut kept pointing to a menu. In the end we realised that there were many varieties of soup and chose ravioli soup. Soup, with the inevitable bread seems to be a staple. It comes with noodles, ravioli or potatoe, meat and other ingredients depending on the variety. Vegetables are few and far between. We have since had some lovely soups using the point and hope method. The next night we wanted something different.We tried various options on the menu using the point method. None of them were available. In the end we settled for chickenshashlyk (kebabs). Then were told there was another dish also available. It turned out to be meat and rice balls with mashedpotatoe. Pieter loves potatoe so he was very happy. It was a tasty meal, well presented.

Friday 1 to Saturday 2 June 2012, to Turkistan

The road continued to be in the process of re-building. The equipment being used is very modern. We actually saw a machine layinga thick layer of concrete over a wide area - all in one go. Impressive.The landscape continued to be flat with dry salt lakes near Aralsk and rice paddies around Kyzylorda. It can get boring but not if you watch the details and colour changes. There were also huge swarms of crickets, many of them losing their lives by being driven over.

Sunday 3 to Monday 4 June 2012, Turkistan

Some mud walls remain

Sauran, near Turkistan, was the capital of the Mongol White Horde (successors of the Mongols in this area) in the 14th century. Since it was made of mud and straw it has not weathered well. There have been excavations and some restoration but not much. We had difficultyfinding it as there are no signs. By asking and backtracking we eventually came to it. To my chagrin I fount that it was visiblefrom the road. Obviously I was looking elsewhere at the time.

Some mud walls remain

The mausoleum of the first great Turkic Suffi Holy Man and mystical poet, Kozha Akhmed Yasaui (12th century), is large with rather coarse tiling.It was built by Timur in the 1390's. Timur also gave a large bowl for holy water to the mausoleum. By large I mean more than 3 meters high and proportionately wide. When we visited there was a group of Kazakh tourists with a guide. At first I thought some-one was praying the voice was so monotone and monotonous. A careful look at the crowd changed my mind, they were looking aroundin interest. It is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims in Central Asia.

Tuesday 5 to Thursday 7 June 2012, Shymkent

Shymkent has a wonderful Shopping Mall where you can find real coffee and delicious cakes. There is also a Toyota Dealer, as good aswe expect, where the car was serviced. We spent time just walking around, through the Mall, the nearby park and the Regional Museum.The staff there are very proud of their museum and made sure we saw it all. It was very well laid out and labelled - if you could read Kazakh. There was some English and Russian as well. The emphasis was on people and their equipment through the ages. The section on the war had very few weapons.

          Two girls at a party           Learning to skate            Learning to skate with help            The main park

Friday 8 to Saturday 9 June 2012, Tonkeris

The Sayram-Ugan National Park on the border of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan is lovely. We organised a day's horse ride in Lenger andwere given excellent directions to Tonkeris and the guest house where we would meet our guide and horses. Then we went into the hills nearby and camped. What a glorious place. The views were great and the peace and quiet were welcome. I am sure that every-one in the village knew we were there but no-one bothered us.

Saturday we duly arrived at the guest house where we met our guide and horses. The ride was really good except for the last hour.We went over hills and through valleys to Keskasu Canyon. At least that was our intention. I assume we had lunch at the canyon.It was not that impressive. The journey was much better. My horse didn't really want to do anything except eat. I had to constantly encourage it to move. Occasionally it would break into a canter to catch up. By the last hour I was very tiredand could not keep up the continual encouragement. So.... the horse decided to walk under a tree. The result? I fell off. At least it wasn't a bad fall. From then on our guide led the horse - much easier for me.Pieter had a more responsive horse. That is until it had to cross the river, walk on loose stones or go downhill! At one stage, again in the last hour, it bluntly refised to go down a hill. I was always last and my horse also decided to stop. We both hadto get off and pull on the reins to get them to move again then lead them downhill. The guide was way ahead and we had more or less sorted things out by the time he returned for us. It was later that I fell off. No matter, we are very glad we did it andthoroughly enjoyed it. By next morning we were both a bit stiff but not as bad as I had expected.

I had been given a whip. Obviously the horse is known for its reluctance to move. I lost it twice before I found a good place tostore it when I wasn't using it. Our guide retrieved it in the time honoured manner, by leaning right over and picking it up without ever leaving the saddle. Very gracefull. On the way back a young boy, 4 to 5 years old, came to fetch the guide's horse. He climbed on to the saddle by just manageing to grab the front of the saddle and some saddle blanket at the back. With one foot in the stirrup he swung under the horse to give him the momentum to swing up onto the saddle. He then proceeded to confidently ride the horse away. It was fascinating to watch, such grace and confidence. I guess he was born in the saddle.

When we left the village we helped a farmer start his tractor using our tow rope. A fitting thank you for their unobtrusive hospitality.

          Pieter on his horse           Ann on her horse            Our camp site            Wild flowers

Sunday 10 to Thursday 14 June 2012, Almaty

It took 2 days to drive through to Almaty. There were mausoleums to see but we skipped them after the disappointmnet of Turkistan.Our hotel is opposite the market. What a lively place. Everything is clean and the goods are well displayed. We eat in the cafesaround it and buy cherries or strawberries to eat with cream. Delicious. The sheets have finally gone in for washing. That is not something I can do in a hotel room.

The first day was taken up with the application for a Kyrgyzstan visa. Easy but time consuming. Next day Pieter went looking for used tyres. He could only find new ones. He decided to live with one spare tyre until he can buy some used ones in Europe.

I went sightseeing. First to Zenkov Cathederal with its golden onion tops, then on to the State Museum. Our hotel is in the north of town, the museum in the south. It is uphill all the way from north to south. My intention was to go to Furmanov St and catch a bus up. I had a map and when I judged I was in Furmanov St I asked someone. They confirmed I was in Furmanov, or at least I thought they had. I kept walking up to find a bus stop. Notonly were there no bus stops, there were no buses! There were buses one street across though. I was very tired by this time and went into the first cafe I came across for a long sit down and acup of tea. Prices in Almaty are strange. On the way to Almaty we stopped for lunch. We had a large chicken thigh with mashand veggies for 600 tenge. When we arrived in Almaty we were not hungry so went to a coffee shop recommended in the LP for coffeeand cake. The coffee was 700 tenge, the cake 350 tenge. My tea was 400 tenge. In the market you can get a cup of tea for 100 tenge.

The museum was very well laid out with a reasonable amount of English labels. Exibits covered man's development from paleolithic times to modern Kazakhstan. I always enjoy looking at the clothing and tools. There are reproductions of people from ancient times. These show caucasian people. In the foyer there was a replica of the "Golden man". This is a Scythian warriors costume from around the 5th century BC. The man who wore it was probably caucasian with no genetic relationship to Kazakhs, but it is a national symbol.

The Monument to Independence is nearby. On top of the column is the 'Golden Man" standing on a winged snow lepard.

          Zenkov Cathederal           The golden man - replica            The golden man on a snow leopard            Almarty market

Friday 15 to Monday 18 June 2012, Charyn Canyon area

We had difficulty finding the canyon because the spelling is different to that in the LP. Instead we spent the night at a lovely spot beside the Charyn River. When we arrived there was a man having difficulty with his wheel. His hub cap had spokes and a stone had gone between the spokes totally ruining the brakes. The pads now clung tightly to the wheel making it impossible to drive. Pieter lent him one of our jacks. He removed the tyre and the actual disk, broke the disk and wedged a broken piece between the brake pads to keep them away from the wheel. He now had no brakes on that wheel but at least he could drive. His wife then invited us to have a meal of very stale bread (they had been there for a few nights), tomatoes, cucumber, chicken and pork pieces. We had lots of laughs trying to communicate.

Next morning we found the canyon after asking lots of people. Unfortunately it was very windy with sporadic rain so all we did was take photos from the top. We retuned to our lovely spot for a few nights to wait out the weather. With a river nearby there was lots of reasonably clean water so I pottered around removing dust and generally cleaning the inside. Pieter improved his aim with plenty of target practice.

Some Kazakhs arrived and actually had a dip in the cold water. They did not swim because the current is too fast to venture too far out.

Eventually the weather improved and Pieter ran out of pellets so we went for a walk in the canyon before returning to Almaty. It was quite steep to get down but almost level once in the canyon. Almost level but with a downward slope which became steeper the further downstream we went. We didn't go far but what we did do was definitely worth the effort. There is a different perspective when you are down the bottom.

          Our camp site           Charyn Canyon from the top            Charyn Canyon from the bottom            Mama toad defending her youngster from the snake

Friday 22 to Saturday 23 2012, Tamgaly

With out visa in hand we headed for Bishkek. First though came a visit to the Tamgaly petroglyphs. There are over 4,000 petroglyphs from the BronzeAge (approx. 2,000 BC) and later carved on basalt. I had looked up Google maps (after the debacle with Charyn Canyon) and finding the site was easy. A film group was already there. The director was really excited to see us. He was making a documentary about the site and felt foreign visitors was just the thing to put in the documentary. We had to drive out and in again, greet our guide and have a chat to the archaeologist. Great fun.

Afterwards I went with the guide to look at the petroglyphs. Considering he knew very little English he did a great job and we had lots of laughs. The petroglyphs cover extensive areas of rock. They include animals and shamans sacrificing to the sun. The circle from the Kazakh flag is also there along with dancers. Nearby are some kurgan or grave sites. The graves are lined with basalt rocks. The remains have been taken to museums.

We didn't want to enter Kyrgyzstan before Sunday as the main purpose for going to Bishkek was to apply for the Tajik visa. We found a nice spot near Tamgaly and spent the day relaxing. We obviously became the local show. We were visited several times by men herding cattle. We offered them some water as that is about all we have. They indicated vodka and cigarettes would be better appreciated. Oh well, our thoughts were OK.

              horses               Dancing                Waiting for the bus

The border was confusing. There was a road with a standard bar across it or what looked like a corrugated wall. This was actually a gate and the cars queued up here. We were confused and it took us some time to figure the situation out. We were not the only ones either. Eventually we were let through. Passport control was easy. The entry paper which we had especially stamped a second time when we registered with the police in Uralsk was not required! On the other hand we should have been given a customs document for the car. This took ages to sort out. Eventually it was agreed that a photocopy of the car papers and Pieter's passport would suffice.

Average costs Euro Back to Interregnum Next to Kyrgyzstan
per litre diesel 0.50
Hotels per night 34.55 Asia Menu
Kilometers travelled 3,784
Days 31 Home