Kazakhstan, part #1

Finally Kazakhstan update is ready! This is going to be really long (again) 🙂

Kazakhstan has been really interesting experience.
Story continues now from Thursday 9th of August (at that point I was still in Atyrau, Kazakhstan).

Slept well in the hotel and had lousy breakfast.
Day´s target was to find cheaper accomodation for rest of the nights in Atyrau, get 3rd party insurance, wash bike and get other small things done.
From hotel I went straight to TGI again to use their free internet. Found excellent internetpage for accomodation in Kazakhstan, http://www.apartamenty.kz
Why this page is so great? Normal hotel booking sites (for example) www.hotels.com and www.booking.com find only few hotels in Kazakhstan, but this page has lot of them. But best part is that this page lists also furnished apartments which can be rented also for one night and cost is much cheaper compared to hotel rooms.

I booked 2 different rooms for the coming three nights.
Had to wait for awhile until guy came to pick me up for paperwork. It was done fast and soon I already carried my stuff to a apartment with bedroom, kitchen and decent bathroom.
After refreshing shower I went to and bought some food from nearby grocerystore. I was surprised how nice it felt to gather some ingredients from grocery store and make a proper meal in real kitchen 🙂
Next thing was to search place where I could get my bike washed, because she started to smell bad.
Could not find selfservice station, so she got really good wash from 4 guys 🙂

I needed also to find place where to find straps for the coming days. I was guided to a bazar, which sold car parts.
Spent one hour of time and 1l of sweat by going around the bazar, but could not find small enough straps. While I was ready to leave, few locals approached me and asked me in english for what I was looking for. Told them and they said these straps are available there. Few minutes later I had straps on my hand, but the price was a bit too high (did not had enough money with me). Seller dropped the price a bit and one of the locals payed the rest! He asked me to write to the blog how polite people are in Kazakhstan. I have to agree, people I have met in Kazakhstan are really great!

Breakfast was not too good, but cannot complain because I made it 😉
On Thursday I saw one insurance office (but it was closed at that time), so decided to go there early in the morning.
One person in the office spoke english, so I was able to explain what kind of insurance I am looking for.
10 minutes later, I had official looking paper on my hand and for my big surprise, it was free of charge! People from the insurance office just wanted to have few photos taken next to the motorcycle 🙂
I do not know what this insurance would have covered in case of accident, but now I at least had paper to show if police asks insurance.

Insurancepaper in my pocket, I went to the apartment rental office and changed to another apartment.
At the afternoon I went to TGI again to meet my French friend Nicolas there.
I also had agreed to meet one reporter there, she wanted to write my story to a local newspaper.
Reporter invited me to spent night at her summer cabin to continue interview. I was not sure at the beginning, because next morning I should be at the airport and summer cabin was around 60km away, but finally agreed to go there.

At the summer cabin I met 4 other persons and was offered tasty dinner. What a great hospitality!
Around midnight I crawled in to my sleeping bag outside of the house (was too hot inside, because no electricity and so no airconditioning). Last thing I remember from that night was gorgeous bright night sky with endless number of stars and few shooting stars.

Woke up to the first light of the coming day and just sat there admiring the rising sun.
Before morning got too hot, I thanked my hosts and rode back to the apartment. After quick shower I went to the airport to meet my friend Miss E who flew to Kazakhstan from Germany to ride with me through Kazakhstan.

Day went really fast and at the evening we did short test ride to test how her riding gear worked in higher temperatures.

She has written really good story about our trip, so most of the following text is from her:

Miss E:
Passenger ride in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a neighbor country to China, but coming from the east coast, to me Kazakhstan has been very faraway and unknown, and frankly it had never crossed my mind that one day I would come over for a visit, let alone on a motorcycle ☺

The whole trip to Kazakhstan started with an enormous challenge with the visa. I used Visum Point service, and it turned out to be a disaster. After 2 weeks hearing nothing from them after the application, I thought everything was going smoothly, until suddenly they asked me whether I would be willing to pay 300€ for an invitation letter, as they found out in the last minute that for a Chinese I needed an invitation letter and with that I could still get my visa on time.
Then on the next day they said even with this expensive invitation letter, the visa would come 5 days later than I had planned. And normally getting a tourist invitation letter costs only 50 dollars from some other agency. But it’s too late to change to any other company for doing the visa, I just had to give whatever they asked for.

Because of this delay, the original 12 days trip had to be shortened to 8 days. And I couldn’t fly to Astrakan in Russia and meet Marko there, and had to fly to Atyrau. Thus I wasted my Russian visa and also had to pay for cancelling and rebooking the flights, altogether it was a 1000€s loss.
But the nightmare didn’t just end there. 3 days before my departure, they told me that they got my visa earlier than they thought and my passport was already sent to me. On the next day I still didn’t receive it, and it turned out to be that they sent it to a wrong address in Bremen. 2 days later, in the morning of my departure day my passport eventually arrived.
When I opened the long expected envelope, I immediately found that my German residence card was missing, which was used for applying the Kazakhstan visa. Without it I couldn’t leave or return to Germany.
I was in rage. But there was no time to be upset and I quickly thought of going to the foreign office in Ulm and see if they could help me out. Luckily they printed a new one in the old sticker form and posted it to my passport. In my recent experience dealing with these officials, this time the luck was on my side… ☺

So after all these crises were solved I finally was able to leave. To make the trip on bike possible, I couldn’t take any suitcase with me. Instead I had 3 bags and riding suit in hand, and all went with hand luggage. So there was quite some packing unpacking with the helmet bag at the security check as I shouldn’t take so many bags with me. After an overnight travel, there I was, in the southwest Kazakhstan city, Atyrau. Marko and his 2 months old new beard greeted me ☺

Coming from 25 degrees Germany, I was immediately embraced by the passion of the Kazakh city, 43 degrees. Riding in such a temperature with my black winter riding suits has always been a big concern of mine, whether I was able to stand it or I would pass out on the bike… So on the day of arrival, Marko and I went out for a test drive in the cool evening of 35 degrees for a soft landing for me ☺ We went to look for the Caspian sea which was 20km away from the city, but after the last 5km dry mud road with deep grooves we still failed to see any sea. But riding in the wind with my outfit seemed to be manageable.

I had agreed to give away the apartment at nine in the morning, so needed to start packing quite early. All my stuff already had their own place on the bike and now I needed to squeeze a bit more luggage to the bike. Luckily Miss E travelled lightly, so soon bike was loaded. Now it really looked like a camel which had backpacks hanging on the both sides of the fuel tank and spare tire hanging in the back 🙂
Additional luggage and passenger did not affected too much to the riding comfort and handling thanks to light as a feather Miss E.

Day´s ride started on a good roads, but after around 100km road turned to really bad.
Pavement on the road was full of deep, big and sharp edge holes, so riding was like downhill skiing. Sometimes road surface was so bad that I had to ride on a tracks which followed the main road. Tracks were partly quite sandy and this was only place where I felt additional passenger. Sandy parts with fully loaded bike are quite tricky, but with passenger even trickier.

Due to slow speed, we had to camp in the desert which was really nice. Found a nice camping sport and at the evening we were admiring millions of stars in clear sky.

Miss E:
The next day the real journey was about to start.
Marko proved to be an expert packer. After half an hour tying and squeezing, he was able to clear his passenger seat that was earlier hosting his spare tire for me and added my backpack.

At 10am we hit the road. The first part of 100km was nice and smooth. With close to 100km speed, the heat was even bearable. Just when I started getting bored and even falling sleep in my warm outfit, it seemed we had lost our way.
We turned back and forth and rounded some village and what we found was only a dirt track which seemed to be the main road A27 on GPS.
We continued a while on this track and couldn’t believe this was the A27.
We stopped a truck driver to check and were told it was the right road, and this condition would continue for the next 270km. So we continued.

On the dirt track, we could only go 50 speed top, and often 30 only. When the speed came down, I started to feel the heat inside my suit and helmet. So against the safety protocol, I had to keep my jacket open.

It was desert with low and dry bushes on both sides. When there was a car or a truck passing by, the wind created long dirt smog. Luckily the wind was not blowing to our direction, so we were just admiring the view without being devoured in the dirt.
There were also swirls of dirt from the wind every now and then, sending a column of dirt into the sky. And they danced their way from south to north, often crossed the track in front of us, and eventually disappeared. Really marvelous desert scene!

After a few kilometers pure sand track, there was found the real A27. To our despair, the road looked to be 50 years old and filled with hollows everywhere. It had decayed so much that there was almost no asphalt left but only big sharp gravels exposing in the air. Marko had to drive very carefully to avoid these but it was still very bumpy. In the end we decided to take the dirt track next to it. It felt much smoother, but often there was loose sand we made small slips.

In the early afternoon we spotted a house next to the road and there was a knife and fork sign where trucks stopped in front. Of course we stepped in it for lunch!
Not knowing what to order, we looked at the food from the neighbor table and we ordered the same, super delicious lamb soup with bread.
I know our Xingjiang province which borders with Kazakhstan is very famous of their lamb cuisine, so I believed we would have the best chance to enjoy lamb dishes in this country.
The cheap soup cost less than 2 euros in the middle of the desert proved me right! ☺ It definitely made my first desert day much more enjoyable.
After lunch we bought water, and to my greatest surprise, the water bottles were cold! I decided to hold one under my jacket so we can keep each other cool. And in the end we have near body temperature water to drink and that was really a treat in the desert!

The first day we rode about 300km, from 10am to 7pm, and we decided to camp the first night. As we didn’t expect the road to be like this, we didn’t prepare for camping during the day. But experienced as Marko, he found 2 bags of instant noodles and our dinner was wonderful.
At night, I saw the Milky Way in real for the first time! The sky was the clearest ever too. From now and then there were shooting stars. With the cool breeze, the wild camping in the desert was actually quite cozy ☺

Got going in reasonable time to take advantage of cooler temperatures in the morning we continued onwards this thrashed road.
During the morning we were able to make one young boy really happy by letting him to pose on top of the bike, he had BMW t-shirt, so ofcourse we let him to test the bike 🙂
Road got gradually better so I was able to increase speed.
Still could not relax, because road had some deep grooves here and there.
I also made mistake by having too big luch, so combination of full stomache and decent road surface made me felt really tired. I think I fall asleep couple of times which was really scary!
In Oktyabrsk we stopped to a cafe where I ate some candy to get some sugar to my body and also asked locals how is the road to south. They signed road to be quite bad, so we decided to take longer route via Aktobe. Sometimes longer route is faster…

Miss E:
Setting out at 8am, it was already getting quite warm. The road condition was still bad, so we kept riding at 40 speed and got on and off on the sand track.
Along the way we stopped a few times for shooting pictures, wild horse families, camels, and big eagles. It was not easy to take a good picture of the big bird, as they were very alert and immediately flew off when we got close.
After a couple of failed attempts we decided to focus on covering more mileage.

Around 10am it started to get really hot and I felt the need of reinforce our water supply when we passed by a village.
We drove into the village where we saw houses in quite poor conditions. Actually all the villages we passed by were in quite poor conditions. Some didn’t even have any road, but very bumpy and sandy track. This one at least had small streets.
We stopped at the small village grocery store, which looked like in the 80s. People gathered to us outside the shop. They all looked very interested in the big motorcycle and our outfit.
I am sure we were like aliens to them.
Little boys were very curious of the bike. One of them had a T-shirt a BMW logo. Marko invited him to sit on the bike for a picture, and he proudly presented his BMW with a big smile. ☺

Before we left Atyrau, we forgot to change more local currency with us and we put most of it on gas. After buying 3 bottles of water from the village, we really needed to get money for food.
As we were told the day before from the last gas station we passed, the next town with bank was 100km away.
We already covered 60km of that on the previous day, so we didn’t have to starve long until we came to the town and successfully changed our money and found a restaurant.
People seemed to be very friendly and helpful.
An old man sitting outside of the restaurant took us inside. With sign language I managed to order soup, bread and coke. He didn’t leave until we got everything that we needed. We had a wonderful lunch, although not knowing what vegetable it was in our soup that was pink and tasted like potato.

Soon after we continued our way, we got to paved road. Although old and not very smooth, but drivable!
It was such a relief and pleasure and we had to have a high 5!
The next 100kms were comparatively easy, but I was sticking my head out all the time to the far horizons watching out if the good road would disappear.

By 3pm Marko started to feel tired as his stomach stole his energy for the good food. ☺
According to him he fell asleep a few times on the bike. I only noticed it when he was driving at the speed of overtaking the truck ahead of us while there was another truck approaching from the oncoming traffic lane.
I knocked his shoulders and he slowed down. At that point we decided to take a break at a café next to the road.

One thing we have learned in Kazakhstan that café – Kaфe is actually restaurant. At this point, we needed to make a decision whether to go north or south.
Going to the north and then coming down the south was the suggestion from Google map.

Earlier we had thought it was a stupid suggestion to take a 200km longer rout when there was a short cut. But after learning about the road condition we thought it might be wise to do as the road of the short cut may take more time to cover.
So we headed north to the big city Aktobe. It was 200kms ahead with quite good road and we arrived around 7pm.

We picked the Aktobe hotel, where we had the luxury to do a brief laundry on our own in their bath tub. I rinsed my backpack, riding suit and boots with shower. They looked so much nicer when the dirt was gone.

Will continue in Kazakhstan, part #2 -post

2 thoughts on “Kazakhstan, part #1

  1. Hi Thomas,
    Yes, now more exotic countries will start.
    Luckily I can get to the mountains and enjoy cooler weather!

    Thx, I will keep on riding 🙂

  2. Hi Marko, good luck with your next section of trip, seems it might get a bit more difficult now for you. I am about to leave Tierra Del Fuego now, but I left your web-page with Gonzalo, so somebody is watching out for you, when you make it to TDF. The pictures and the posts from Kazakhstan are awesome. Keep on riding Hemuli.

Leave a Reply