Amazing thing was that Miss E did not get 2 stamps to her Visa on arrival to Kazakhstan. Everyone everywhere have said that if you arrive by plane, you will get two stamps and do not need to register. If you arrive via land border, then you need to do a registration separately.
So, morning departure was delayed while enjoying not so smooth service in registration office.
Roads on Tuesday were smooth as silk. On Karabutak we filled the tank as this was last fuel station before Aralsk (around 400km in between). Roadsurface from Karabutak onwards was new and smooth as a silk.
Due to late start, we camped in the desert again. Miss E was a bit worried that tent cannot handle strong winds which were blowing that evening and night, but I knew it can easily handle it because it survived also strong winds in Iceland without a problem.
I slept like a baby even wind was howling outside. I think Miss E was worrying much more than me 🙂
The next morning we couldn’t leave early, because I had to take the chance in Aktobe to get my second stamp on my migration form since I would stay in Kazakhstan longer than 5 days.
We found the police station for this easily. It was 10am and there was already a long queue from the window for this service.
All the other windows were open but this one was still shut. And it seemed no one knew when this window would open.
Half an hour later, it eventually opened. People in front of us seemed to be from Russia as they were able to not only talk to the officer in local language but also had an oral fight.
The woman already looked quite upset from the fight, when it was my turn I got pretty nervous. Finding out I didn’t understand her, she sent someone who was able to speak English and I said I was there for tourism. But I was told I had a working visa.
Aha, that’s why the invitation letter from that Visum Point cost me 300€s!
They told me to wait for 10mins. We waited aside but no one called me, so I decided to queue up again.
When it was my turn again I was told to go to another window, where I had to queue again… but eventually I got my needed stamp, so when I left the country I wouldn’t be punished by their law if I didn’t do it, which I was already considering doing during the endless waiting… ☺
Finally we were able to set off on our journey and it was already 12am!
The road to the south was amazingly good! We couldn’t believe our eyes! It felt so nice to see road signs!
They reminded you of bumpy road for the next 500ms. So thoughtful!
On our first part of the ride, there was not even a single sign warning us 300kms ahead there was no road!
No sign of those big hollows everywhere on the so called main road on our map. And now they warn us about the little wavy pavement on the road, oh how sweet and considerate!
As the road got better and better, the scenery along the road started to change. We started seeing farm lands and crops! And it got greener and greener.
Even later when the desert look was back again, it was still covered with taller and bigger green bushes.
As the next 400kms to Aralsk there would be no gas station we gassed and bought water, instant noodles and 2 cucumbers and 2 oranges for vitamin supply in the last small town.
Since we had left Aktobe too late, we only covered 300kms on that day and by 7pm, we had to look for a place to camp. It was on desert again, but this time with less dry bushes.
The ground was full of big ant holes everywhere. But observing for a while, we didn’t see any ants. So we concluded there was something living there, maybe not ants, but something.
We spotted a place with the least of those holes and set up the tent there. Then we saw tiny lizards a couple of time, but weren’t able to take any picture of these fast runners. Dinner was cucumber noodle soup. Again awesome taste!
At night, the wind started to get very strong. We had to tie our luggage and suits tightly on the bike. And I listened to the wind and hoping that we and our tent won’t get blown away while asleep and I didn’t get much of it.
After a tasty breakfast we hit the road again. This morning we saw first time other bikers in Kazakhstan.
Polish biker was riding nice Africa Twin. Russian biker was riding R1200GS Adventure. Russian biker warned us about the “hard offroad” -sections ahead. I was wondering how hard can it be, but decided to push this thought aside and face this area when the time comes.
Aralsk looked quite sad town. It used to be big fishing town, but now it looked desert town (which it actually is, because shore is 12km away). I would have wanted to take some photos of the ships on a dry land, but we could not find any.
In Aralsk we met 3rd biker of the day, American guy who was riding R1200GS Adventure. We were discussing a bit about the route ahead and also (naturally) our bikes 🙂
We decided to continue onwards from Aralsk to cover some more mileage before night. This ment that we camped third time during this trip. Wind calmed down after sunset and then all hell broke loose! Armies of bloodthirsty mosquitos wanted to have taste of exotic tourists, so this ment that no enjoyment of the night sky 🙁
The next day we learned the lesson from no breakfast, big lunch and sleepy driver mistake, so we decided to have noodle breakfast.
Soon after we hit the road, we met our first fellow biker from this trip. A Polish guy on his way back to Poland and he has been on his bike trip for 2 months. We asked him about the road ahead, and were told after Aralsk, the next 500km was very bad road. After we took a picture and he marked down Marko’s homepage, we continued our ways in opposite directions.
Then we met a Russian biker, with whom we couldn’t talk much as we couldn’t speak Russian. But he managed to warn us the same thing about the road ahead of us.
It was really hard to imagine the road being bad again, as the current part was so new and perfect, it was like a 300km long dream that was hard to wake up from!
We stopped a couple of times for beautiful camels and spent some time taking pics close to them.
The landscapes varied from greener lands to drier deserts from time to time. Around 5pm we arrived in Aralsk where the Arau Sea used to be. It was the biggest lake in the world before the Russians redirected the 2 rivers flowing into it to irrigate their fields. And now it became very small and was 12km away from the city. Riding through the town, we couldn’t find any ship relics.
Before we left the town, we had to reinforce our food supply.
Stopping in front of their market place, we became a scene again and people stared at us and some came to talk.
It was such an interesting situation for me and Marko in Kazakhstan. As this country is a big mix of different ethnic groups, there are Caucasian looking people, Asian looking people, and people looking in between. So Marko was often taken as Russian and I local.
In the small towns and villages that we passed there were dominantly Asian or even Mongolian looking people. So when people started talking to Marko and he shook his head, they turned into me with great hope in their eyes that I would be the conversation saver.
At the local market place, I was surrounded by 3 women selling melons. They got very curious with us, and when Marko was away taking pictures, they came to talk to me and patted my back.
I shook my head indicating I didn’t understand. One of them started to shake me. At that moment, I really wasn’t sure what to do, but luckily Marko got back and “saved” me 🙂
I didn’t know what they wanted, but according to him they just wanted to see me as I was hidden under my helmet and sunglasses. I was glad they didn’t try to haul my helmet off, but instead only pull of my glove. They touched my hand compared my skin with theirs, gave me thumb up that I had good protection and they looked as dark as Africans. Those were very direct and lovely women 🙂
When we were coming out of Aralsk, we met the 3rd biker of the day! This time an American guy working in Amsterdam and taking a half year off on a bike tour through Europe to mid Asia and now he was heading back to Amsterdam. The guys had a cheerful talk about their BMW bikes which I didn’t catch much. From what I can tell Marko’s was bigger and blue, and his was smaller and red. But seemed both agreed Marko’s bike was a brilliant one and better with sandy road, lucky me ☺
Since all 3 biker warned us the next 500kms would be tough, we decided not to stay in a hotel in Aralsk for the night but keep on riding.
Then we made another 100kms and we camped on the desert again. This time it was more sandy and we had to clean the small thorny bushes with our boots, which brought more dirt onto my boots.
I had to admit, at that point I got pretty frustrated with the tough situation. Still 800kms ahead with more than half of it very difficult, and I had only 3 days left for this trip.
I really didn’t want to spend all the time on the road in the desert… I had wanted to reach Shymkent the next day to relax for 2 days before I had to fly back, but it seemed not possible. So we could only aim to make it on Friday eve and we both had to leave the country on Sunday morning.
Also the second consecutive day camping on the desert without showing in that hot weather started to bother me. When the sun went down, when had wanted to enjoy the night sky, we were suddenly attacked by thousands of mosquitos. We were bitten here and there in no time. So we had to rush into the tent without much clean up.
At night the wind started blowing hard again. I was again mostly sleepless because of the sound of the tent in the wind and also worry about our suits getting blown away. Luckily everything was where it was the night before.
I know that there are lot of people travelling all around world with bicycles, but meeting them in the middle of nowhere is really amazing. This morning we met two guys who where cycling from Shanghai to Dublin! Just thinking of this kind of trip gives me goose bumps. These guys are tough, really tough and deserves respect from everyone of us. You can follow their journey from their blog.
This day one of my childhood dreams was fullfilled, I saw Baikonur space center! It felt really unreal to stand there and see it in real. I have visited Houston Space center, but this was still more special, far away, deep in east, mystified by Russian secrecy. Wow, this is the day that I will remember the rest of my life!
At some point also this “hard offroad”-section started. It was nothing compared to our first and second day experience. We just switched between good asphalt and good gravel service road (with few sandy sections). Gravel road was in such a good condition that I did not need to slow down too much there. Sometimes we ignored signs and used already paved mainroad (which was still closed) by crossing piles of gravel on a road. This brought some enjoyment for the ride and also kept Miss E awake 🙂
The next morning we were greeted by our horse neighbors. They came to watch us while breakfast was made.
We continued our trip on the road and soon we saw two bicycles coming towards us from the horizon. Two cyclists! We couldn’t believe our eyes! Then of course we stopped and we got to know Ben from America and Benetton from Australia.
What was even more unbelievable was that they came from Shanghai in China, and they have already covered 6000kms in 2 months on their bicycles, WOW!
Besides water and camping gears they didn’t have much, and they were able to come such a long way. Their target was to go to Dublin.
The sun has made them quite dark and I could even see some skin peeling off from the sunburn on their arms. Seeing them, I realized how comfortable our motorcycle trip had been, and I said to Marko I would keep my mouth shut for complaints from then on. 🙂
It was also amazing to hear them speaking some Chinese to me, and I was really curious of their trip in the western part of China. Ben and Brendan had their blog for their trip too. We would take some time and read it through. What got us worried after we had already said goodbye was that they didn’t have any cooking utensil as there had been village or small road cafes for truck drivers along the road every 50 to 70kms. We felt the need to warn them to get good preparation towards Atyrau. Road over there was much worse and there was a part of 100km long without any village or café.
After meeting the impressive cyclists, we soon approached to the Russian space center. We could see some sort of control center with big satellite dishes. Marko took pics of that place and after we continued on the way, he still kept looking back for long a while until I had to place his head straight as he was making me dizzy with his spinning head. ☺
We also passed some nice looking white buildings and we had no clue what it was. So we turned back to check it out. It turned out to be a new but closed museum. It was quite strange idea to have a museum in the middle of nowhere. And on the opposite side of the road it was the new cemetery being built. I really wondered who the target customers to this museum were…
Not long after passing the museum we started running into the evil road section according to our friends. It was ongoing road construction that required constant switch between new paved road and sandy service road. Since we have seen much worse at the beginning of this trip, it wasn’t so bad to us.
As we tried to keep the speed and as little bumpy as possible, Marko tried to stay on the new road that were blocked every 2 to 10kms. Sometimes we had to pass very big pile of sand blocks and sometimes we had to ride back as there was no way to bypass.
Often I had to get off to make the bike lighter to go over the block. I believed I got on and off more than 10 times that day and eventually my legs went soft and I needed a 2nd try to throw it over our high mounted luggage on the back. During bypassing the blocks, we got pretty lucky once. In front of a quite high sand block, there were two possible spots where Marko could drive over. He was so clever to send me to check from the other side whether it’s ok to go, and it turned out to be there was a hole behind the sand. So blessed that we checked!
Passing these blocks was challenging to me, but seemed to be a piece of cake to him 🙂
Another thing that bothered me was the wind that was blowing our way this time. As vehicles had to use sandy service road most of the time, whenever there was a truck or a car from the oncoming way passing by, we were swallowed in the dirt blow it created. Once we were passing by a truck and in the dirt I couldn’t see anything, the bike rode over a hollow pretty fast, I got big shock in my back and head. It gave me a bad headache for a couple of hours. But after that, Marko always slowed down when a truck passed by and we didn’t have that problem anymore.
On that day we made about 300kms to Kyzylorda because of the inconvenient road condition.
We found a nice local hotel and had wonderful food in a café. Ordering food was fun and challenging again. They kept changing 3 waitresses and waiters and still none of them spoke any English and we forgot to take our picture language book. So I started imitating lamb as I wanted it.
Seems I was able to get a starter with that. But I wanted the main course.
Then we pointed at some further section on the menu and were surprised to see that the main courses were 2000 to 3000, which was around 10 to 16€s, that was expensive food over there!
I kept looking for lamb and pointed on one that looked to be 12€s, but the guy said vodka. I thought I heard it wrong, and Marko said it could be some food also called vodka.
The waiter saw we didn’t really got it so he went to fetch the vodka he meant, and it was really a bottle of vodka, ha! 🙂 After this we found the right section for main course, and they were all just a few hundreds of local currency, that’s about the right price 🙂
Friday ride was easy, only few spots of road construction and we reached our destination Shymkent after roughly 2400km of travel under burning Kazakhstan sun!
Finally found one hotel which was supposed to be “The best in Shymkent”, but was total crap. It was more like a motel or hostel level than four star. But it was only we could find at that point. Bathtub looked like someone had been axmurdered there and “airconditioning” made some noise, but did not cool down the room. Luckily we were allowed to change the room close to midnight.
The next day we got up early and set out early. We had 450kms ahead, but to our luck and surprise, the road was very good!
Road construction was basically finished and we were able to have smooth road almost all the time!
The landscape changed from desert looking to field looking again. And it seemed from the 3rd day I had already got used to the heat and was able to have my riding jacket zipped up.
During the first 2 days, partially because speed was too low and the temperature was too high, I was holding cold water bottle under the jacket, and sometimes even poured water beneath the jacket.
When the wind cooled me down, I felt really nice, but consequently my cold got worse (I already started to develop a cold before I got to Kazakhstan).
Also from the 4th day it got more and more dirty because of the road construction and the wind, and I had learned being sweaty was much better than dirty to me ☺
With the blessing of the good road, we reached our destination Shymkent around 5pm. It was a very easy and fulfilling riding day!
We looked for hotels downtown, checked 3 ones found from GPS, none was good.
And eventually we took the Shymkent Hotel, with 4 starts on the top of its building. The room was 100€s, but the condition was so bad and it looked to worth this price 30 years ago! But we were told by a local guy who was keen on practicing his English with us that this was the best hotel in Shymkent!
The bath tub was old and dirty, the towels were no longer white and with holes, and the water coming out of the tab had the ice tea color for quite a while…
Also there was no wifi in the room but only in the lobby, and no aircon in the lobby but only in the room.
A redbull from their lobby bar cost more than 5€s, really luxury drink!
For dinner we went to a local restaurant where they served very good grilled lamb spears, almost the same as I had in China! When we returned to the hotel, 5hs after checked in, the room was still very hot. We complained and were allowed to check another room. This time the aircon worked.
Saturday was just chilling out and recover from the previous week ride.
We found really nice hotel which was quite much cheaper than “4-star, axmurder in bathtub -hotel”. Highly recommend Sapar Standard hotel.
Before this part of the journey, I have to admit that I was a bit worried how Miss E could cope with high temperatures, long distances and camping in the desert. For my great surprice, she took it like a real trooper! I do not know what was going on inside her head, but she did not complain.
It was really nice to have friend travelling with me, even it was only for one week.
Difference between travelling alone vs with someone?
On Saturday it was our last day before we both had to leave.
We decided to change a hotel. We found a really nice one, Sapar Standard hotel. It was such a new and modern hotel and only for 65€. We really regret we didn’t find it the day before and we strongly recommend this hotel if you ever come to Shymkent!
We hang out around in town and shops for a short time. Walking in 45 degrees was not as nice as riding in it, I have to admit. It was really hot with no wind and the skin hurts from the sunburn without the heavy protection of the riding suit ☺.
So this was my 7 days motorcycle trip in Kazakhstan. We covered 2400kms in 6 days.
It was quite tough for a rather new bike passenger like me. Sitting so much every day without a day of rest, my bottom hurt a lot since the 2nd day. But I think eventually it got numb of pain in the last 2 days. 🙂
The heat and temperature was a big concern before I came over. But it turned out to be manageable.
The most important lesson that I have learnt from this trip is that ROAD IS EVERYTHING. At the beginning we had taken it for granted that the main road in Kazakhstan would at least have ok pavement for a decent speed. But it seems the concept of road varies a lot.
In a deserted country like Kazakhstan in this temperature, when the road is bad, there is no speed, no wind, no certainty of supply and sometimes even no hope.
Other interesting things I have noticed in this country:
• There are a lot of cemeteries here and there, in the outskirt of the city, near the village, in the desert, in middle of nowhere. All the tombs are in really good shape everywhere, yet the houses in the small towns and villages are much worse.
• Most of the tombs are in the shape of a mosque, but I almost didn’t see any mosque the size for living people…
• Food (usually 2 to 5€s) and gas (0.5€) are really cheap. Bottled water is much more expensive, usually around 2€s.
• No matter the room conditions are good or bad in the hotels, they are all very spacious.
• Landscape is marvelous, not in the sense of diversity but it is so vast and endless. We felt really small when driving through the deserted land, and often there was no one else within they eyes could see.
• Life is very tough in the villages in the desert. Not only for human but also for the livestock. Caws and horses sit under the sun in the heat, under no shade to hide, having very little plants to chew and no water around to be seen.
• People are really nice and friendly, especially in small places – guess it’s true everywhere.