I stayed in Shymkent for two nights which coincided with England’s game in the European Championships with Italy. I prepared everything I needed to in readiness for setting off early on Monday morning and was quite looking forward to the prospect of watching a game from the relative comfort of my hotel bed.
Free wi-fi hotspot outside Miras Travel
The problem is as always the time difference which meant that the game kicked off here at 12:45 a.m. Monday morning. It’s a struggle for me at the best of times to stay awake after 11 these days but as I haven’t had the opportunity to see many games I wasn’t going to miss this one.
I can’t say I was surprised by the result, nor for that matter even disappointed. I think anyone who has watched England over the years will know that our expectations are very low these days. I wasn’t even the least bit nervous when it come down to penalties and it was simply of case of merely switching off the light and turning over to go to sleep once the final Italian kick went in.
The problem this did leave me with was a real lack of sleep. Nevertheless I was up bright and early, eager to get to the police station to register my visa again. I found the police station without any difficulty and even the office where they handle this procedure; however it was here that my early morning enthusiasm was sapped. The process had taken less than 20 minutes in Almaty but here my passport was put onto a pile. It was about 9:30 and as I waited patiently behind the glass counter the man continued to take passports and place them on top of mine. After about five minutes the officer looked up at me with a rather blank stare, jotted something down on a piece of paper and slipped it back under the glass to me., 12:30. I had hoped to be out of the city and on the road by 10:30 but those plans were well and truly scuppered by the wheels of bureaucracy. You can take the Soviet out of Kazakhstan but you can’t take its bureaucratic ways.
I returned to the station two hours later at 12:30 on the dot and surprise, surprise it still wasn’t ready. At about five to one a guard game in, said something in Russian and motioned to me that it was now time for lunch. Lunch in government organizations is frequently long affairs and there was no way I was going to come back in another two hours.
I leaned forward to the poor girl with a mountain of passports in front of her and pleaded with her to do mine right now. She managed to find it in amongst all the others but the frustrating thing was that she would do a small part filling in the form and then switch to another. If only I knew the Russian for ‘do it all!’ But the worse thing you can do in any of these places is to lose your temper, smile and wait patiently is your best bet.
Passport back in hand it was time to leave. I checked the weather in the morning and was surprised to see a break in the intense heat I’ve been experiencing ever since arriving in Kazakhstan. The grey almost ‘British’ like weather was much more conducive to riding.
I finally left Shymkent around one thirty and as it was 170km to my next destination of Turkistan I decided that a short ride of about 80km would suffice for the afternoon.
It’s funny with the blog there are certain things you miss out but now that I’m leaving Shymkent I can say that I’ve left behind what many Kazaks have informed me is one of Kazakhstan’s most dangerous cities. We’ve been down this road before and apart from the occasional brute of a guy I saw whilst in the centre of the city I witnessed little to see any evidence for such a weighty claim.
The pollution on the other hand as I left the city was far more dangerous than any human threat I’d felt while being there. This combined with the fact that they are attempting to relay the existing road out of the city to the north meant my lungs were treated to the double whammy of lead and dust!
I’ve gone on about the state of roads a fair bit I know but this road was truly horrific. I know efforts are being made and they have to be but it was still no help to me. As one local guy put it so succinctly; “Kazakhstan, beautiful women, terrible roads!”
I managed to find some sections of road which were brand new and yet to be opened to cars and had the joy of riding all by myself on these but these sections only last for about 500m before you are forced back on the rubble and mess that double as highways.
Thankfully a nice tailwind propelled me along for much of the day and I also ran into a couple of Dutch cyclists Paul and Wouter heading in the opposite direction. They have pretty much the same route that I’m following however they took a slightly different route through Kazakhstan. Instead of following the M32 which I’m now on they choose to go west.
According to the map I have there are 3 types of roads in Kazakhstan:
1) Main roads – shown as a thick red line, such as the M32 I’m now on
2) Connecting roads – or yellow lines on the map
3) Track – broken red lines.
Paul and Wouter choose to take one of the yellow roads just after Aral which runs through a place called Shalqar and which takes you to Aqtobe one of the cities will visit. They warned me that under no circumstances should I even consider taking this road as there is no road just a series of mud and sand tracks which you apparently have to guess blindly which to be the correct one. I think they ended up by taking a bus as the conditions were so bad. So we have to bear in mind that these are Kazakhstan’s second classification of roads!
A whole lot of fun
It was good to compare notes with them on what they’ve experienced and vice-versa. I think we all agreed that you don’t come to Central Asia to eat the food. I’ve been in the country now for over a month and am beginning to tire of the sight of another plate full of meat. I’m even beginning to grow tired of one dish I previously enjoyed, that of ‘lagman’, noodles with vegetables and meat.
Perhaps it also has something to do with the weather which isn’t, I would say exactly suited to stuffing ones face full of large hunks of meat. I know some meat is important but I’m mostly trying to stay on salads, pasta and large quantities of Naan bread.
The roads may be rough but the drivers hospitality here is anything but. I’m constantly being handed bottles of drink by friendly passing drivers.
I ended up putting about 100km on the clock yesterday before I found a suitable place to put the tent down for the night. I was pretty tired when I finally got into the tent; my lack of sleep from the previous night was really beginning to tell. It was always my plan to stop and look around the small city of Turkistan about 60km away and where I will arrive tomorrow.