Two dogs pawing at the outside of my tent was how I started the day but it was good that I was up bright and early and ready for another day of riding through the steppe.
About 40km down the road from where I camped there was a café, so for anyone reading this riding from Aral you’re looking at around the 120km mark before you can find a place to eat. I stopped at the café in order to get some breakfast.
When I first arrived in Kazakhstan I stopped one day at a café and ordered two fried eggs. I decided at that time to take a picture of it on my phone so that in the future I’d simply be able to get it out and show people what I wanted. I did the same here with the guy at the café and even held up two fingers to indicate I wanted two eggs. He returned about ten minutes later with a bowl containing no less than SIX fried eggs and some kind of fried meat lying on the top of it! I did my best to work my way through the six eggs but it was hard going.
The next drinks stop was a further 75km down the road.
I had to contend once again all day with constant head and cross winds, it seems that as soon as the roads improve the wind turns against me. I’m now in Aktobe province and since I crossed over the border the road surface has improved dramatically. They even have specified rest stops where you can find a toilet (not the nicest, but it’s a toilet) and a kind of bus shelter which has tables and chairs for you to sit at. There are even signs indicating when the next one will be. I stopped at one such stop and cooked up a massive bowl of pasta late in the afternoon. I’m trying to avoid eating at cafes along the way if at all possible as my stomach has still not really come to terms with the local food.
Okay....so not every road is perfect!
I arrived at the turn off to Irgiz after about 125km. There is no need to go to Irgiz and besides it’s a 25km ride so a round trip of 50km. The crossroads has everything you need; a couple of cafes which also sell lots of different snacks. I settled upon the first one I came across and met a very nice lady who was watering the small patch of grass at the front of the restaurant. I explained to her that I’d ridden my bike from China and was looking for a place to stay. She invited me into the restaurant and told me I could store the bike inside. I was at this point still unsure of whether I could sleep there or not.
I decided against the offer of a meal in the café and instead settled for a cup of tea, crisps and chocolate, a meal for champions if ever there was one. The café was really quite nice and there was even Yuri Geller on TV doing some very elaborate magic trick in Russian which seemed to go on for a good hour or so.
As I sat watching local TV three motorbikes pulled up outside, I could see from the flags proudly displayed on the back of their jackets that they were from Poland. It turned out that they were also looking for a place to sleep for the night. One of the guys Anton came inside because he spoke Russian but the lady at the café obviously said it wasn’t possible for the to sleep there. I introduced myself to Anton and found out that they were riding from Poland through Kazakhstan, then into Mongolia and then back into Russia. I explained to him what I was doing and he was quite surprised and said he’d be back later with the two other guys to chat more about it over a beer.
From right to left, Anton, Marek and Pavel
Good to his word they came back an hour later saying that they’d found a place just next to this café where they could stay the night. As it was unclear whether I could stay here or not they invited me to go and stay with them and after a quick discussion in Polish agreed that they’d like to pay the 500T (about two pounds) for me to also sleep there. I know it’s not a lot of money but it’s just once again another sign of the kindness I’ve witnessed along the way. They’d come back to this café as the other one is Muslim and therefore doesn’t serve alcohol. Having sunk a couple of beers and chatted about our respective journeys I headed back to the other café with Anton, Pavel and Marek and they showed me their motorbikes. They looked so much more complex than my very simple bicycle.
Home for the night.
On arrival I had anticipated the prospect of another long evening doing nothing by myself but in the end had the real pleasure of meeting my new Polish comrades.