A Travellerspoint blog

Uralsk - border with Russia 70km

semi-overcast

I made the decision to leave Uralsk today and ride the seventy kilometres to the border with Russia. My reason for doing so was that I wanted to be at the Russian border at the crack of dawn the following day and therefore able to cross and have a whole day of cycling ahead of me.

This did mean though that there was no immediate hurry to leave Uralsk early in the morning. I woke up early to say goodbye to Sveta who had to head off to work. What a remarkable lady she is and once again I cannot thank her enough for the hospitality she has shown me.

One thing that I did forget to mention in my previous blog was after we visited the Dacha last night we all went back to Sveta’s kitchen (and my temporary bedroom) for more refreshments. In addition Sveta also got out her guitar and another instrument the name of which escapes me at the moment and played some traditional songs for us. It was incredible as we all sat around and were basically given our very own private concert.

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Gallina, another member of this close knit community of friends came over in the morning to say goodbye but to also take me to the bank and help me exchange some money. It was also time to say goodbye to Derek. Over the past few days we’ve gotten to know each other fairly well and shared endless stories and cups of tea discussing a variety of subjects from the relative merits of different chocolate bars to the state of local roads. I’m really happy to have met such an interesting guy and I very much hope to catch up with him again when I return to the UK.

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Gallina

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The Intrepid motorcyclist, Derek

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Bony butt maybe

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Kazakhstan also gearing up for the Olympics

Once again on my own I decided to take a quick tour of the city on my bike. Uralsk like most cities in Kazakhstan is very small and almost has a town like feel to it. With its close proximity to Russia it certainly has more of a ‘Russian’ feel to it.

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I was once again interviewed by a local newspaper, who knows it might even have been the same paper that interviewed me on my first day here. Fame in Uralsk it would seem.

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I headed out of Uralsk knowing that this was goodbye to my last city in Kazakhstan. I told everyone over the last couple of days that I’d love to return one day but in winter to see the extreme contrast in weather conditions. Perhaps I will get the chance to one day, who knows? It seems so long ago that I entered the country from China and now I’ve spanned almost the entire width of it on my bike, it doesn’t quite seem possible.

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The road to the border wasn’t too bad. I’d shown everyone my cycling jacket in the morning as I left and joked to them that in recent months I’ve not needed it. It wasn’t long into the ride today that I was off the bike and reaching back into the bag to pull it out. It was certainly one of the coldest days I’ve experienced recently and the smattering of rain also meant I needed some extra protection.

I knew that I would get to the border early and that’s just how it turned out. There is a small town ten kilometers before called Pogodayevo but very little there in terms of places to stay. I choose instead to ride the final ten kilometers down to the border to get the lie of the land as it were.

The beauty of travelling by bike is that when you approach, like I did a huge line of trucks all waiting in line you can simply whizz around the side of them and straight to the front. I knew it was impossible for me to cross today but I just wanted to see how it all worked. I showed the guard at the first gate my passport and he indicated that going over the border just on the bike would be impossible and that I’d have to put it on the back of a truck, that old chestnut I thought!

There wasn’t really a lot of choice for places to camp but just off the side of the road there were a small collection of portacabins which were home to a three money changers. I got chatting to the people there and explained my situation to them. One of the guys, who knew nothing in English except every swear word under the sun told me it was too dangerous for me to sleep outside and he took me to one of the disused portacabins and told me I could sleep on the floor there. It seemed to be the dumping ground for all the rubbish that nobody wanted but it had a door, a roof and four walls and I’ve certainly slept in worse places. It was an added bonus for me not to have to put the tent up once again.

So tomorrow, goodbye Kazakhstan and hello country number four…..Russia!

Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:01 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Rest day in Uralsk

sunny

Like with many ‘rest days’ on my trip they very rarely turn out to be just that, ‘rest’ This was the same today as both Derek and I headed over to Sophia’s apartment to catch up with blogs, couch requests and of course number one priority washing!

None of this looked possible earlier in the day and it looked like we were destined to spend the entire day inside Sveta’s apartment as neither of us could for the life of us figure out how to open the steel door out of her apartment. In the end after much sweat and toil we had to enlist the help of a couple of passing boys and tossed the keys out of the window to try and help us unlock the door. Never before have I left so helpless or for that matter so useless but this doors locking system has to be seen to be believed.

Similarly Derek and I also had difficulty operating a washing machine whose instructions were all in Russian. Nevertheless in true British fashion we prevailed in the end.

With blogs, telephone calls and all other Internet activity done and dusted we headed back to Sveta’s apartment with another of her friends Lyazzat. Sveta had arranged with her neighbour Sergei to drive out to her Dacha. Dacha is the Russian word used for a seasonal home or second home. We piled into Sergei’s car and took the short ride to the outskirts of the city. Sveta explained to us that she very rarely gets the time to come out here to her Dacha and when we arrived it was clear for us to see that the garden had become a ‘little’ overgrown. However this if anything added to the charm. One might call it beautifully disorganized.

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The garden was host to an endless variety of vegetables, fruits and flowers enough to run a small grocery store. Inside the small cottage was ample room to house at least two people, although I’m not sure it’s the kind of place you’d want to stay during the extremely cold winters here. In a word it was perfect; perhaps all that was missing was a deckchair, a pot of tea and a radio.

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Lyazzat

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Sergei, Some bloke, Sveta and Derek

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My time in Uralsk has been short but it will certainly leave a deep impression on me. Such wonderful hospitality and such warm-hearted people, it’s been a privilege to be in their company and share this time with them all.

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 20:01 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Ride to Uralsk - 110km

Old friends

semi-overcast

I didn’t have the best of nights sleep last night under the comfort of my own culvert. It’s often really hot at night time and you want to sleep with the tent open. This however is simply an open invitation to the swarms of mosquitoes who tend to camp outside to come and eat you alive.

I was up early though and looking forward to the 100 or so kilometres I needed to cover before arriving in Uralsk.

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I’d really like to post up some different pictures of the places that I’m riding through but the fact of the matter is that the scenery just never changes.

The ride dragged on a little bit as it often tends to do when you know you have a rest stop in sight. My addiction for tea meant that I had to stop 20km short of Uralsk to satisfy my need. The cafes here serve tea by the cup but from an economical point of view it makes no sense whatsoever to buy it like this. Instead you should always go for the pot. Sometimes they’ll have a medium sized one which is just about the right size for one person. Today however they only had the gigantic pot, the waitress looked slightly puzzled when I told her that would be okay for me. Never before have I consumed so much tea in such a short space of time. I’ve never counted but you must be able to get a good ten cups out of one of these things! I shall miss my Kazakhstan tea pots.

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I arrived in Uralsk at around three. I had sent Sveta, my host a couple of text messages and I’d received an address; now came the hard part of locating just where she lived. I was parked up on the side of the road looking at a map of the city on my phone when all of a sudden a car pulled up in front of me and a man got out, “Paul? Are you Paul?” a man enquired. I was a little surprised but he turned out to be the partner of the lady I’d made the original request to Sophia. “Please follow me I’ll take you to Sveta’s”

He sped off down the road as I tried desperately to keep up with him. After about two kilometres he turned off and before I knew it we were outside an apartment building. Parked outside was the familiar site of a motorbike and I knew then that Derek whom I’d met a couple of days previously was also staying there.

Sveta appeared after a few minutes and helped me carry all my bags into the house. We sat down and she made tea while a whole array of of food miraculously appeared in front of me. She is an orthopedic surgeon who works in the cities one and only hospital. She doesn’t speak perfect English but despite our language barriers we chatted for a good hour.

It was then that I was reunited with Derek who arrived with Sophia. The next thing I knew the kitchen was full of a whole host of people all excitedly chatting away. Despite the fact that I’d only been here for a couple of hours it already felt like I was in the company of good friends.

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Two of the guys Pavel and Amir suggested that we all go for a swim in the river and before I knew it we were off a car and down by the river bank. The river seemed a popular spot for many people and I needed no second invitation to dive straight in.

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Before heading back to Sveta’s one of Sophia’s friends, a journalist had requested to meet both myself and Derek at the cities main hotel for an interview regarding our respective journey’s. We sat perched at the bar of the hotel as she fired questions at us, busily scribbling down our answers. It occurred to me that Derek’s answers seemed far more elaborate than mine and almost poetic while mine I felt was somewhat mundane and to the point. The interviewer couldn’t comprehend how I’d ridden so far but like I’ve said a hundred times before I’m past thinking too much about it. In some ways there is almost something robotic about it. Wake up, get on bike and ride. It’s as simple as that and thus perhaps that’s the way I came across in the interview.

Interview completed we headed back to Sveta’s apartment where she prepared a delicious meal for us and we whiled away the hours swapping stories. It turns out that Pavel, a light aircraft instructor by trade has a son who is number three in the world at parachute jumping!

It was well after midnight before the last of the people left leaving me with my free sofa in the kitchen and the chance to get my head down for some well earned rest. I was exhausted at the end of what was a very long day but I’d met a whole host of people and was really pleased about that. This is to be my last city in Kazakhstan and I didn’t want to spend it by myself in a hotel room. I can’t thank both Sophia and Sveta enough for the kindness they have shown.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 10:36 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Almaznoye – 30km past Zhympity 150km

all seasons in one day

I cooked up a large bowl of pasta this morning, I’m aware that I’m not really getting as much food as I should be in this last section of the ride but that said I’m never really hungry. Having eaten my power bowl of pasta I felt up and ready for a day on the bike. It was then just a small matter of packing everything up again. This is where I sometimes wish I had someone with me as it would be nice for a change to just sit and drink a coffee while someone else did this chore.

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More of the same.......

Once out on the road though I felt great and had covered 50km in no time. The way the roads are now, slightly up and down mean that you are never quite sure what is over the next small hill. On this occasion I was really pleased to see a small café in the distance.

As I pulled closer I could see that there was also a motor bike tourist sitting outside with a couple of locals, a fellow Englishman no less! I was aware of the fact that there was an Englishman riding in these parts as I’d been told so by the lady I made a couch request to in my next city Uralsk she’d even posted the link to his website. It wasn’t difficult to put two and two together and when he introduced himself as Derek I immediately followed up with “Ah Mansfield” Fame in this part of the world for tourists isn’t hard to come by as we are few and far between.

It was so nice to chat to another Brit and he even knew where Forest Row was, I was amazed. We chatted over tea and he gave me the lowdown of what to expect in Russia “Samara, a real old Soviet city” We complained grudgingly about the state of the roads in Kazakhstan but agreed that the people made up for it in bags with their hospitality. After a good half and hour or so of chatting it was time to head off again and despite the fact we are both heading in the same direction we were both going to reach it in very different times. Who knows perhaps he’ll still be there when I arrive on Tuesday.

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Meeting other travelers on the road always gives you a little extra lift and this was once again the case today. I rode the next 60km with consummate ease and rolled into Zhimpity a little after three in the afternoon.

Occasionally while riding I’ll get a real hunger one might call it a craving for a certain type of food. Today’s food was that of a Snicker and I began to envisage getting my hands on one as soon as I hit Zhimpity. The site of the Helios gas station was candy to my eyes and I strode through the doors with one thing on my mind……Snickers.

I knew it’s about 135km from Zhimpity to Oral and I’m not sure how many cafes will be along the way so I stocked up on water for what will be my last proper ride in Kazakhstan. There is also probably an 80km section from Uralsk to the Russian border but tomorrow I’ll arrive in Uralsk and it will mark the end of nearly two months riding across the country.

It’s only when I look at the map and see what a massive distance I’ve covered in Kazakhstan that I can feel proud of what I’ve achieved. It’s not been easy riding at all largely because of the terrible state of some of the roads but as another cyclist I met was told by a local guy here “if you can ride through Kazakhstan you can ride anywhere”

I managed to find a culvert after 150km and was really glad I got off the road when I did as ten minutes after doing so and almighty storm reigned down upon where I was.

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The raging storm outside my luxury hotel!

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And the pleasant aftermath

Posted by Ontheroadagain 04:27 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Kodba – Almaznoye 113km

semi-overcast

This sleeping in beds is becoming something of a luxury and was the main reason why I left late this morning. Ordinarily I find myself waking up at 6:30 or 7 in the morning and therefore setting off around 8 at the latest. However I didn’t wake up until 8:30 this morning but I guess that just meant I needed the extra sleep.

The horrendous road into Kobda thankfully improved out of it; not for the motorists mind. I was fortunate enough to be able to push my bike over another large mound of sand and onto the new unopened section of road. The two roads eventually joined up but not until I’d enjoyed part of the road all to myself.

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The roads while now smooth tend to go up and down and it seems more up if I’m not wrong but nevertheless I’m finally getting some good roll out of them,

After about 70km I came across a café. I’d been flagging for most of the morning and I really felt in need of a cup of tea. The café however looked closed for business and there was a sign on the door explaining something in Russian. I walked around the back to investigate further where an old lady spotted me. She said something in Russian and I gestured to her whether tea would be possible. Ten minutes later I was sitting out front with a lovely pot of hot milky tea. It was only then that the woman once again directed me to the sign on the door while at the same time making a cross hand gesture. It was clear now that the café was in fact closed. I apologized profusely and made sure I went inside while I had the chance to purchase more water. She was good about it to her credit.

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The 'closed' cafe

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Before I left for this trip I made sure that I bought some water purification tablets and in the last few days I’ve been topping up my empty bottles with tap water and adding a tablet to each. The result is some very rough tasting water which in the case of an emergency you’d drink but otherwise not.

After 110km I came across another café, it was getting late so I decided that I was going to try and make this my base for the night. It was run by a mother and her two daughters’ one of whom spoke okay English. I made sure that I got some water first before going straight for the kill and asking if I could pitch my tent out the back.

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It was after about half an hour that two guys in their late twenties or early thirties pulled up. They looked like they’d had a couple of drinks already and immediately set about ordering another six bottles of beer, they beckoned me over, and reluctantly I joined them. I declined their offer of a beer insisting that I’d prefer to stick to water.

I have to say on this trip that I’ve not had any trouble with any people but right from the get go I could tell these two were going to be a problem. They acted in the rather schoolchild way in which they wanted to see everything you had. One of the guys was particularly interested in my mobile and managed to grab it from my hand. After about five minutes I was able to grab it back off him. It was all getting rather annoying. They joked with another couple of guys and as they were speaking in Russian it was impossible for me to understand but it seemed the jokes were being directed at me.

I was beginning to wonder what to do. I wanted them to leave because I’d obviously earmarked this place as a decent place to stay for the night but they showed no signs of going. One of the guys got up and went over to look at the truck of another guy who had pulled in and was having some mechanical issues. I took this as an opportunity to go over and play with my bike.

After about five minutes the other guy who was sitting down, now with another bloke called me over. He indicated to me that he wanted me to buy him two more beers as they’d run out. I just laughed and in English explained ‘why should I buy you beers you buy them yourself.’

He wouldn’t however let it go and as the alcohol kicked in and topped up his level a bit more his request became more aggressive and he indicated with his fist what would be coming my way if I didn’t get him his beers. He wasn’t joking. I decided enough was enough, went into the café and said goodbye to the girl before calmly getting onto my bike. He starred at me intently as I rode off making sure I gave him a farewell wave as I left. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger but it had turned nasty quickly and had the potential to turn even more so. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk.

Like I said and I reiterate it, in over four and a half months I’ve not had any trouble from anybody and likewise in Kazakhstan I’ve only met extreme hospitality. You’re going to get people like this anywhere and at anytime especially when too much booze is involved.

However it now left me with a tricky situation, it was getting darker and I was suddenly back out on the road. I suppose part of me also had these visions of them haring off down the road in pursuit of me. I knew I needed to find a place to camp and quick sharp. I pulled off the road a couple of kilometres down the way and wheeled the bike across some rugged mud tracks and behind a line of tree. While in the process of doing this the heavens opened. It was then a mad rush to get everything out I needed and get the tent up as soon as possible. It was all a bit of a nightmare to be honest and I thought how differently things might have been if those two clowns hadn’t turned up.

I managed to get the tent up pretty fast but I was still wet as I got inside. Thankfully it only turned out to be a passing downpour and I was able to sort things out after ten minutes. I could see however on the horizon a storm brewing and immediately knew that I’d be getting some of it later on.

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As the sun went down and I lay in my tent, the air filled with that muggy feeling that comes before a storm and it was extremely hot. In addition all number of different animals started to gather around the general vicinity of the tent to have a good old poke around. When I’ve been riding in the day you unfortunately from time to time happen upon some road kill so it gives you a good idea of what lives out here on the steppe. Most of them are mice, hamster like animals and rabbits so I guess that’s what was scratching around my tent for most of the night. No more howling I’m pleased to say!

I managed to drift off to sleep but was woken but the storm at I don’t know what hour. The wind really picked up and battered the side of the tent. The sky around me was just a constant blaze of white and then black like someone flicking a light switch on and off continually. Once again all I could do was huddle up in my tent and ride it out. I suppose at some point you just fall asleep and that’s also what happened here. I was woken in the morning by the croaking of a toad who’d positioned himself next to the tent. All in all it was a pretty bad night’s sleep but I was just pleased to have made it through the night. The joys of camping!

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 03:01 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

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