A Travellerspoint blog

Aktobe to Kobda (Qobda) 121km

semi-overcast

It’s always a little difficult to get back on the bike and more so today after my stomach problems in Aktobe. I didn’t feel 100% as I cycled out of the city but told myself just to take it easy and everything would be okay.

The traffic out of the city was a little heavy and the roads slightly narrow. I’ve yet to have any trouble with any motorists in Kazakhstan and come to think of it on the trip in general but today I felt as if I could have been given slightly more room by a few cars. Part of the road had that horrible characteristic when the road has become sunken and it creates two tracks where the tires go. What this also does is create a situation where small banks then form. If you’re on a bike and get stuck in the tracks it can be very difficult to ride up the small banks. This is what happened a couple of times today with speeding cars right behind me. A couple got a little too close for comfort.

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I’ve been used to some pretty good roads in Aktobe province but that soon changed today. I think I’d have to say that it was 65% bad 25% okay and 10% good with regards to the surface.

Not a lot happened on the ride. I stopped after about 60km at a café and had one of those tremendous large pots of milky tea that they do so well here. A father and son stopped and gave me a bottle of my favourite new tipple ‘Maxi tea’ which was nice.

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As I’d had Internet access in Aktobe I was able to update and uploaded all my favourite podcasts
so I had plenty of listening material today. In particular I was inspired by the 12 episodes of
the Tour de France podcasts and am really pleased to see so many British riders doing well. It all bodes well for the upcoming Olympics which I’m sadly going to miss most of.

I planned to ride to Kobda and arrive around six, pick up some extra water and then head on a little before camping. I was well on track to do so but the last 15km of road to Kobda were simply awful; a nasty combination of gravel and sand in which my tires simply sank into. The fact that it was all mostly downhill too meant that it was extremely hard to ride and at the same time also somewhat dangerous. I opted on a few occasions to simply get off and push. What made matters worse was that I could see the small town in front of me but was going at a painfully slow pace.

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By the time I arrived at the small truck stop hotel on the outskirts of the town I’d abandoned my plans to camp for the night and was just happy to sit down, have something to eat and grab a bed for the night.

It’s been a while since I ate Plov (rice, carrots and lamb) but I tucked into a very nice plate, albeit a little small for dinner in the company of a three very friendly truck drivers. The ladies in the hotel were very friendly and were eager to look through my photos of my family; it’s always a good ice-breaker I find.

I wasn’t expecting a bed for the night and then warm shower was an added bonus but the guard dog chained up outside the hotel might need to put a sock in it for the night!

Less than 600km to Samara in Russia now and it’s hard to believe that I’ve been in Kazakhstan for nearly two months now. I will certainly miss the people once I leave but not those roads!

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9000 up and still going strong.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 02:48 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Aktobe

sunny

At the time of writing this it is now my third day in Aktobe. My plan to arrive here early on Wednesday morning worked out perfectly and I was able le to locate the hotel that Mirko had told me about without any difficulty.

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My hotel.

There was a little disagreement to where my LPY (bike) could spend the night and I had to pay an extra 200T for ‘parking’ I assumed this meant I could take it to the room with me. It turned out that it meant I could lock it in the hotel car park. When I proceeded to climb the four flights of stairs with the bike one of the security guards chased me upstairs and insisted that the bike couldn’t go with me.

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A broken English/Russian conversation followed in which I calmly presented the facts and told them that where I go the bike goes. Not being able to speak the language certainly has its advantages and I think after a couple of minutes of talking they just gave up trying to persuade me otherwise.

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One of the things I’d heard about Aktobe was that it had a very large modern shopping center which apparently also boasts all number of ‘fast food’ restaurants. This was my plan for the day: locate hotel – tick, get online – tick, eat some pizza – tick!

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It was strange to eat pizza again, I think the last time was back in Almaty and I have to say it’s one of the foods that I miss the most. In addition to stuffing my face with a well earned pizza I also did a bit of shopping in the huge super market.

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Aktobe's MEGA centre.

It was here that I picked up a certain carton of milk. I haven’t really had that much milk since I left but I just fancied a nice cup of it and it’s also a good source of nourishment. I spent the afternoon lazing in my hotel room and watching a movie and……also drinking the milk.

This was my big mistake. The milk smelt and tasted fine but just before I went to bed I started to get those ever so familiar rumblings in the stomach. What followed was a painful and extremely restless nights sleep as the ‘bad’ milk began to permeate the inside of my stomach. It might not have been the milk, who knows? But I spent the whole of the next day Thursday feeling really under the weather and devoid of all energy. I had set aside this day for doing a spot of sightseeing and checking out what Aktobe has to offer but for the second time on my trip I was reduced spending almost the entire day sleeping in my bed, sick.

It was just a minor set back and I woke up this morning fully alleviated of my 24 hour sickness and thankfully with my appetite well and truly restored.

I’ve been meaning to use the website couch surfing a lot more but due to the lack of Internet connectivity I’ve experienced along the way it’s been hard to spend the time to look for people with couches to spare.

I did however manage to meet up with a young local guy today, Yaroslav a journalist here in Aktobe who gave me a very quick tour of the city during his lunch break.

Coming from China where even the smallest of cities houses more than one million people it’s strange to be in a country such as Kazakhstan where most cities outside of the main two Astana and Almaty don’t even register half a million.

Aktobe seems to be a city on the up judging by the numerous new buildings which are springing up all over the place. Yaroslav dropped me off in the centre of the city and I took a walk back taking in most of the main sites along the way.

Aktobe is home to two very impressive places of worship the Muslim mosque and the Orthodox church built in deliberate close proximity to each other and separated by a park. Apparently the president Mr. Nazarbayev visits every year and the last time he came he was accompanied by the former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev for the opening of said places of worship.

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I also took in a quick look at the football stadium in keeping with my obsession over stadia and was actually fortunate enough to sneak in via a side gate to get the following snaps.

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Due to the extreme heat here in Aktobe my tour of the city was relatively short and I headed back to the hotel which is where I am now. I’m trying to make the most of my Internet time as I prepare not only for my final days riding here in Kazakhstan but also my entry into Russia.

So I believe I’m up to date with blogs for now. The next ones probably won’t be up for a week or so, you know the blogs are like buses you wait for one for ages and………..

I’m pleased to see that so many people are enjoying reading them it makes it so much easier for me to write them when I know people are interested. I apologize for any grammatical mistakes or typos you may find in them. I’m often slightly rushed when writing them and by the time I’ve completed one I usually just give it a quick once over proof read and be done with it

I hope that they do act as some kind of inspiration for people perhaps not to jump on their bikes and ride to China but at least pull it out from their shed and take it for an afternoon out. Remember a bike is not just for Christmas but for life.

Well until next time, God bless you all and speak to you next time.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 07:16 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (1)

Short of Karabutak - 50km short of Aktobe

sunny

My second consecutive long day in the saddle started with nice cup of tea early in the morning at my host’s house with the grandfather and grandmother and like most old people they made sure I left with a hearty breakfast inside of me.

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The village where I stayed last night.

It was only a short ride to Karabutak and in fact I didn’t need to go into the town as there were plenty of cafes and gas stations along the main road to fill up with all sorts of goodies for the days ride. I’m trying to wean myself off Coca-Cola and have now moved on to an equally sweet variety of fruit based tea drinks called “Maxi” A cyclist still need their sugar!

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Russia....getting closer by the day.

The boy at the shop I visited pleaded to ride my bike but I think he might have needed a step ladder to just get up on the saddle. I had to, I’m afraid to say turn down his request for his own safety you understand.

It was another glorious sunny day and I’m sure those reading this in England will be filled with envy every time I mention this as I hear it has been another typically wet English summer. I would however trade a little bit of that rain for a bit of this heat. Riding in these conditions is particularly energy sapping.

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It's hot!
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In need of a shave!

Once again today was just a case of continuing to ride, my plan was to stop near Aktobe and camp and therefore save myself a nights accommodation in a hotel and also be able to arrive early the next morning in the city and therefore have a whole days rest also in the hotel and of course that elusive shower.

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I stopped at a small shop in the town of Khromtaw (Khromtau) and amused the local kids outside by eating my yoghurt with a combination of broken biscuits and my fingers. I sadly lost my spoon a while back now and have yet to get around to replacing it.

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It’s been a while since I had the pleasure of sleeping under the comfort of a bridge the last time was China but I was thankful to find one some 50km short of Aktobe setting myself up perfectly for my plan to arrive there early tomorrow morning. Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 07:03 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Irgiz turn off – 20km short of Karabutuk (Qarabutaq) 173km

sunny

It’s been a while since I put in a really long days ride on the bike but I set off this morning with a real determination to make some headway through this bare landscape.

I was a touch envious of the Poles as we posed for pictures outside the café in the morning. They were already talking in terms of how many hundred kilometres they were going to cover today while I knew I still had a good three days possibly even four till my next destination of Aktobe.

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Do zobaczenia my Polish friends

I wondered how a ride on a motorbike would differ as opposed to one on a bicycle. In areas such as this I think it would be more preferable to travel via a motorbike as there is very little to see but in other regions I came to the conclusion that the more gentile pace of the push bike would be better. It’s hard to say without trying I suppose; mind you I’ve never had very good experiences with motorbikes so perhaps I’ll stick with human powered means for now.

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This looks familiar!

As I rode through the day the scenery did begin to change and I began to see more and more in terms of life. One amazing thing about riding across the steppe is the incredible and vast array of wildlife one can see and especially birds. One of the emblems to be found on the national flag of Kazakhstan is that of the eagle. the eagle has appeared on the flags of Kazak tribes for centuries and according to my good friend Wikipedia represents “freedom, power, and the flight to the future”. Over the past month I’ve seen so many different kinds of birds of preys. Occasionally it seems as if there are actually flying with you side by side. They are stunning creatures and I wish that I only had a more advanced camera so that I would be able to capture one of them in full flight.

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The road has also gone from being mostly flat to small rises followed by short descents. I knew that I wanted to cover about one hundred miles today and basically just kept riding. It’s the first time that I’ve really ridden late into the evening but despite being in the saddle since early morning I felt good and just decided to keep going.

It was incredible to ride and also watch the sun go down. It’s one of the things I’ve most enjoyed about my trip so far, watching the sun set at the end of the day. I knew I was reasonably close to the next major town of Karabutak but at the same time knew that I’d soon be riding in complete darkness if I didn’t stop. Thankfully as I rode over one more brow of a hill a small village appeared to my left and I made the short ride downhill before wheeling my bike onto a small dirt track and into the village.

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Taken one handed while riding, very late on in the evening

I always try to make sure I go very slowly when entering a village as you’ll sometimes attract the attention of some people as you pass by; in this situation what you are looking for is a wave and this is exactly what I got from one guy and his young son as they ventured out of their gate to take a closer look at what was passing. I took this as an opportunity to go over and introduce myself. Furthermore as it was now nearly dark it was impossible for them to refuse my request to put my tent up in their backyard. It wasn’t long before the grandfather also appeared on the scene, he’d quite obviously sank a few vodkas by this point of the evening but if anything this just enhanced his hospitality.

The young boy of the family I guess around 6 years old was incredibly taken with my bike and insisted on touching it, especially spinning the peddles. I laughed in that ever so, hahahaha very funny way but please stop doing that.

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My hosts......"don't touch it!"

It wasn’t long before I was invited inside the family house for dinner and we dined on delicious homemade borsch and bread. They must have thought I hadn’t eaten properly for a long time because every time they put a new bowl down in front of me I devoured it in an instant, mopping up any remnants with bread to leave a perfectly clean bowl. I think I must have gone through three bowls of the stuff before I finally decided I was full.

I retreated to my tent, tired but in a good way and with my appetite firmly satisfied. Hopefully I’ll be able to repeat today’s ride tomorrow as I edge nearer the city of Aktobe.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:40 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Someplace - Turn off for Irgiz 125km

semi-overcast

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.

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Breakfast stop.

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.

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Okay....so not every road is perfect!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 21:44 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

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