A Travellerspoint blog

Tasboget – III Internatsional 100km

Taking the foot off the gas, or perhaps that should be pedal.

sunny

My campsite for the previous night was behind a large pile of sand and rocks. I once again slept very well and my alarm call this morning was that of a herd of horses that had come to graze on the nearby grass. It’s not a bad way to wake up let me tell you. I boiled up some coffee and just spent a good half an hour watching the horses.

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I’m beginning to learn how to slow down. It’s incredible in life how we run around at one hundred miles an hour and very rarely just take the time to sit and enjoy what is around us. It’s not easy to do and I’m far from being an expert on it myself. Despite the incredible sense of freedom I feel from riding the bike I still find it hard to detach myself from the planning side of it and my mind is constantly awash of things I need to do and places I need to be at certain times; I’m trying though to change this. Like I said I’ve slowed down the pace of my ride but am really now trying to savour those more peaceful times of the day when I have little else to do but sit back, and simply relax.

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Move along now, nothing to see here

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How often do we in our daily lives really take the time to do this? Why is it in the society we live in we feel the need to constantly busy ourselves and then occasionally ‘reward’ ourselves with a five minute break. Surely we deserve more than this?

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The buses are always late in Kazakhstan!

It was another hot and dusty day on the bike. People keep stopping and wanting to talk which is fine every now and then but means breaking the rhythm of riding and it’s hard to keep stopping and then starting again. I’ve now taken to not stopping all the time, I’m not being rude it’s just necessary to keep going sometimes.

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This is part of the road by the way

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There are a lack of rest stops now along the way. I miss my afternoon tea in the shade. I managed to find one just before the end of the day as I approached 100km and was able to restock my water supply.

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None shall pass......

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except that is for the bike......a whole road just for me and the bike

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It was camping once again but also the chance to practice what I preached about earlier and having cooked I spent the evening simply sitting and watching the sun go down, no thinking, no worrying just peaceful relaxing contemplation

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bones

Posted by Ontheroadagain 10:39 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Past Tartoghay – Past Qizilorda (Kyzylorda) (Tasboget) 70km

+ another 20km riding around Kyzylorda looking for a place to kip

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Its interesting camping on sand as when you wake up in the morning you can see the footprints of some small animals that have obviously come to take a wee look at what inhabited their environment.

You also become more familiar with all variety of insects and bugs and it was here that I experienced some particularly over aggressive ants. I also had a small run in with a scorpion like creature who was once again notable for his fearless nature. I was packing up the panniers and getting ready to leave when I noticed it. He was having a good old sniff around the bike and bags and I made a couple of attempts to shoo him away yet he just kept coming back for more. One of the panniers lay on the sand open and before I had time to turn it upright my worst fears were realized as he scuttled his way in. This led to me having empty out the entire contents of the pannier onto the sand and try to locate my ‘new friend’ He’d managed to wriggle his way in and was curled up inside the scrubbing pad I use to clean my pots.. Naturally he was ejected and sent flying off into the far away desert. The last thing you want if to put your hand in a bag is to find something like that unexpectedly waiting for you.

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Lets be having you

I planned a short ride today and was looking forward to the prospect of arriving in Kyzylorda. I’d spent the last three nights out in the open and thought I’d take the opportunity of a relatively large city by Kazakhstan standards to find an actual bed for the night. I was however to be disappointed. Perhaps it was due to the fact that I arrived on a Friday but all the hotels, or those in my price bracket were totally booked.

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As I’ve previously mentioned hotels here are expensive and few and far between. I wasn’t having much luck finding a place and was quoted prices anywhere from 6000T to 18000T (£25 - £75)This was obviously way outside my budget, some days when I camp and cook myself I can spend as little as 700T. I rode around the city picking up a few supplies here and there but very early realized that there was little chance of me staying there and that I should make my way back out into the sand. I was a little downhearted as I’d been looking forward more than anything to the prospect of a warm shower but once I’d made my mind up to leave there was no going back.

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Just passing through.....

I found a small restaurant outside of the city and thought I’d try my luck asking to pitch my tent there. I was greeted by three local guys, one a burly Ukrainian truck driver called Sergei and two other gentleman one of whom was obviously the boss judging by the revered manner in which his companions treated him. I took the opportunity to order some food; I find this works best as you then have some leverage in making a request to camp at their place for the night.

While I waited for the food, the older of the three took me for a small guided tour of the area around the restaurant. It was quite a nice restaurant and had some beds and tables outside with colourful drapes over them. He led me to a small cage right out the back where he introduced me to two small wolves they’d captured. The poor little things looked very harmless.

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Whenever I mention the world wolf to a local they always mime the action of shooting with a rifle. The hunting of wolves is apparently very common practice here. I’ve also heard rumours that sometimes they are caught and then bred to be used in savage and disgusting act of dog fights.

The restaurant didn’t have any of the foods that I usually order so I basically gave the waitress free reign and she appeared ten minutes later with a large plate of dumplings dripping in oil. I was so hungry that I didn’t care what it was, I just needed some food. I knew however as I ate them that there would be problems later!

In the end I decided not to ask if I could pitch my tent there. I just had a feeling that I didn’t feel that comfortable in that place. The boss seemed to wield his power over his employees and a couple of them seemed genuinely scared of him. It made for an altogether uncomfortable experience and one that I didn’t fancy spending the evening around.

When I first came to Kazakhstan I was bowled over by the level of hospitality I met from locals but my mind often goes back to the young guy I met on the first night I was in Kazakhstan who told me to be weary of trusting everyone. I should point out that I’ve only had good experiences of people but you learn to put up your guard a little more as time goes by. As a general rule I tend to look for the presence of a family if I’m going to camp at a restaurant or house.

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One thing I have learned though is that you will always find a place to sleep. It was one of the main concerns I had when I set out on this trip. The constant question that would keep cropping up in my mind ‘where will I sleep tonight’ after a while this becomes less of a concern, it may not be the most comfortable place in the world but you can always find shelter somewhere.

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 10:17 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Jangaqorghan – Past Tartoghay 117km

Stormy days with wolves

all seasons in one day

I’m back in the tent most nights now as Kazakhstan unlike China has a real lack of not only cheap hotels but just hotels in general.

I’ve become very adept at finding decent places to bed down for the night and this form of wild camping is really about locating a place where you can essentially ‘hide’

Different people have varying opinions on where you should camp. From a personal point of view I prefer to be close to humans and also to roads. The fact that construction work is being carried out is great as there are always large mounds of sand to get behind and as long as one is up early enough in the morning then there is very little chance of you being scooped up and dumped in a JCB.

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Samara, Russia 1945km away

Last night I thought I’d found the perfect place to camp. There are now quite often two roads, one is the shambles which sometimes passes for a road and the other is the often unopened new surface which is blocked off mostly to cars although some SUV’s manage to find their way onto it

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That will do nicely!

I often pull my bike up onto the surface and at times, if I’m lucky, can manage to have the whole road to myself. I was on such a stretch of road this day as the day drew to an end and I was looking for a place to pitch the tent for the night. To the side of this road was a large dry river bed with plenty of small bushes and tress growing it in, there was a ‘shelf’ on which I could pitch the tent but also still be hidden by the bank.

Having set up camp and cooked on the stove I got into the tent feeling pretty happy with myself. A good days riding and now a good spot to sleep, I had every reason to feel pleased with my days work. The sun was going down and I lay in my tent reading my book as mosquitoes hummed around me outside. What happened next though almost stopped my heart.

From behind the mound of earth where my tent was came the very distinct howls of an animal, one howl quickly became two until it seemed that there was a whole group of whatever in very close proximity to where I was. The honest truth of the matter is I don’t know what it was; my first thought was wolves as Kazakhstan has one of the highest populations of wolves on the planet. I’ve since considered that it might have been Jackals but for the sake of it sounding better let’s just go with wolves.

In my limited experience of wild camping this was certainly a new experience for me. I decided that the best course of action was to lie there totally still, holding my breathe, something that I managed to achieve for about thirty seconds but thereafter became impossible. The howling went on for a couple of minutes but gradually became more and more distant. Whatever it was that was there had moved on.

I was in two minds what to do. In such a situation one always fears the worst and in my mind at the time I was running through all sorts of scenarios ‘well they must be off to get more before coming back to tear me and my tent apart’

It was too late to up and move and I felt I was close enough to the road to ward off any animals. After about five minutes of lying totally still I decided I had to venture out and see what was what. I reached into one of my panniers and pulled out my own weapon, a spanner! I know, just exactly what I was going to do with that I have no idea but nevertheless it emboldened me enough to go over the top and survey the landscape beyond.

Whatever had been there seemed to have gone as I stood atop this mound of earth, spanner in hand like a gladiator awaiting his next victim. The reality was that I’m sure I looked more like this skinny bloke with a funny two tone tan standing there holding this spanner poised to turn and run at the mere rustle of a bush. I imagined whatever it was that had been there was now looking at me from afar with a puzzled expression thinking ‘what’s that bloke doing’

I returned to my tent after about ten minutes of patrolling the area satisfied that I was in no immediate threat from other wild animals. Ordinarily I might have found it hard to get back to sleep but I was so tired that fatigue eventually took over and I passed out in the sleeping bag.

The drama however didn’t stop there. I awoke at about two in the morning to bright flashes of light outside the tent. I initially thought someone had stumbled upon my hideaway and was now moving around the tent with the aide of a flashlight. It soon became apparent that this wasn’t the case. I unzipped the tent and peered outside. In the distance a large storm was lighting up the night sky. The fact that I was so tired meant that I simply zipped up the tent again and crashed out for a second time.

The next thing I remember was being awoken by the deafening clap of thunder as a storm of almost biblical nature reigned down upon me. My tent is incredibly small and it’s a pretty tight squeeze at the best of times. My next worry was that I’d laid my bike right next to my tent and all I could think was ‘doesn’t steel conduct electricity?’ I always like to keep the tent as close to the bike as possible, almost touching it but now all I could think about was lightning striking the bike and the tent going up in flames. I know it was highly unlikely but at the time it seemed a very real threat. Picture if you will, me bundled up tightly inside my tent and sleeping bag and sort of bouncing my body trying to move sideways from the bike! Looking back now it’s very comical but wasn’t so at the time.

When I woke the next morning the aftermath of the storm was all too clear. It had been a really nice evening so I’d taken the opportunity to dry and air some clothes and my towel on the nearby bushes. During the course of the storm they had been swept off and were now lying soaking wet in sand, it was a disaster.

Needless to say everything was a little slower packing up that morning. I had to move everything over to the unused road and sort it out there. To make matters worse it was still spitting with rain.

The ride to past Tartoghay was nothing itself and despite my camping experience from the night before I once again found some sand dunes off the road to bed down for the night; mind you with no town nearby I had very little choice. Besides it will take more than a little rain and the threat of being torn to shreds to deter this Englishman!

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As you can see I do like a sunset
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Posted by Ontheroadagain 10:01 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Turkistan – Past Jangaqorghan 120km

semi-overcast

As a side note I should now point out that it’s the 11th of July and I’m finally able to upload some blogs with some pictures. I’m now in Aktobe less than 1000km from the Russian border. It’s been quite a journey across the steppe and I hope you enjoy these accounts of my time crossing it. Each day I try to make notes in my well and truly worn notebook but forgive me if, some two weeks after the events some of what took place is a little sketchy, sometimes the days really do blend into one another. It’s so hard to find Internet connection out here which has made updating the blog near impossible.

Here is the tale of Turkistan to Jangaqorghan.

The scenery has also become a little tedious, each day is characterized by an arid semi desert and if I’m being brutally honest it makes for quite dull riding.

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Some camels for company

On the plus side though the road has improved a little, it seems there is a real scatter gun approach to fixing it with large sections nicely rolled out and smooth only to be followed by another stretch of uneven, loose stone, in short a peddlers nightmare.

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One thing I’ve noticed about Kazakhstan is that everyone waves here. With the road being under construction there are obviously a large number of workers all of whom are eager to flag you down at every opportunity. The men here make a body gesture which coming from England might be construed as somewhat aggressive. Imagine taking your hand starting at your hip and waving it upwards past your head. I suppose in England we’d interpret it as meaning ‘what are you doing?’ It has the same meaning here but minus the aggression.

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My backside and saddle are now firmly one

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Tea up

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It is always followed by the expression “Aktuda” I know this isn’t the correct Russian spelling but roughly translated I believe means where are you from.

In response to waves from construction workers, truckers and people in towns and villages I’ve been working on my own repertoire of waves as opposed to just settling for one.

  • There is the standard wave, one handed and usually employed when I’m feeling a bit tired.
  • The salute.
  • The fist pump.
  • The horn, saved mostly for truckers who like in China insist on giving me an earsplitting blast on their air horn as they go by.
  • The point.
  • And finally a recent addition, the windmill where especially if I have a section of roads all to myself which runs parallel to the other roads I’ll swing one arm around in a windmill like movement, I suppose you could also call it ‘The Elvis’

As you can see I'm always looking for new ways to amuse myself out on the road!

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Camp for the night
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Posted by Ontheroadagain 09:32 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (0)

Aral

No sea.....8320km

sunny

I'm in Aral having arrived here yesterday afternoon after a short 90km ride from the lake.

Immediately on arrival I met another fellow cyclist a German by the name of Mirko. There were also 2 other foreigners in the hotel a Dutch guy and a fellow Brit but they departed last night by train.

Nevertheless it was nice to have dinner all together and a small chat.

I was also able to swap notes with Mirko on the upcoming road to Aktobe and vice versa give him some advice on what to expect as he heads south.

I'm in another of those gloriously Soviet style hotel with a drip as a shower. On the plus side it has AC and a soft bed. No Internet though and I'm currently typing this on my itouch using a very weak wi-fi signal from a nearby Government building.

The updates on my daily travel are finished now but due to the slow Internet connection they and the photos I've taken will probably have to wait until I get to Aktobe about 6 days away.

Mirko has already given me a heads u p on a cheap hotel there which, praise the Lord also has Internet.

All is good, the roads continue to be a source of great frustration but there is nothing I can do about that. Apparently though 100km north of Aral the road improves significantly.

Okay back off to the hotel with my huge water melon and AC.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 01:01 Archived in Kazakhstan Comments (1)

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