Week 13

July 29 to August 4

The next morning I left early and soon passed a police convoy escorting Western cyclists on mountain bikes. I waved at them and proceeded in the direction of Kazakhstan, or so I thought. Trusting my instinct and sense of direction, I had taken a wrong turn and ridden towards Bishkek along the north shore of the lake. I went back 40km and waved at the bicycle convoy again.

The mountain roads were brilliantly out of shape and I enjoyed the fabulous grip of the new TKC-80 on the gravel, racing uphill at unreasonable speeds. Soon I arrived at a small border post. A grinning soldier, armed and in uniform, came out of the tiny building and wiped his eyes. Apparently, this border was closed, but there was another one close-by.

The border crossing went speedily and without hassle. The Kasakh border guard told me in excellent English that the guys in Aktau had been “stupid”, requiring me to have a lot of unnecessary stamps, and wished me good luck.

In a good mood I went on to Kegen, passed the Charyn Canon and was starting to think about camping in the desert. However, the prospect of a warm shower was appealing enough to go straight to Almaty. I arrived long past sunset and completely exhausted at a hostel that is still very much under construction and went to bed immediately.

Charyn Canon.

The next morning a British guy named Adam arrived. Together with the owner of the hostel we went to the registration office. Apparently, foreigners are required to register in Kazakhstan if they plan to stay in the country for longer than five days. The guys in the office kept my passport which was quite a nuisance since I had planned to go straight to the Russian embassy to get my visa as quickly as possible.

In the evening we went to Kok Tobe park above Almaty and enjoyed a splendid view over the city.

View from Kok Tobe. The smog above Almaty refracts the light of the evening sun.

Probably the only statue of The Beatles in Kazakhstan.

On Friday I picked up my passport and went straight to the embassy. They told me to come back in the afternoon. After passing a short queue, a guy in the embassy in perfect command of English told me that I had all necessary documents for an application except an original of the Letter of Invitation, which I was supposed to bring next Friday when picking up the visa. Since the LoI had been issued via email in black-and-white only, there was no such thing as an original. I explained this to the man in charge but he remained adamant that I should have the originals sent to me by next week, so I agreed.

On Saturday Adam and I went up to the misnamed “Big” Almaty Lake in the Ile Alatau National Park. We camped at a splendid spot and Adam skilfully constructed an enormous fire where we cooked some canned mystery food.

Evening in Ile Alatau.

Campfire! Picture by Adam D.

Rocinante in her natural habitat. Picture by Adam D.

The next day we went back to Almaty and got reasonably wasted in the nearby Old English Pub with Danijar and Roman, two locals who hold executive positions in Kazakh telecommunications and consultancy companies.

On Monday we checked out Medeo, the highest ice skating stadium in the world. Charmed by the Soviet aesthetics of the enormous building we proceeded to the ski resort of Chimbulak, where I filled up a PET bottle with fresh spring water from the mountains.

Filling a Bottle with Kazakh Spring Water Filling a Bottle with Kazakh Spring Water (video)

We went back the same day and met Ruslan at the hostel. Ruslan had just won a US green card and was trying to sell his car in Almaty to go to Montana with his wife and baby daughter.

We had dinner with Ruslan, his friend Maxim and Sasha, Ruslans local girlfriend.

After a fine meal in an Azeri restaurant we went back to the hostel.

Adam left the next morning. In the afternoon Min Chul from Korea arrived. He had ridden from Seol to Vladivostok, Ulan Bataar, Barnaul and then Almaty on a 650ccm Suzuki V-Strom. Curious about the road ahead, I suggested we have dinner and we exchanged information about good mechanics and guesthouses in either direction.

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