We had a bit of a lie in seeing as we had no real plans for the day, it was a good chance to catch up on some missed sleep from the night before and prepare ourselves mentally, practically and physically for Kazakhstan and Mongolia!
That said, we didn’t get off to a great start, Tom failed to locate the free breakfast, we then spendt several hours trying to locate a laundrette (with no success, we’ve bought some soap powder and a bowl instead) and our attempts at being touristy didn’t do much better, with a trip to the Kremlin (cross between a castle and a big church) a bit of a disappointment with not a lot to see and a lot of building works underway.
Russia, it seems, has a very varied definition of a café (spelt kaФe locally). The previous night the hotel “café” appeared to be more like a failing nightclub, with laser lights and pumping music late into the night, we’d also been turned away from a “café” the day before for not meeting a dresscode, then being laughed at for ordering coca cola. We thought we’d just been unlucky, but today we tried several cafes, the first also appeared to be a strip club, the second appeared to only cater to children’s parties, others looked particularly uninviting, eventually we ended up in a German-beerhaus-“café” where we continued to be laughed at, but eventually translated enough of the menu to order an tasty meal.
After that we headed back to the hotel, picking up some Russian beer (horrible) and bread (heavy) for a late tea. Caught up on route planning, interneting, etc and planning an early night ready for tomorrow.
We arose after a bit of a lie in, enjoying our hotel, even if it is rather basic. Hotel breakfast was also basic, but filling with plenty of stodgy Russian bread. We returned to the garage with Bertie, they seemed surprised to see us, despite telling us to come back and have the rest of the work done!
The repair took a long time, “rare parts” (it’s a Ford engine, not that ridiculous right?) but when eventually finished Bertie was running better than even, with no engine or fan wobble anymore. He’s got a whole new engine fan assembly, its obviously not quite stock parts but they seem to be working. The mechanics were friendly and we exchanged stories using Google Translate, they advised us of the police in Kazakhstan (“fucking goats” was the translation), and of the poor quality of roads,.
When we eventually got out of the garage we headed straight for the border (via a rather precarious pontoon-river crossing), the Russian side was the smoothest border crossing yet, friendly English-speaking guards all stamped with no question about staying past the end of our migration cards (due to the delays in Astrakhan) and only basic vehicle checks.
The Kazak side was more confusing, somehow we were let in without migration cards which confused the whole system, but again we got through without massive problem.
We were shocked by the stark contrast between Russia and Kazakhstan. Russia was, despite some nuances, essentially very western and not dissimilar to a run down European city area. Kazakhstan couldn’t be more different, ramshackle villages comprising of mud huts, dirt tracks and paths linking houses and villages, and the roads. My god the roads. We’ve never seen anything like it, and we’ve been through some rough roads!
In other countries, there may have been vast deep craters, bumpy worn roads and gravel sections, but here its all of those, all at once, all the time. Theres often no way around cavernous potholes, and we find ourselves driving all over the place to find the path of least resistance, rarely getting above 40 kmph.
We camped up off a “main road” following a sandy track for a km of so. Some cows are keeping us company.
(Rubbish internet, so all photos on Facebook only sorry!)