Kazakhstan is tough! It’s a vast, vast wilderness and the roads are continuing to trouble us, they have been a bit better today but still extremely challenging, and very very slow going. There’s some confusion about how long we can stay in Kazakhstan before having to register our Visas (and more to the point how important that is), the extended stay in Russia has also put us around a day behind schedule so we’re just hoping we’ll be able to pick up pace a little as we get used to the driving technique here (theres a big road, you can pretty much drive anywhere in it you like to dodge the potholes, then there are wide gravel verges, used for overtaking, undertaking, slow vehicles, parking, or just in place of the road where the gravel is actually a better ride..)
We’ve also seen our first camels, initially quite exciting but now they are everywhere in huge herds, like the over livestock we’ve seen mostly just roaming free, crossing the road as they please and generally getting in the way! Unlike other livestock they seem to take delight in running out in front of you just as you pass them and watching you slam on the brakes before sauntering off. Cunning creatures, shame they look so ridiculous.
Well today was an interesting day. We set off trying to take the more direct route to the Aral Sea by heading essentially due East, we purchased a better road map of Kazakhstan and set off on our way. The roads quickly deteriorated to the worst we’ve ever seen, in fact it became the norm for most people to drive on dirt tracks either side of the road, rather than the road. After a while the actual road disappeared, and dirt tracks is all that was left.
Turns out Bertie’s not the ideal off road vehicle. We quickly discovered his ground clearance is limited (we grounded out on an ENORMOUS mound, he did a great job going up and down, just didn’t like the bit on top, in fact it broke one of our spare wheel carriers). He’s also not fond of soft sand, bumpy gravel, or most other off road terrains it turns out. Dual wheels on the back do make him better than it could be, and we ploughed on regardless along some hairraising tracks, making incredibly slow progress and with no real idea, other than a compass bearing, of where we were going.
The few locals we saw were very friendly, lots of pointing at maps and warnings about bumpy tracks. Eventually we found a small ranch and decided to ask for directions, at least to confirm we were where we thought we were on a map. They were very friendly, invited us in for tea, but essentially told us with our van we shouldn’t continue this route as we were lucky to have got this far. They showed us a better route (the long way around, but apparently “good asphalt”) and we realised Bertie’s true calling, and gave five of them a lfit back to the nearest major town (a 2 hour drive!). You couldn’t do that without a Minibus!
As we arrived back in the town, Kulsary (essentially where we had started the day from) we found ourselves inadvertently in a Police chase, unaware that the car behind us flashing and tooting us was an unmarked police car, or indeed the swarm of other cars behind him also tooting and flashing. We pulled over to turn around (we’d missed our turning) and were swarmed by Police officers! The locals’ we’d been giving a lift to straightened everything out, we weren’t quite sure what we’d done or what was going on, but everyone seemed to be smiling at the end.
After all that we’d only travelled about 100miles, mostly in a circle, and camped up not far outside the town again.