The midges as we loaded the bikes at the hotel were incredible – it was like one of those cartoons where a swarm suddenly arrives and completely envelopes one thing. Horrible, and we were glad to get on the road and moving through air so that they couldn’t get us.
Got to the border fairly quickly and then waited in scorching shadeless sun for two hours, and so did the midges. But the crossing was easy and we were waved through after getting the many bits of papers stamped.
The last person we spoke to in Russia was a policeman – who promptly asked us for a bribe. He didn't get one but what a cheek. Its not like he is poor or anything, and was well fed and well clothed, Greedy chancer, and dishonest, which we mentioned as we sped off into no man’s land.
Rode several km across NML and weren’t sure whether we'd missed the Kazakh entry point as what looked like a customs place was derelict and shut up so kept going and eventual came to the entry. Again, the crossing was easy,and like Russia the Kazakh are not great on signage or telling you where they want you to go next. But they were fine and quite chatty.
Got stamped through OK then began the insurance hunt. Some people don't bother b but after our frequent encounters with the Russian Police, we were a bit wary. But there is means of changing money at border – no ATM or bank, just a dusty old hut and a bored looking dog, but they agreed to take Euros which we had, and would have taken dollars too. But they'd only take pristine notes and declined one 10 Euro note that was used but certainly not tatty. So it is worth taken a stash of alternative currencies but ensure all notes are new and in very good nick. That little transaction cost us 29 Euros each, and we returned to the bikes to find that some kids had nicked our lunch.
We also made a bit of a mistake because the insurance bloke did offer to change some money for us, but we declined, thinking we could change some in the next town. only there was';t one for about 80kms. By that time, we were getting pretty desperate of fuel and water. We tried to find an ATM or change money at a supermarket then a hotel but the staff in each place were a bit dismissive and unhelpful – surprisingly so. They wouldn't even take a card, although they had both card machines and sings saying they did. Maybe its because they don't see foreigners and bikes that often, but it was a bit of a blow. In future, what we will do is always change about £20.00 at the border. That at least gives you something to get by with and because its a small amount, getting stiffed by the money changers is not a problem.
But then we met Thierry from France, who stopped when he spotted us at the hotel complex. He was also looking for an ATM and having no luck. Decided to stick together and find the Caspian Sea, which we did, and wild camped in a great place right on the shore.
It was a bit of a rough ride across fesh fesh sand dunes to reach it, but well worth it. Both Thierry and Nadine fell off, but no damage to either or their bikes.
My bike is dripping oil again and Nadine's electric start has given up so I had to push start her several times today, which is not great in full gear and 45 degree heat. But then she fixed it, so that was good.
Immediate impressions of Kazakhstan are how different is is from the lush wet lands of the bit of Russia we've just left. Its is scorching hot too, and mud brick houses are the norm instead of the stone and wooden models a of just a few miles back. The roads are also terrible – potholed, unfinished road works just left, and melted tarmac that has developed into horrible ruts and corrugations.
The animals have changed too. Gone are the herds of cows just standing in the road, and in are Bacturan camels and wild horses, with a few smart cows cooling off in the water.
And there are no trees or shade, just miles and miles of featureless sand. Its is very like Western Sahara, with a dead straight road and nothing else. So wew had to find what shade we could.
Paddled in Caspian Sea. Beautiful, unspoilt, kilometres of nothing but just us and birds and no sound. Its now dawn the sun is about to rise.
Must get some money today and then fuel and water before heading down to Aral to see what is left of the sea that the Soviets ruined by damming two main rivers to irrigate land for cotton – or white gold as they called it. It compley Russthe non e existent sea, then Shymkent before trying to get a train donw to tashkent to mately ruined the livlihood of the whole arae and the town of Aral, as well as diminish what was once the fourth largest inland sea in the world. And its trashed the areas ecosystem too, all because somebody didn't know what they were doing – or didn't care.
Hooray – we've got some money
It wan't easy though. Rode to the next biggest town about 25km east of our wild camp, and called at a big petrol station where they wouldn't lt us pay by card again.Look at rthe forecourt though!
But whilst we were there, a local man came up and chatted and he took us to the town's ATM, which turned out to be empty, but somebody else told us about the bank. Changed some dollars there. It was a real American Werewolf in London moment when we opened the bank door though – it was full yet all noise stopped and everybody stared. Perhaps they thought we were about to rob it, two white women dressed in motorbike gear suddenly descending on them on a Monday morning. But once they got over the staring bit, they were helpful and slotted us in to the front of the queue.
So we had lunch with Thierry in a cafe full of old men with no teeth and no other women apart from the
That drew a few looks too but we didn't get thrown out, so we sat in the cool drinking water and eating something which we still don't know what it was but it tasted goo,d and watching Ugly Betty in Kazak. A great way to spend a Monday morning.
Now we're in Atyrau, and oil industry town, where it is even hotter.
Saw some amusing things on the way here like this boat in the rear of a pick up truck,
and dodged a sandstorm, ate something in TGI Friday and found another bank and a cheap hotel. Bit fed up and defeated today. Its hot, we're well behind where we wanted to be because of the mechanic trouble to date, and we're going to have to cut some of the route to ensure we are out of Russia by June 30th. Bugger.