This was the first and shortest of three sections of Kazakhstan I would be cycle touring across. In Aktau the romantic Kazakhstan world of nomads, eagle hunters, snow capped mountains and stunning lakes felt miles away.
Aktau is a hot, wannabe beach resort on the Caspian sea, it vaguely tries to be a beach resort, however in reality it’s more a maze of industrial pipelines and endless sand. After the hold up on the boat both myself and Greg the Polish cycle tourer, whom I was now riding with, decided we would ride a bit and catch the next train north to a town called Beyneu. The desert road north from Shepte to Beyneu would sadly be nigh on impassable with my road tyres and the locals said cycling the first section was foolish because the train would be full from Aktau so we would have to kill a day in the desert waiting. In the end we spent the day just riding in the desert to first station.
We stopped at a rare fruit stall with a selection of good quality fresh fruit for the upcoming journey.
After we reached the train station I was forced to dash off inside with a bad stomach, not ideal for the train ride ahead! While I was experiencing the humiliation of a bad stomach in open plan toilets, yes I mean open plan i.e. no cubicles just 4 toilets in a room, Greg had bought train tickets. It was good to get them, but leaving the bikes unattended outside a random Kazakh train station seemed pretty foolish and annoyed me a lot. It later transpired my bike computer got nicked at some point, which is annoying as I can’t measure exact distances anymore. Greg’s approach to security good or bad was something I had to get used to!
The train also had the group of drunk Georgian men on it from the ferry luckily not in our carriage!
We were allowed bikes on the train but it was hard to find where to put them that didn’t annoy everyone. Greg got his up high between two luggage racks, mine went next to the washing machine someone was travelling with.
Next it turned out we had no assigned beds on the open plan sleeper train! We finally found one spare next to two big muscled shirtless skin headed Kazakh guys. Happily they were super friendly, letting me sleep in their bunk bed for the first few hours. We discussed many things but mainly about killing people by slitting their throat, when he was in the army. It was all very red blooded and Kazahk, so I told him I was a ninja and to watch his back, he said that his Chinese looking friend was Jackie Chan, then after much effort I failed to explain how the UK didn’t have military conscription, so I said I did military service as a fighter pilot, we acted out a scene where I was flying and he was machine gunning at me, then he was switching to RPGs, it was all getting a bit surreal. Greg translated that in actual fact he worked in Morse code communications when in the army and was now working in a slaughterhouse. The actions I thought were of killing men in the army were instead his job killing goats, so a little less freaky, goodness knows what he thought I was on about! Finally I squeezed into a luggage rack above the top bunk and using my Thermarest had a good nights sleep!
The train pulled into Beyneu, in the heart of the Kazakhstan desert at 5am.
We just found a shop and some drunk men, so rather than wait a day for the next train we quickly decided to ride the rough 100km of desert road across to the Uzbekistan border and then across the first few hundred kilometres of empty Uzbek desert to the first town.
The road out of Beyneu was hard to find in the dark. We got lost in deep sand many times. But as the sun rose the beauty of the vast flat horizon to horizon vista stunned us into reflection and some photo snapping.
We rode past camels and low mud brick dwellings.
The dust was a constant threat as lorries went past, so we closed our eyes and held our breath a lot. Then we just rode on and on, counting camels and noting the nothingness of our surroundings. It was a unique experience for me, I can’t remember many places so dull and empty for so far.
Finally on the horizon we saw a few houses, we agreed to ride there for a lunch stop. We didn’t factor how the desert tricks you into misjudging distances, we ride for an hour and it never got any closer!
We stopped and cooked up eggs and salami with bread, drank water and smiled at the curious drivers that slowly drove past.
Luckily the wind was across us rather than into us making the dust disperse quickly and not hindering our progress too much, this menacing storm never arrived which was a relief!
Eventually after more camel chasing fun, see the picture below of Greg seemingly dancing with one, we were overtaken by a series of Mercedes on a rally from Berlin to Mongolia, a few honks and waves, one stopped for a chat, I told the guy he was lazy for driving and he agreed!
We then rode on past an isolated graveyard of domed Muslim mausoleums, that was a rare spot of interest, we detoured up a track to take pictures, but a car of locals implied with body language and voice tone that this was a local sacred site and not for tourists so we left quickly, just as a lone horseman rode past, who knows where he was heading.
We hit the Uzbekistan border at about 4 pm and rejoined the Germans from the car rally. The border process was a faff, lots of form filling, declaring and counting every penny of cash and every pill of medicine!
But that was it, our first two days in Kazakhstan were over and now onto the excitement of more desert and the silk road cities of Uzbekistan.
I have no border photo as there were too many men with machine guns walking about and I didn’t want to push my luck!