At the Kazakhstan border the guy searches hard for my visa, I say Anglia no visa, but he’s not taking my word, he opens his dog eared guidance booklet and searches for 5 minutes, I suddenly panic
that because I used my free visa just 2 weeks ago in Aktau maybe there is an issue getting another one so soon.
He was then off to seek help and I start to panic a bit, especially considering I can’t return to Uzbekistan, after they stamped out my single entry visa. He finally returns and looks back through my passport, my heart is in my mouth until he grabs the stamp and almost reluctantly stamps a page and wishes me a nice trip. That’s it I was in Kazakhstan for a second time, and there’s no stupid customs check here. At the exit a final armed guard checks the stamp and I push through a mob of bus and taxi drivers shouting various destinations. I ride on to buy a coke from an old guy at a roadside stall and take stock. A lady offers money exchange I ask the rate and its rubbish, finally I haggle a decent one and hand her $50, but the note has writing on it so she won’t take it.
I buy some dried fruit, biscuits, water and beans from a pretty decent big shop. The landscape here is straight away more open and empty than the last few days in Uzbekistan.
The quiet dual carriageway I am following is up and down the rolling hills, passing by herds of sheep, goats and cows and a lot more horses grazing and being ridden than I have seen before. The car of choice is back to the battered up old Mercedes again.
There is lots of shouting as I go, i think its all positive, because everyone asks ‘acuda’ which means where you from. Some guys sitting by a policeman wave me over, its getting late so I stop in the hope there might be an offer of a place to stay. The super friendly policeman wants his photo taken with me and so do all the others one by one. I then ask for a picture of them and all but the uniformed policeman agree. They ask how much my camera costs because it looks fancy, as usual I skirt around issue and say its so big because it’s very old and cheap.
Then I head off into the evening light. The various herds are returning into villages being rounded up by horsemen, kicking up huge amounts of dust adding to the evening light and the generally amazing atmosphere. I pass a few mosques, all newly built and consider asking about sleeping in one but i am not desperate yet, the Google satellite image shows some empty land up ahead ideal for camping.
In a village I was stopped by a man at a stall offering food, I try to decline as it is getting darker but I have no chance as he pours me a bowl of thin looking milk product, I assume its the fermented milk that Kazakhstan is famous for, but it’s not, its some cold cows milk gone watery thin and sour, mixed with whole grain wheat. Its OK but as i slurp it I assume the chances of seeing this again later are pretty high! I am watched until I finish it all, its okay after a bit. He then offers me a dry chesse ball like I had in Samarkand, with Greg’s advice of them being notorious for food poisoning I say I will take it for later as its getting dark. Lucky I didn’t eat it as in daylight I see its full of disturbing black bits and fingerprints!
As the sun slides behind the hills I find a strip of thick trees next to the road and I sneak off into them to find a campspot. Its a really cool place looking over the vast steppe landscape. I Cook spaghetti and beans then climb the hill behind to get a view of the endless empty landscape under what it is a remarkably bright moon.
The road seems a lot busier at night with lights buzzing past. The stars are super bright when I wake up after the moon has set. It should have been a restful night but I was awoken by a loud noise like someone clearing their throat. It was odd as no one seemed to be about, so I tried to get back to sleep but struggled.
Sunrise over day two in Kazakhstan is cool as I cook porridge with dried fruit, the oats taste stale and dated 2012 but hey hoy it can’t do much harm..
I ride along a bit and the dual carriageway is ridiculously ignored as the carriageways are far apart it is just two lanes of both direction traffic. Then finally it merges again but is still super sketchy, because I can be double overtaken in either direction on a dual carriageway, I’ve never seen chaos like it.
Finally a narrower road continues up and down small hills, through villages where I buy my staple of biscuits and water. Biscuits are the standard sugar coat white mushroom shaped ones, these however are deeply unpleasant and taste largely of animal fat, I end up leaving them behind.
I Stumble across a section of hardened gravel new road under construction, I ride this on my own and it’s great, luckily there are a few sections like this. I reach the big city of Shimkent and ride into town, I buy three somca’s for lunch, then I get what I think are vitamins from a chemist, I also find the first nice bakery selling good pastry and cakes, this makes me very happy! I also need sunglasses but fail to find any so I stop in a park to eat cake, I check the map and turns out city has free WiFi, I wasn’t expecting that! I send my mum an email before heading out. The highlight is this giant tulip!
I ride past a decent bike shop but they only stock 26 tyres not 700c, the guy is friendly and tells me that Bishkek or Almaty will do. As I look around he has gone outside and is degreasing the crap off my transmission, the floor underneath is incredibly black! Which is awesome as it has been skipping a bit and not freewheeling that well. He then relubes it, I don’t offer to pay neither does he ask, I think he just wanted to be friendly after having no tyres.
He says straight on to Taraz, but it isn’t and I get massively lost, I am stuck in this huge derelict industrial area of town that feels eerie and incredibly dodgy, just the old car pulled up or people salavaging metal. Its a huge area and on the map I think it was called Kummunizm! Finally I hit a small rundown village where the road ends, I follow GPS bearing east and finally hit a bigger road but I am still lost though. Waste about an hour until I finally find village marked on map so can detour back to where need.
The next bit is yet more dual carriageway under construction so I enjoy more empty riding away from the diverted traffic. The dust is incredible, there’s so much everywhere. In fact I get a bad nosebleed from the dust and dry air after blowing too hard.
I have blood everywhere despite probably not that much, I scare passers by a bit!
Road ges back through villages where everyone is super friendly saying hello. I keep going to Zhabagliy but very tired out, it is a real struggle.
The view is great as I take the turn off to the national park across a railway line and past a few large quarries.
The light is fading as I reach the village. I ask in the first shop for a place to stay, the lady calls a place and gives me directions. She gestures it’s a long way, I ride and don’t see it so I keep riding past the last house in the hope that the lights far away near the park is the place, after much riding it is dark and I clearly went wrong being way past a farm where the cows were being rounded into a pen by horsemen in the dark, the sound and dust was crazy when you couldn’t see anything.
I ride back to the village, all downhill going fast while avoiding dark black holes in the road hoping I stay on track!
Finally the second house back in the village has people with torches and this is the right place!
I stumbled on an awesome homestay: warm shower, huge dinner and comfy bed and the friendly ladies knocked price down to about $12. I was tempted to stay one more night.
Slept well but the weather was pretty cloudy so not worth sticking around for mountain views. I mended my tyre a bit better and the rear derailleur is now tensioned with a spoke nipple bent into place. It sort of worked but it’s so bunged up it needs another full clean.
The road was big again and pretty busy but the scenery despite the cloud was really cool. There were vast scorched arid fields of horse herded sheep or cows saw birds of prey soaring. I stopped in a village for lunch and had porridge with apple and I thought I bought a litre of milk but was sour yoghurt stuff, gross! It burnt in the pan and never really cooked. Also bought some fake nasty cream filled pofiteros which were revolting but I ate the whole box of them anyway.
I also bought apples, however the first lady said I had to buy a whole bucket so refused to sell me one, the next lady had an ounce of business skill and sold me two but probably charged me the full bucket price! It was only 30c though so everyone’s a winner.
Very fast smooth road with few ups and downs but nothing major until a descent onto huge flat plateau below a long descent view stunning view. Not sure 7% is classed as steep per this sign!
On the flat section I saw four team Astana cycling professionals on a training ride followed by their team van. What are the chances! Well it was probably the smoothest road and a descent climb for them. They were too fast for a photo but here was the road!
Such was the tedium I got excited when I found some broken one armed sunglasses on the roadside what a result!
On the edge of Taraz I met some friendly policeman at a check point one even spoke english. After riding off a car hooted loudly and pointed at the police, I thought that they probably decided to create some fine for me, so I ignored it. The police got in the patrol car and it was then that I realised I was missing my broken one armed sunglasses! The car pulled up and yep they had my recently found sunglasses, they probably thought one arm is fashionable in the trendier parts of Shoreditch!
In town traffic was crazy, i rode on and on hoping to hit the centre, I saw no hotels. I stopped in a park hoping it might have city wifi like Shimkent, but it didn’t, a young couple sat opposite then the guy walked over to me and says hello how are you, I ask about hotels and he gives me directions, then the inevitable selfie request with them both arrives, every time ,#bearded #cycletourerfromEngland must be trending!
Find hotel and its expensive, so I hack their WiFi to find another hotel but there’s not much about. A young guy from the hotel walks out and asks to talk, I think oops he’s going to tell me off for using WiFi, but no he just wants a chat. He gives me directions to the main street where lots of cheaper hotels are. I follow his directions and find the main Street but no hotels! A friendly older lady offers help I use the universal sleep sign language she does the cheaper money sign back and i nod, she walks with me a bit, I at this point realise my earlier puncture patch has failed and my tyre is going flat, blooming bad timing!
Finally two friendly young kids on bikes arrive and they take me where the lady directs them, it’s a notice board full of private adverts, I assume there must be rooms to rent as they seem to be calling up some, finally they have success, I pump up my tyre and we ride for miles across town. I only then take stock and wonder what’s going on, I started to get annoyed, while the area wasn’t rough, it was no longer central and we passed some cheap looking hotels. Finally we arrive at a small street, one boy goes forward and I have to hold back. A friendly looking girl appears and I get waved on, it turns out she teaches English hence her advert and she asks in broken English what help I need, so not a cheap room then and back to square one!
Then an old blacked out purple lada pulls up and the guy winds the window down and asks them what’s going on. The guy then asks me in good London accented English what the problem is I reply about a cheap hotel, he starts giving directions then asks if its just one night and one person, I say yes and he offers me the floor in his house with his family!
He seems like a nice guy so I agree and follow him after again pumping up tyre. We arrive at a nice gated house and I feel relieved to see friendly young kids about the place!
I take my bags inside and he says he has few bits to do around town, will I come with him? I am shattered but agree to be polite. Firstly we visit his wife in hospital after picking up some soup and bread from a very fancy supermarket, the only western style place I’ve seen in weeks! She is 4months pregnant so I assume some complication, I don’ t go inside as I would feel awkward. I stay in the funky purple Lada car and they both come down stairs as she doesn’t believe he has an English cyclist in the car!! She speaks good English too so chat.
We then take a huge box of cash to his biker club mates as it is the collection money for orphans, all sounds unlikely but appears true. At meeting I shake hands with about 15 of Taraz’s gnarliest bikers! They ride all sorts from dirt bikes to Harleys! A few speak English but others are super friendly, needless to say a lot of selfies were taken with me and they are all amazed by my trip!
The highlight is a pilot of bi planes who rides a bad ass custom Harley Davidson!
Finally they order me some local food and beer, it all looks good and comes with salad that I eat against my better judgement.
Head back to his house and on the way see some big dogs by the railway yard, they look like they are lining up for a fight, it all feels a bit rough. The guy knows everyone in town it seems. He says the police take bribes so he can drive how he likes, his motorbike has no plates so he can drive crazy! On the way we race some mates in a big truck who follow us to his house, one is Dubai educated so speaks good English he makes gold and silver jewellery, again not what I expected! I meet his younger brother who is just massive and rather intimidating but super kind and friendly too. I head to sleep in a huge fancy dining room he heads out somewhere until the small hours, then sleeps on the kitchen floor because his wife is away.
I feel really sick all night and don’t sleep but frequent the toilet a lot, that blooming salad I bet!
Next morning I lie in feeling rough and he kindly agrees for me to call him when I want to leave, so he can lock up. I sleep a bit but decide to fix up my bike and head off, I call him and he says I should fix my bike tyre at his shop, so reluctantly I do but I feel like I am on display as a crowd of all his mates in the car yard watch, I try to eat a somsa and feel OK but still rough.
I ride 12km out of town to the border, as I need to make progress, it is also super easy riding. It is really straight forward at the border, just a stamp on each side and it is done!
It is fair to say I am incredibly excited about Kyrgyzstan this is the country I really wanted to cycle to. I want to see the beautiful snowy mountains, the crystal clear alpine lakes, the friendly nomads and test myself on some ridiculously big road climbs!