It wasn’t exactly hard leaving Uzbekistan but at the same time we were in no rush (except of course for an expiring visa). So we left late morning and took advantage of a roadside stall offering kartoshka camca (similar to potato samosa). Of course just because it was advertised it didn’t mean they had any. But soon enough they did – making some especially for us and while they were baking, we were given all sorts of treats – so much so we hardly had room for the camca (somsa).
In Nukus we met Christian, he’s Canadian though has been living and working in Central Asia for over a decade. He told us that there is false hospitality here – people offer chai or say you don’t need to pay but actually want something else. So you must try at least three times – we reflect on all the gifts – but are pretty confident they were indeed genuine. Though with that knowledge we try, very hard to pay, at least three times – no, no, hand on heart and head bowed, no. So we offer thanks and great appreciation and get on our way – eking out the last drops of Uzbekistan warmth and hospitality.
We cross the border mid afternoon- after reading other travellers tales about delays and bureaucracy we were delighted with a smooth transition from Stan 1 to Stan 2. As always we have helpful guards and other people. I had to provide some accommodation registration documents but only enough to show we had been collecting them – so it wasn’t rigorous and by the time Adrienne went through they didn’t ask for any papers. It may not be as easy for everyone – as we approached the border, we passed trucks backed up for at least 2 kilometres – so perhaps a much slower border crossing for them.
By 4pm we were in Kazakhstan- money changed – and on our way. We of course didn’t get far up the road before we were offered chai. Keen to get just a few kilometres away from the traffic and busyness of the border we decided to politely but firmly and successfully decline the offer.
A thunderstorm stopped us in our tracks – though we managed to find a chai stop. So within minutes we were out of the rain, and drinking fermented mares milk, as you do – or if you want our advice DONT. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste – and though I drank the bowl offered it didn’t help in me acquiring the taste.
The joy was though – being entertained by four delightful sisters – who had a great time sifting through our Aus and NZ photos.
Long days are a blessing when you’re looking for a campsite. At least Kazakhstan has wide open spaces. We pulled off the road – thinking we’d found a good spot only to be followed by a car. We thought they were checking on us but no, there was a spring and they’d come to fill their water. We checked in and they said it was a good place to camp.
It was late when we set up the tents – so despite having a fabulous new stove and oodles of food to cook we opted for muesli and then took to our tents to wash of the hot sticky (despite the rain) day.
There was no other visitors. It was peaceful and quiet and the stars were out. Morning brought our first visitor. Nurmalka, a shepherd. He was very happy to see us and chat – though he had to keep running off to check on the sheep. Then his friend arrived whose land we had camped on – he too seemed happy to see us. It was a lovely slow entry to Day 2 in Kazakhstan.
The day was very hot and so after not long an amazing memorial appeared and warranted further exploration. More turquoise blue but not tiled just paint. Better still a large covered area – shaded and with a breeze blowing through – a great place for a picnic.
It was hard getting going again – it seemed even hotter so when a row of big shady trees appeared within the hour – we decided to lay and laze till it cooled off.
Just over an hour later and we were back on the road and caught in another thunderstorm. It was welcome after the heat – but once I was drenched the novelty of being cool started to wear off.
We persevered – there was nothing else to to – no shelter- so we rode on and on and eventually the rain eased. As we went through small towns the curiosity and genuine respect was obvious. We had truck drivers, women, men and children all wave and give is the thumbs up or fist in the air with big smiles. Sometimes when we were stopped people would walk over 500m or so just to come and shake our hands!
At least the big hill climbs in the afternoon were in the cool and wet. Rolling down the other side was a treat, speed hit 50kph or more on the last hill, we had a great surface no sharp turns and so we happily rolled and rolled all the way into Rabat.
A shop stop proved a bonus – offering us a dry place to put up our tent. And no surprise we were also gifted some dry cheese balls (a delicacy we are trying to develop a taste for (more on that later, and some chocolates and dates.)
Joy joy joy – we (well Adrienne actually) cooked dinner on our new stove, no smell of paint thinner, no black smoke, no blackened pots just clean gas and a quick easy really delicious meal. (Thanks Akbar – the effort was really worth it.)
Wandering after dinner I’m invited in across the road for chai. I explain I’ve already eaten but still get offered bread – and butter from the cow and much food. I manage a little though am really full from dinner.
As I get up to go I am given a bag full of bread and kazak dougnuts, a bag full or dried cheese balls and then as we are walking out apples from the tree. The doughnuts are great, not too oily, much lighter than bread and not sweet or salty. The cheese balls – well am still trying to develop a taste for them.
Carrying an extra 1.5 kg of something you are not sure you will eat is challenging – but so is leaving behind something you have been gifted, especially when its a local delicacy and gifted from people who dont have much. So we pack it up, grateful and hopeful (that we’ll find other traveller to share it with!).
Leaving Rabat is smooth and easy – the road surface is fabulous – in fact the best we have ridden on – and we are riding a slight downward gradient, there is silence as our bike roll along, its blissful. What fabulous roads they have in Kazakhstan!
Within 5 mins of leaving town there are roadworks – so much for a smooth ride.
We have the option to ride a little further and risk the road being blocked and having to ride back up the hill on the gravel or to turnaround now and ride the long way. After the wonderful night shelter and glorious morning we are up for the risk.
We arrive into Shymkent just before another bout of rain – we dont have much information but end up at a park just near the city hostel. Shymkent is modern and cosmopolitan – more so than anywhere we went in Uzbekistan. It’s the third largest city in Kazakhstan. We re not sure if we’ll stay very long – but once we check in we decide on two nights. Hot showers, good wifi and an interesting city to wander helps make our decision.
We sit in mall after an early dinner waiting for the lights to come on. It’s not long before someone comes along to practice their English and we get to find out more about the country and its politics.
So yes there are elections – but the result is predetermined. Yes there are some places in Kazakhstan that are more progressive than others – Shymkent being one of the those places. Here for the first time we have seen many girls out riding bikes, and even 2 young women kitted up in full cycling gear (road cycling not touring).
So we have SIM cards, good wifi and a chance to see and speak with family – technology is so fantastic these days and of course a chance to update the blog. In case you’re wondering – no I’m not carrying a laptop or iPad – just a phone and lightweight folding keyboard -which I can thoroughly recommend.
Uzbekistan ay have started it – but Kazakhstan is continuing on in fine style -already impressing us with warmth and generosity. Feeling dry, happy and tired.
The joy of wide open spaces, rolling green hills and the promise of clear mountain streams is not missed on us. One more sleep then we are off into the mountains – no doubt the climbs will be challenging and slow and absolutely worth it!