Tag Archives: Cycling Kazakhstan

Day 5, 6 Twisters to salvation

1 Aug

The last 2 days in the desert were more monotonous, with uniformed and flat landscapes as far as the eye could see. We got used to the desert routine, with an early wake up, morning cycle, then a rest in the afternoon followed by a more relaxed ride under the sunset. The visual highlights were the little tornados we could see next to us, taking big amount of sand high into the sky. Chaikhanas are now only each 50 km, which makes the ride more exhausting. Those little houses with frozen bottles of water and sodas are our oasis, and getting to the next one always feels like a serious achievement.

Ya Man!

After 2 days in those conditions, and more than 300 km on non asphalted roads, we finally got back on the tarmac, which was a big relief, both mentally and physically. Those 6 days in the desert took us 3 flat tires, 1 pole and 1 luggage rack broken, 1 fall, and around 50 liters each of water and sodas.

We celebrated the return of the asphalt in the last chaikhana, where we stayed the whole afternoon, thinking about this whole desert thing that was behind us, and happy it was getting to its end.

Back to civilisation

We were 40 km away from Beyneu, on the Uzbek border, and cycled there in the late afternoon, with facing wind slowing us down. Arrived in town, a guy in a big jeep proposed us to wash –we probably looked dirty enough at that point-, so we started following him in the city center. We thought he’d lead us to his house, but instead drove us to the local sauna. We didn’t exactly understand who this guy was ; he just told us there were showers and food, and that everything was on him…then left straight without even saying goodbye. The cold shower we took there was the best thing in the world that could happen to us, and we felt like staying there forever (we still don’t know where all that water was coming from!). Cleaned, dried and fed, we headed to the hotel nearby and slept like little babies in a room with AC, a luxury you truly appreciate in this part of the world.

For everyone who made it

Brand new dudes !

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Desert, day 3, 4 : Rock and dust

29 Jul

No! I’m not gonna die here 

We left Shetpe late in the afternoon, after having tried to find a new tube in the bazar, but failed (no 26 inches here, only 24 and 28!). We were happy to find some more asphalt on the way, together with canyons and little villages. It is a very enjoyable ride, with majestic surroundings and good road. However, we could only ride 50 km as Nico punctured his tired (again, and again!), which slowed us down around 7 pm after having a snickers break.So good to have you here !

We kept on riding after sunset, but were blocked at some point as we ended the asphalted road and didn’t want to risk more tires in the dark. Somehow, it feels like being in Arizona…even if none of us didnt go there. We set up the tent not too far away from the road as we got warned several times about the wolves living in the area. We coked some good pastas looking at the amazing sky then went to sleep. 

The next day had to be a long one, as we had to catch up the distance we didnt do during the last few days. We therefore woke up early with the sun, and started cycling around 7. We cycled the track as fast as we could, and left the steppe to enter a more desertic area. We have mountains around ourselves, with meters of salt on the rocks, remaining from an old sea who was there thousands of years ago. We got offered a ride by a friendly kazakh, telling us it was more than 45 degrees and that this road was the most difficult one on Kazakhstan. As we didnt one to cheat (at least, on this bit :), we refused and kept on cycling towards the next ChaiKhana (Tea House). After a really steep hill leading us there, we stopped, exhausted, after sweating few liters of water, that we took back with liters and liters we drank there. It’s gonna be tough dude !

Probably one of the hardest climb we ever did under 45° but still good looking

We took few pictures with the hosts (“they are americans!!’) then got back on the road after 6. We cycled more on that road, Nico got his bydaily flat tire, then we surprisingly got back on the asphalt. It was very welcomed as this road began to be a pain in the ass -litteraly!-. We slept next to the next Chai Khana, 50 km away, after having a good plov!It’s ok, I’m getting use to it 😉

What an amazing sunset

Desert, day 2 : Deeper into the steppe

29 Jul

Hmmm, where should we go now?

Waking up at 5.30 AM, together with the sun. Eating a lot of biscuits with Nutella, pack the tent, and get on the bike as soon as we could. We are now far from any kind of civilization, and feel alone in the world, with just a few truck drivers transporting gas or oil. It is beautiful, a bit hilly (uphill!), and the road is terrible. At least, we were warned.

Morning bath

On the way, we see several groups of horses and camels running around in the steppe, giving us an awesome feeling of wilderness and freedom. We also experienced the steppe solidarity : everyone passing by is stopping to chit chat, ask if we’re ok, offer water, shubat or koumis (fermented horse/camel milk). Here and there, you find underground mosques, built thousands of years ago, where you can get some rest in the shade, as well as company and food. We stopped late in the morning when we saw one, and met the people who were there at the moment : mostly people from Aqtau or around, going there alone or with their family for a spiritual retreat.

Little holes in the road

Sharing food with people

We were shown the underground, thousand years old mosque, and the ancient graves before being invited to share food with the community : tea and bread, then salad and even marinated meat! That was unexpected, especially considering we are here during Ramadan (as it was banned during soviet era, Ramadan here does not have the same importance as in other muslims countries). We took some rest there to spend the hottest hours of the day, exchanged with the locals in Russian and even a bit of French, and played with the kids.

Finding our way into the underground mosque

We sadly left the place late afternoon was a very enjoyable piece of cycle. The second half of the day is always better, as the sun is setting, with temperature going down. After 25 km in the steppe, we got back on the asphalte until shetpe, a little town with not much interest, where we stopped. We slept in a bakery, where we had some warm, freshly baked bread. Then a good rest.

Afternoon ride with the camels

Introduction to planet Kazakhstan

28 Jul

 

Getting into Kazakhstan has been a long process : 9 days of waiting in Baku to get our kazakh visa done and wait for the boat to leave, then wait for 60 hours more on the boat : 20 hours of ride, and 40 hours of waiting in both harbours. The first thing that struck us when we arrived  in Kazakhstan was people’s faces : no doubt, we’re in Asia. People look Chinese but speak Russian, they are muslims but drink vodka. Miles away from Borat, but still, it’s a funky combination.

We arrived in the middle of the night in Aqtau, and the customs did not bother us at all. They tried our bikes for a ride around the docks, then let us go with our stamped immigration card. We rode 8km in the dark to get into town, then met a group of people outside an hotel, celebrating a birthday. The manager was there and offered us a room for half the price. We accepted, then got invited us to join the party, until late in the night. Nico woke up a flat tire the next day, so we had to fix this problem first. I’ll skip the details, but we had to change 4 times the wheel (!) before being good to go.

Our most important duty was to register at the immigration police. Here (and in few other countries from the ex-USSR), tourists and citizens have to register every time they move from place to place, for a serious amount of time, inside the country. It’s a way for the state to better police its citizens and their location. After few hours spent with the Kazakh administration, we headed into town to get food, and the goods we needed to sustain for the next 400 kilometers in the desert : 25 liters of water, plenty of noodles, nutella, biscuits, breads, sardins and dry cheese.