12th and 13th June.
I like Aktobe. It looks like a much older city than the ones I’ve seen so far, so has more soul and a centre to it which seems to focus around the area where I stayed called Holiday Park. Same great people too, friendly, helpful, wanting to chat about the bike, where I’m from etc. On the way out of the city as I was leaving, a bus driver with a bus full of people on board, flagged me down and we had a chat in the middle of the main boulevard in the middle of town. Traffic at a stand still but no one seems bothered, they’re quite happy for us to take our time.
As I was loading up outside the hotel I met a Kazakh couple who spoke perfect English. Thet were from Almaty and had driven the M32 (the main road that connects Aktobe and Almaty) several times and confirmed it was way better than the A27 of the previous days.
Managed to find a jet wash place on the way out of time so finally got a chance to clean off the glue-like clay from the two minor crashes. There were a bunch of local guys getting their cars cleaned ready for a wedding later that day. The groom was with them and was looking very edgy. We all chatted in broken English and sign language and again I got the feeling that these are the sort of people you could become good mates with.
Anyway … the next stage. I have some great video and pics which I’ll try to upload later. But the M32 became my new mistress for a while. Curvy, smooth and gorgeous. But that relationship was to turn sour later.
The first couple of hundred kms were just stunning. Great roads, spectacular scenery, very little traffic, wildlife aplenty. The eagles are an amazing site. Can anyone tell me what sort they are? Huge, brown feathers with white patches on wings. Also I keep seeing dozens of what look like small Meercats, but smaller, more stoat like with dark brown tips on tails. Anyone?
And the suicidal crickets. Millions in swarms crossing the main roads from one sand dune to the next. The first swarm I saw I thought someone had dropped a load of stones on the road. Then I realised it was moving. Would love to know what that was all about.
I’ve driven through the US a couple of times, and having grown up in small places like Wales and Portugal, you’re immediately struck by the scale of the place, and I know the US has a bigger land mass but Kazakhstan seems takes it to a whole new level. Loving it.
It’s not quite desert, but it’s barren, hot, dusty, and spectacular. Each bend reveals more great views and the horizons seem further away than anywhere else I’ve been.
Then about 100kms or so short of Aral the road changes and alternates between fresh Tarmc, pot holed rough old roads and no road at all so all traffic is on the dirt tracks that run parallel. A mix of sand, gravel, hard clay (that turns slippery when even a tad damp) and loose dirt. It certainly keeps it interesting.
I was looking forward to seeing Aral and what remains of the lake, but to be honest it was a little disappointing. All the ship wrecks have gone bar one, and the lake has receded even further. The town looks really run down and depressed (total opposite to the towns I’ve visited so far). I’ve also been told that unemployment and crime is high, so after a quick ride around I decided to crack on and get to Qyzylorda and a day off, which means a straight 24 hours riding. I’m sure I was starting to lose the plot by the time I arrived. Chuntering away to myself in my helmet and at one point I’d convinced myself that that big cloud up ahead is a space ship.
Note to self … no more 24 hour rides!
Got to Qyzylorda about 5:30 AM local. Had a few hours kip and a shower and went for a wander round the city. Like Atyrau it’s expanding rapidly and from what I can tell looks like a pretty propsperous and up coming town. The parks and local facilities look a little tatty, but there’s work going on everywhere.
I’ll go wandering again tonight to see if I can find a bar with some music.
The bike is looking a little battered. Every now and then I get a pang of guilt for taking a brand new bike and battering it like this. Since cleaning off all the muck I’m noticing more minor damage. Nothing that can’t be fixed. I’ll be staying in Almaty for a few days so will try to find a garage to carry out a full service as it’s almost due.