We left Astana to go further down into the vast nothingness of Kazakhstan, or so we thought…
We were still fully committed to put our sticker in the most funny, difficult or silly places we could find, so when we saw and old rusty sign, we had to put up a sticker of course. The problem was that the sign was at least 2,5 meters above the ground, so we had to be a bit inventive to get our sticker up there. The tracks we were taking from here on were not even worthy of the name ‘track’ because at a lot of points you couldn’t even see the lines anymore where the last vehicle had driven (probably one year ago or something like that). These are however the “roads” where you experience the most adventure and meet the nicest people.
For instance, we had to cross a train track somewhere in the middle of nowhere without any civilisation for miles. There was however a guard for the track, even though it was fully barricaded so no one could cross it. We tried to ‘ask’ him if we could cross, but he said that we couldn’t and that we had to use the tunnel further down under the track. Ok, no problemo! We drove through the man-high grass to get to the ‘tunnel’. It turned out to be a small hole under the track that was half a meter high and maybe one meter large… Trying to fit the bikes through would be like tying to pull an elephant through a keyhole, so definitely not an option. Seb would not be Seb if he didn’t tell me that we would not listen to the guard and would just try to get over the tracks. Ok, again, no problemo! Was it not for the fact that the tracks were high ON the ground and not in the ground. Both of us tried to get Seb’s bike over the track, but it just wouldn’t budge. We were just about to try again when we heard the guard shouting frantically in our direction. We pulled the bike of the tracks and were about to look further down along the tracks for another tunnel or so when we saw a train pass us by on the same track where we had been not even 2 minutes before… Oops, that could have ended badly!
This however didn’t scare Seb enough (go figure), so we tried the hopping over the tracks again, but this time a bit further away from the guard (who did he think he was, shouting at us and warning us that there was a train coming…tttsss). The problem was not really the height of the tracks, but the distance between them. The bike got stuck in between the tracks everytime as there was no room to maneuver. This time Seb found some beams to put in between the tracks so that he could balance the bike on top of them and hopefully get the bike over in time and the beams out of the way before another train would come by. The first bike went flawlessly, but with the second one it took quite a bit longer. After all, the next train came only about half an hour after we were already on the road again…
Because of the track debacle we took the wrong turn and ended up doing a huge detour that day but Seb enjoyed himself doing some jumps (fully loaded!) along the way, over and over again and hoping that I would at least have one good picture of him.
Was it not for the detour, we would have never ended up at yet another wedding (what is it with us and weddings?) This time we were not invited into the festivities, but we were the local attraction for half an hour and the local bridesmaids all thought I was cute and wanted to be with me on the picture (not with Seb, go figure). The funny part was that we were asking them where we could get some food and at first they gave us water and then after a few minutes they even gave us money… Ha, talking about travelling cheap! They gave us a fake note of 1000 tenge’s and a real one of 2000, such friendly people. We found the real restaurant a bit further down the road by the way!
The camping spot for that night was in a small valley where we would be out of the wind and where we could enjoy the most spectacular sunset you could imagine.
Along the way we saw a lot of desolate and abandoned old Soviet flats and I think it is a big finger towards the Russians, saying that the Kazak people will manage for themselves to find suitable housing and that they will not be crammed together in those ugly and unpersonal buildings that ruin the skyline of the steppes.
Talking about the steppes, it was totally amazing for us to finally see some mountains in the distance and it was even more amazing to see that there was a lake right at the bottom of the mountains. By this time we were already in Bayanaul, we call it little Switzerland, but they say it looks more like a combination of California and the Nevada desert. This is the place where I saw the greed in two of the Kazak people for the first time since we’ve been here. “To make a long story short”, as Seb would say… We were sitting in the village to have some lunch when two guys came up to us and told us that they wanted to show us the real Bayanaul. They even had a book with them with lots of pretty pictures about the area. They couldn’t speak one word of English but we could tell out of their signs that they would show us around out of the goodness of their hart and we believed them. They showed us indeed very spectacular places while driving in front of us with their old dingy car. They posed with us in pictures and took a lot of pictures of us and all was good. We even met some more nice people on the way that gave us bread and water and what turned out to be a bottle of vodka…
Near the end of the tour I spoke to Seb and we both agreed to give the guys some money for their gas and that we would give them the bottle of vodka as a token of our appreciation. Right then and there, you could see the devil named greed lighting up in the eyes of one of them! He was trying to tell us something and after a while we understood that they wanted 30 euros for their tour. Ok, 30 euros is not a lot considering how long they took us around, but when you know that our daily budget is 50 euros, including eating, drinking, sleeping and gas, it is more than half our budget. Not only that but they had said in the beginning that they would not take any money from us and did it out of the goodness of their hart! If they would have told us in the beginning that they wanted 30 euros, we would have said, thank you, but no thanks! These things all together with the fact that it had been a long and hot day, just broke me… We gave him the money and drove of! A bit further there were some friendly Kazak people who stopped us to take a picture and to give us some more bread and it was there that I started sobbing. I just couldn’t help myself at that time because it was such a difference between the ‘real’ Kazaks and this phoney money eager men that I had to let off some steam. Meanwhile the two men came past us and saw me crying my eyes out and apparently felt guilty, so they gave half the money back to Seb. They kept trying to guide us further but we kindly declined and took off.
This being the short version of the story, imagine what the long one would have been like!
The next day we saw some guy driving his flock of sheep along by throwing a can of some sort that was filled with pebbles or something, so that it would make a hell of a noise when it landed between the sheep and would make them hurry along. All the while he would sit on his horse, following the sheep at a slow but steady paste.
In one town that isn’t on the map, but that we knew existed because some other guys had been there one year ago, we stopped at the local shop. It turned out to be inside some old ladies house and wasn’t bigger than my closet at home. She didn’t have a lot to offer, but she made it up just by being her friendly old self and by laughing the whole time. We bought some bread and some canned fish that she was nice enough to open for us since we didn’t have a can opener and we even bough a bar of chocolate as a small treat for ourselves. The whole village was there to look at us and to ask us if they could take a picture with us and what we hoped wouldn’t happen, did! The chocolate melted by the time we could open it and it just turn into chocolate paste that seb tried to smear on his bread with a plastic spoon! The sight alone, was funny as hell!
When we went to wash our hands, we saw another sheep herder coming to let his sheep drink from the same place where we were washing our hands. The sheep in combination with Seb and the hat that he received as a present from a local guy, turned out to be a hilarious picture…herder Seb and his flock!
At one point, my sheepskin felt like a lumpy cushion, so I took it of off the bike for one last warrior picture before I laid it down at its last resting place in the middle of the steppes of Kazakhstan. Coming all the way from Ukraine last year, it had proven to be useful, but now it was time for us to say goodbye because it was beginning to be a real pain in the butt, literally!
We also saw a lot of those strange looking squirrels, that turned out to be small gophers. They stay on the road until the last second and then they run so funny with their big bum that you just have to stop, look and laugh!
By that time we had come to some nuclear danger zone, but Seb will tell the whole story in the next update…!