This is part of the eleventh section of my around the
Complete Trip Overview & Map
Coming from Russia
9/7/05 Entering Kazakhstan a simple process. English speaking immigration processed the visa, customs completed a form for the motorcycle and there was no insurance necessary, a casual customs declaration, all completed in 30 minutes. The road to Semey good by local standards and I really didn't feel as though I had changed countries as the Russians had been here for over a century leaving behind the usual concrete buildings and collective fields. Semey was the nearest large town to where the Russians exploded over 450 nuclear bombs in tests up until 1991, only 100 km's away. The bomb area is still closed with radiation up to 200 times normal levels. As I entered the city a thick smog haze covered it in the heat and with the above knowledge gave an eerie feeling to the place. A large city but feeling the economic downturn of no longer being part of the USSR.
10/7/05 Last nights violent electrical storm and strong winds cleared the air for my 5-30 departure. Another atrociously constructed concrete and asphalt set of roads had the bike bouncing along, sometimes at less than 60 km/hr, into a dryer countryside of small towns and grazing animals, as I headed towards Almaty, 1100 km to the south. The temperature was soon into the mid thirties, with little traffic and less shade I stopped at one of the few cafe's along the way for a late breakfast, miss judged my fuel consumption and needed to buy 80 octane fuel, the 93 only available in large towns, did an engine oil change roadside, was again pleased to see no metallic residue on the magnetic drain plug, and stopped mid afternoon at a small roadside hotel, 600 km for the day. It was again hazy, the strong tail wind whipping up a cloud of dust whilst a couple of grass fires added to the mix. The hotel, along with three petrol stations, a few eateries and a police box are all that is at this road junction. You could almost shoot a 1950's mid western American movie here without changing the setting.
11/7/05 A poorer and cheaper country than Russia, my hotel just $US 8.00, petrol 40 cents a litre, breakfast $1.00 and dinner $2.00, with a tea at less than 20 cents. A more fertile region of mountains to the left and irrigated fields to the right. A motorcycle tour group out of the Netherlands, ten bikes, led by Rob and Dafne de Jong, themselves having travelled the world for five years by motorcycle and side car, now organizing tours. The group had come through the Ukraine and were off to Russia and Japan, choosing to train over the dirt section. Two months long and now about half way. Almaty later in the day, settling in for a long stay as this is my visa collection spot for the rest of the trip, hopefully.
12/7/05 Almaty almost functions but seems to suffer from "the man with the key is missing" syndrome. I had tried to register my visa at the OVIR office yesterday afternoon but they needed to keep my passport for a day (but I needed it for visa applications) so I opted to register it at the train station today supposedly 15 minutes but the computer wasn't there. A 4 pm when I was told to return, the computer was there but the signing officer wasn't. I waited till well after 5.00 pm to be finally registered. Meanwhile I had been to the Uzbekistan embassy. Unfortunately the consuls father had died so the embassy was closed all this week. A neighbouring country, unfortunate for the consul but also for anyone needing a visa, perhaps in a similar emergency. There are no petrol stations right in the city, low on fuel I headed out to one only to find there was no electricity, therefore no petrol, later I ran out of fuel and caught taxi's. The day did have its amazing highlights. Both the Iranian Embassy and the Tajikistan Embassy welcoming. A relaxed lounge to discuss your visa requirements. The Tajik Consul offered me a double entry, 3 month visa, without the usual letter of invitation often required for $US 80.00, come back in four days, and I could keep my passport. The Iranian Consul processed a 3 month visa, 30 day stay, on the spot, 90 minutes, 50 Euros (or local equivalent), pleasantly asking that I mix some politics with my travel and observe how happy the Iranian people are with their new president. I am certainly pleased with him if he has been the instigator of this new visa policy towards me. The Kyrgyzstan Embassy more the normal, business like, $US 40.00 come back in five days, or pay double to have a visa tomorrow. Again no invitation required. They needed to keep my passport but relented allowing me two days to get the Kazakhstan visa registered but then they would need it. By 6 pm I was frazzled having started at 8 am hunting for embassies, two of which had moved from the address I had. Just two embassies tomorrow, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan. Hopefully they won't need to hold my passport.
13/7/05 Kazakhstan is the first of the many muslim countries I will be visiting till the end of this trip. It doesn't appear very Muslim, a few fez like hats, a few head scarves are the only outward signs. There aren't many mosques, no call to prayer and alcohol is sold and drunk openly. One unpleasant trend that has been creeping into embassies recently is the extra change for a more hurried visa. Taking advantage of their monopoly status what used to be normal processing, same or next day has now become special service with an extra charge, usually double the price, or you wait five days, a week or sometimes more. There seems to be no reason for it other than revenue raising. Businessmen will often pay the charge to avoid having to return to the embassies and tourists caught with waiting a few days with its expenses in a city they don't want to be in will often also pay, so the trend looks like spreading. After an hours hunting I finally found the Afghanistan Embassy out of town with the help of the police. Far from targeting tourists I have used them here for directions on a few occasions and found them extremely helpful. I wonder that someone in government doesn't read the guide books in these countries and tried to correct some of the negative comments about officials and their country because things are certainly improving in a lot of areas. The Afghanistan visa, $US 30.00, 30 days stay with a 90 day validity, available tomorrow morning, again helpful and efficient. I decided not to apply for a Turkmenistan visa here as the dates will be fixed and too far into the future to be sure of exact dates, and it takes up to 14 days processing time.
14/7/05 The air is so dry here I am drinking five litres of fluid a day, the pages of the diary have gone curly and washing dries in the room in a couple of hours. The security at the regions embassies almost non existent. At the "free" worlds embassies very tight. The freedom of democracy currently has a high price, limited peaceful enjoyment by terrorism security measures. The "non free" are more concerned by their own rulers. Russia had a feel of a hurt nation keeping its pride whilst Kazakhstan more feels like a freed nation and pushing the boundaries of that freedom. Whilst looking for the Afghan Embassy yesterday I met the managing director of Volvo here and we had a great lunch. Also a H-D rider he has worked in many Volvo trouble spots of the world and had some great stories, otherwise a quieter day.
15/7/05 It had rained, cleared, rained, cleared in Almaty during the day and by mid afternoon I wasn't sure I was making the right decision in heading up into the mountains. The road deteriorated the closer I got to Bolshoe Almatinskoe Lake and I headed to a grassy clearing about half a km short of the lake. The rain started again before I could get up the tent and it was another cold tinned dinner listening to the pitta patter of rain and sleet most of the night.
16/7/05 Still cloudy but clearer the surrounding peaks had a new dusting of snow over the bright green grass giving a lovely contrast. At near 2500 metres the air was cold blowing off the new snow. The tent never dried all day but it never really rained. A light drizzle, sunshine, and light drizzle as I read in the tent and did minor work on the bike and watched the hoards of Alsatians walk or drive, day trippers and overnight campers, moving up and down the track. I was left in peace, just far enough away to deter too much interest, beside the small river and enjoying the day of solitude yet surrounded.
17/5/05 Up early I strolled up and around the lake, actually a dam. It's famed turquoise colours only come later in the year once the glacier melt stops and its sediment settles. Now an unappealing murky grey but still beautiful in its setting below snow capped peaks and amongst the tall pencil thin fur tree pines. A break in the light rain had the tent dry and me on my way back to Almaty. I have met more independent travellers, motorcycle or particularly bicycle, than backpackers in this region, and altogether very few. A group of five shared tea in my room this evening discussing information on where each had gone or was going. A British couple on bicycles, a Dutch by bicycle and a Brit by public transport, the largest group of travellers since Mongolia.
18/5/05 More running around town. Collected Tajikistan visa and arranged an invitation for Uzbekistan and a permit to ride the GABO road, Palmir Highway in Tajikistan, both to be collected by email in ten days time. Managed to find some fork oil for an oil change and had a break in the frame, around the rear right shock absorber welded and strengthened, did the left one as well as a precaution. Washing and internet and ready to leave Almaty tomorrow after a successful eight day visit.
19/5/05 Leaving at lunch time I had not expected to get to the border today but with a good road, first through irrigation fields, then through desert treeless mountains and gorges and finally the fertile plateau I was at the border by 6.30 pm. Fully expecting it to be closed I was informed it was a 24 hour border crossing despite being in the far east of the country where virtually no-one crosses. Customs forgot to ask for my motorcycle paperwork and immigration took just five minutes while I stood in front of their computer linked camera having my passport scanned, sophisticated for such a small border. I feel I didn't really "get into" Kazakhstan. In the north it is similar to Russia. Almaty is an appealing cross Western and Russian city. Having my mind on visas didn't help. An easy relaxed country to visit.
Move with me to Kyrgyzstan
Story and photos copyright ©
Peter and Kay Forwood,