There are so many amazing and fascinating people in Kazakhstan! With their endless generosity and a mentality not to be in a hurry, just relax! They make you feel really welcome.
On the 26th of July we arrived from Kyrgyzstan back into Kazakhstan and after a few nights camping and celebrating my birthday with funny bum sheep running around us, we’re now staying in a hostel in Shymkent. Albina, the owner, tries to help us to arrange transport to cross the 2500 km desert that separates us from the port near Aktau on the Caspian sea.
We like to go to Georgia in September, where we booked a flight back home to London and Amsterdam to see family and friends ❤️
To make it to Georgia in time, we can not cycle all the way. Since the desert is 44 degrees with head winds and not many places that have water or shadow, it’s the best place to not be on the bike!
Albina helps us to buy train tickets by driving us to the train station 3 times and by being a fantastic negotiator and translator. In Kirans previous quests for tickets on internet he could not find any. The train tickets are sold out for the coming months. If we can’t go by train and buses aren’t going to Aktau, then we might have to fly. Something we really don’t feel like doing. We hope for the best.
In Kazakhstan, Albina and also several cycling blogs tells us, when something is not available, it will always be somehow still available. Just for at least double the price.
The corruption goes so far here, says Albina, that even in schools you pay the teacher bribes to ensure that your kid gets attention and gets educated. Sickening!
In the train station all legal ways to buy tickets fail and we end up with some guys telling us that for 3 times the price we can go on the train the next day. Which is better then nothing! Next day we go all packed to the train.
Our guy, a former train official who got fired because of ticket corruption, still sticks to his old job. He looks like some cartoon character: a bald, short, chubby guy with golden teeth, sunglasses, baggy pants and a yellow baseball cap. Yep, he fits the job! We also know now why he got fired. He does a very bad bribe job and we see the train leave without us.
Albina finds a girl in a small office of 2 square meters. She will try to get us official tickets in the next coming days, with no guarantee. This time only double the price. Sounds like a great deal and our bikes can go in the official luggage compartment!
Luckily she manages to get us tickets, but when we arrive at the luggage department, we are told our bikes can not go on the train. No place, no luggage compartment. Now what?! Also here, there is ‘a guy’, and after 45 minutes talking, he sees we are desperate enough to ask for the jackpot: 6 times the price to take our bikes or nothing. It is super annoying, this ‘bazar’ system as they call it, but it is stil only 20 euros, so we deal with it. Knowing that an average salary here is 100 to 200 dollar per month (prob also due to corruption), I wish the guy good luck in life.
After 5 days of trying to buy tickets legally and illegally we expect that our ticket grants us with the shittiest seats, no aircon (44 degrees here) and overrunning toilets. To our surprise this is the nicest train ride we’ve ever had. They even have hot water and teapots and glasses you can borrow! We leave and see the fast desert and dried up salty sea pass by. It is a wide endless landscape, with barely anything in it. Sometimes a dromedaris, sometimes a cementary with all little Taj Mahal buildings, and just sometimes a sandy village. It is hard to imagine cycling these 2500 kilometers in the heat. It are a relaxing 39 hours by train!
On the road by bicycle and train we come across many monuments for people that lost their lives during the world wars and during the time Stalin was in charge. The soviet regime managed to wipe out 1/6 of the Kyrgyz people and more than half of the Kazakh people(1,5-2,3 million)!!! Most died in man made famines. It are absolutely crazy figures! Luckily they love big families and since 1990 the Kazakh people are the majority in their country again, instead of the Russians.
The people here keep asking if we are married and if we have children. It is clearly a big life purpose since at our age they all are married and have 5 or 6 kids! They look at us with pity and disbelief when we say we have none.
Most marriages are love marriages, quite a few of them are arranged and some of them have the tradition of kidnapping the bride (with or without her consent) to make sure you don’t have to pay for an expensive party. Cat, my friend, already warned me that Kiran should keep an eye on me!
The train arrived close to Aktau in the morning so we decided to cycle directly to the port to hopefully get on a boat to Azerbaijan as soon as possible. But the weather conditions on the Caspian sea make it unpredictable when the boat comes and when it leaves. We are waiting for 24 hours now together with a bunch of other tourists. We hardly ever meet tourists, so it’s fun! They are already waiting for 4 days! It will be our last, hopefully not too long, little adventure in Kazakhstan! Don’t hurry! Relax!