Click to go to the map of our route through Kazakhstan at bottom of page  

Ekke writes:

When we crossed the no-man's land between Russia and Kazakhstan we were greeted by a scene that was slightly more chaotic than the exit from Russia.  A border guard motioned towards a booth where another guard handed us a couple of slips of paper each.  One had some English on it so we were able to fill in a few blanks but the other was all in Cyrillic so we left it blank.  Audrey then asked the first guard what to do next and he vaguely motioned in the direction of a couple of buildings.  She heard something about "C" and sure enough one of the buildings had a "C" on it.  The guard didn't stop us (or check our pieces of paper) when we rode past a few cars and straight to building "C".  Inside the building (though a more accurate description might be shack) were two wickets and four or five people in queue.  Soon we were motioned forward to an official and we started the entrance procedures.  He asked what our final destination was so we said, "China!"  It is always interesting as the officials try to decipher our registration documents, looking for the licence plate number and the colour and so on.  This time we used our coats to describe the colours of the bikes, I pointed to a yellow stripe on my jacket and Audrey pointed at a light grey portion of hers.  He took our pictures and when he was finished we asked where to go next.  He said, "China!"  With that we rode out of the customs compound and into Kazakhstan, in the blazing 33 degree heat.  I stood in line at a currency exchange office for twenty minutes but when no-one showed up in the wicket the others in the line decided to leave.  Joining them I went back to Audrey and said that not only was there no currency exchange but also the café next door with ice cold drinks didn't accept Russian rubles, only Kazakh tenge.  Just then one of the others in the currency exchange line came over and said that the shack that Audrey had been standing in the shade of for the last twenty minutes also did currency exchange.  Great!  We exchanged a bunch of rubles and promptly crossed the street to the café.  After a bit of a cool down I went to the insurance office and purchased Kazakh insurance.  The total came to 760 tenge which I happily paid and went back to the café.  There we did a bit of figuring and determined that insurance for the two bikes for two weeks was about $5.  What would that cover exactly?  Best to avoid any collisions.

Welcome to Kazakhstan

Now we headed east to Kostanay where a hotel showed up on the GPS.  Despite the heat it was actually quite pleasant riding.  The roads were good and the traffic was light.  We passed kilometres and kilometres of grain fields.  Sometimes the grain fields went right to the horizon and one could see the curvature of the earth, just like looking out on the ocean.  What was very strange from a Canadian prairie perspective was that there wasn't a single farm house.  Sure we have big farms at home but you'll always see farmhouses dotted here and there.  Here there were none.  Not even one.  The only buildings were in small towns so perhaps these were a remnant of the communal system.  It made us wonder though, how did these farms get transferred after the fall of communism?  Were the farms still communal or were they privatised?  After stopping at a roadside café for mashed potatoes and a meatball we got into Kostanay and went straight to the hotel where a room was indeed available though at 12,000 tenge ($80) it wasn't cheap.  While Audrey collapsed in the room I took a short stroll down the pedestrian mall to where some celebrations were going on at a central square.  There were marching bands and there was even a game show where contestants were selected from the audience.  I made sure to be at the back and tried not to look like a potential contestant as I didn't understand even a single word of what they were saying.  I suspected that saying, "I'll take' Kazakh Tidbits' for $200 Alex" wouldn't get me very far.

Taking a stretch while riding the steppe

Dinner break

Kazakh game show

The hotel included breakfast and we had a choice of ten different set menus.  All in Kazakh Cyrillic.  The waitress wasn't able to help us with deciphering the menu, just grunting in disgust when we acted confused.  She got the hotel receptionist but she wasn't much help either.  So we chose randomly and ended up with fried spam, bread and a boiled egg.  No luck trying to get some jam or honey for the dry bread either.  While packing up back in the room we thought we heard thunder but the view to the east looked OK.  Soon enough dark storm clouds swept overhead, lightning was flashing and the heavens opened up.  The streets became rivers and pedestrians scurried for cover.  We decided to delay our departure until the storm had passed and hoped that it wasn't heading the same direction as us.  By 11:00 AM the coast was clear and we rode the wet streets out of town.  Later, after filling up at a gas station, we asked the attendant for a nearby café and he pointed to a small building a few hundred metres away.  Again the menu wasn't of much help and we had a lot of fun trying to communicate what we would like to have for lunch.  I eventually resorted to flapping my imaginary wings and clucking like a chicken, this seems to have worked as we ended up with chicken and mashed potatoes.  Audrey had a nice drumstick but I had piece that might have been a breast and no knife was provided to tackle the job of getting a few scraps of meat off it.  When I mimed a knife the owner responded with, "Kazakh!" and mimed using his bare hands to rip the piece of chicken apart.  We were having a great time and he then proceeded to tell us of a cosmonaut landing near the town and he saw its parachute as the capsule drifted onto the steppe.  Cool!  As we left, the proprietor handed us a little good luck medallion of a horseshoe encrusted with evil eyes.  As the suction cup couldn't be reliably attached to the bike Audrey stuffed it into her tankbag and hoped that it would still be able to cast its good luck magic spell over us.  As we continued riding east I started doing some mental arithmetic (the roads were that good) and determined that we were almost exactly 180 degrees around the world from home.  That is, if we went straight over the pole we would be in Calgary.  From now on, as we rode East, we would actually be riding closer to home rather than farther away.  Riding into a small town we tried to find the hotel that was indicated on the GPS but we had no luck.  Asking people at a restaurant and outside a grocery store seemed to indicate that the restaurant was still open but that there was no longer a hotel.  The people outside the grocery store were super friendly, wanting to find out everything about our trip and getting their pictures taken with us.  One even went so far as to go into the grocery store and buy us a couple of delicious ice creams and wouldn't let us pay for a big bottle of water when we went to leave.  Nice people everywhere.  We decided that maybe we should try to ride to Astana but keep our eyes open for wild camping possibilities.  At a roundabout we turned off the main highway and went north a few kilometres before riding over a hill onto the steppe.  Out of sight of the road we set up camp and settled down for the night.

Out of the storm we shed our rain gear

Wide open spaces and little traffic

Our new found friends (thanks for the ice cream!)

Stopping to set up camp on the vast plain

A breakfast of coffee/tea and instant oatmeal (purchased at some point in Eastern Europe as we were trying to spend one or the other currency before crossing a border) and then back out to the highway.  When we went through the roundabout back onto the main road it immediately became very rough and soon we were pounding through twenty kilometres of a construction zone with enormous potholes, rough rocks and dust.  Despite it being 10:00 o'clock in the morning it was already 27 degrees and we worked up a sweat passing the slow moving trucks.  Apparently in Kazakhstan, when reconstructing a road the road itself is completely closed for up to 50 kilometres and a bulldozer driven beside the road to clear a path for the traffic.  The construction was finished at a small town and we were able to pop into a café for lunch and refreshment.  The hot dog was very interesting as was the pastry filled with mashed potatoes.  It was also interesting to see the proprietor use an abacus to add up our bill.  Continuing our ride we noticed convoys of Chinese trucks heading west, Dongfens and Shacmans, all nice and shiny and new.  Will the Chinese start making inroads into the European truck market?  As we approached Astana we could see an enormous black cloud settled over the city so we put on our rain gear, getting a bit of rain as we rode through the suburbs but the main reason for the gear was to keep ourselves a bit cleaner as the roads were extremely wet and dirty.  We found a hotel and were settled in by 2:30 in the afternoon.  A short walk away was Line Brew, a fine restaurant that was over our budget but had delicious food.  Walking south across the river into a central park we encountered a huge fun fair with bumper cars, shooting games, cotton candy and loads and loads of people, all enjoying the lovely evening.  Down the river was a stunning bridge that looked like it could have been designed by the designer of the Peace Bridge, Calatrava.  Getting on the internet back at the hotel we did a bit of searching but could not find any reference to a Calatrava bridge in Kazakhstan.

Breakfast of instant oats

Leaving the camp spot

Car breakdowns are so common that ramps are often available at rest stops

Yummy dinner at Line Brew in Astana

Fun fair in the park

This doesn't look terribly safe (Dad is casually hanging on to the rope with one hand)

Ekke tries out the exercise equipment in the park

This looks like it could be a Calatrava-designed bridge but it isn't

After breakfast the next day we walked a few kilometres to New Town, where all the really stunning new buildings are located.  Along the way we stopped off at a couple of shopping malls and found the same stores that you would see anywhere else, Adidas, Reebok, Tom Tailor, et cetera.  Actually the two malls had exactly the same stores in them; it was like they were carbon copies of each other.  The Khan Shatyr was an entertainment complex/shopping mall at the far end of the Nurzhol Bulvar and was our first destination.  Sure enough the shops were identical but there was also an arcade and water park at the top of the transparent tent-like structure.  The Norman Foster designed building is the highest tensile structure in the world.  Even more interesting for us though was the discovery of a Cinnabon in the food court.  Suitably sweetened we left the Khan Shatyr and started walking down the boulevard in the direction of the Presidential Palace at the far end.  Wow, the shiny new buildings reminded us of Dubai with their out-of-this-world shapes and designs.  After passing underneath the state gas and oil company headquarters we came upon the place I would work if we lived in Kazakhstan, the Ministry of Transport and Communications.  I'm sure that they have an entire floor dedicated to transportation data.  And a civic cafeteria on the top floor with all the mashed potato filled pastries you could eat.  Half way to the Presidential Palace was the Baytarek Monument, a golden orb sitting high atop a structure that resembled the open petals of a flower.  We took the elevator to the top for grand views over Astana.  There were three levels in the orb and the topmost level had a golden hand print of the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, where one could put one's own hand.  We lined up and put our hand in his.  As I was leaving a woman asked where I was from and gave me a brief rundown on the handprint.  Apparently I was supposed to make a wish when I had my hand in there.  Maybe next time.  She also said that the handprint was at exactly 97 metres high, representing the year that the capital of Kazakhstan was moved from Almaty to Astana.  I responded by saying that I was almost two metres tall, did anything interesting happen in 1999?  Judging by her blank stare I assumed not.  Back on the ground we walked the remaining distance to the Presidential Palace and then found a bus going our general direction back to the hotel.  After a fast food supper at the first mall (Star Burger wasn't that great, give it a miss if you're in Kazakhstan, Audrey says the KFC was good) we walked back through the park to the hotel, stiff and tired from a full day of walking in 30 degree heat.

Audrey is ready for a day of walking in Astana

Khan Shatyr entertainment complex

Amusement park is at the top of the tent

The headquarters for Kazakhstan's national gas and oil company

The Transportation and Communications tower on the left (transportation data probably has its own floor)

Beautiful Nur-Astana Mosque

Wild architecture

Audrey checks out an artificial tree near the Baytarek Monument

Ekke puts his hand in the hand print of President Nazarbayev

Spectacular view from the top of Baytarek Monument

Walking towards the Presidential Palace

Audrey writes:

Our hotel had the option of staying for twelve hours or twenty-four hours with the checkout time being based on arrival time. In our case this was 2:00 pm. We took advantage of the extra time and internet in the room to upload our website, then went on our way. The ride out of Astana on August 7th was fairly easy. Our route took us past some landmarks we had seen the day before. Ekke found a parking spot for us in front of Bayterek Monument to set up a photo, but we would have to set up the tripod on the road. A guy walking past us offered to take our picture and seemed very interested in our trip. He invited us to stay with him when we came up through Astana again, and he did email us to reissue the invitation. Although busy, the road to Karaganda had good pavement and passing trucks on the 2-lane road was easy. As we approached Karaganda, the road just stopped due to construction. The detour indicated left, but it seemed to lead us out of town. Most of the traffic was going that way, so we just followed and eventually made it to the hotel by a very convoluted route. We had read about this place in a great little book called "In Search of Kazakhstan", by Christopher Robbins. If everything you know about Kazakhstan was learned from Borat, then you need to read this. He explains how apples came from here, spends some time with President Nazarbayev, finds out about nuclear testing, local gulags, Dostoyevsky's exile, and learns about the Russian Space program. He stayed in the Cosmonaut Hotel, so we decided to stay there too. The desk clerk was probably appalled at a couple of dusty motorcyclists walking on their marble floors, and seemed surprised when we agreed to pay $200 (cough, cough) to stay for the night. The cosmonauts land nearby and are put up here after their journey, so how could we not stay? It was a beautiful place with all the amenities and we kept anything that said Cosmonaut Hotel on it (slippers, shoe horn, etc). Dinner in the lounge was very western, an authentic clubhouse sandwich, hamburger and fries, and the Olympic balance beam event was on TV, in Russian.

Leaving Astana we stop off at Khan Shatyr

And at Baytarek Monument

Tempted by roadside sales

Pulling up to the Cosmonaut Hotel in our own "space suits"

That robe looks comfy

The roads the next day were not bad, again two-lane with a few bumps now and again. Many big trucks meant lots of truck stops and we ate lunch at one of them. We had learned the word 'laghman', or long noodles and sauce, so Ekke confidently ordered it for lunch. I pointed at another customer's soup and it was delicious, with fresh vegetables grated on top. A truck driver, Suliman, sat down near us. With his three words of English and our three of Russian, we learned that he drove with his two brothers and son and they were on their way to Mongolia. About halfway through the day we arrived at the northern end of Lake Balkhash, a huge lake that is even on my world map. It was our constant companion for about half the day. Our destination was a hotel that Ekke had found on the GPS, near the lake. But, alas, the hotel was closed and we found ourselves in a small town with the sun about to set. We had something to eat at a cafe so we could sit down and have a look at the GPS. Luckily, we could just point to some food in a display case, but I wanted to know what was in the pastries. The lady got a big kick out of it when I mimed different animal sounds and actions, and she eventually sold us two "Moo" pastries. At the gas station, we ascertained that there was a hotel in town, so we rode in on one of the roughest roads we had been on so far. There were a few pieces of pavement in between big sandy bumps but that soon ended and it was just the loose sand. Some guys holding beers ran over to us and made us take our picture with them, and it was still unclear when we asked them whether there was a hotel in town or not. So, we rode around and came across a nice, new hotel. It looked a bit like a love hotel, with a symbol of a couple of intertwined rings on the front. But, it was too new, not yet open for business, so there was nothing else to do but head up the highway. There were some trucks parked down by the lake, and a 'P' for parking sign, so we rode down a hill and discovered that trucks parked there for the night. A small beach seemed like a great place to put up the tent. People were swimming and having a great time fishing from the dock. Just as the sun went down, all activity ceased and the people disappeared into a building or their truck cabs. We soon learned why when mosquitoes started dive-bombing us and we hurried into the tent. After killing about 20 of the little yellow critters, we were able to get some sleep until someone decided to walk around with a bright light at 1:00 am.

More wide open spaces

Interesting funiary structures

Taking a break

Young gentlemen insist on taking their photos with us

Riding into the sunset, it is time to find someplace to camp

The road deteriorated quite a bit the next day, August 9th, but the motorcycles could generally avoid the huge bumps and grooves. A group of huts appeared around lunchtime, with barbeques going out front, so we sat under an awning outside and enjoyed some grilled mutton. Then we rode and rode and rode, past the most uninspiring scenery we had ever seen. Dead grass to the right and left, the vast steppe stretching as far as the eye could see. The only thing of interest was a group of grazing camels, where we stopped for a photo op, but that was it. A camel herder galloped up on a horse shortly after and chased the camels away from the road. The temperature reached + 37 C. It actually didn't feel too bad and as long as we kept moving and caught a bit of a breeze. Also, wrapping the water in some clothing insulated it enough so that it was still drinkable. As we approached Almaty, it got a bit greener, and then there were trees, and we caught a glimpse of the snow-covered mountains through some clouds. The back road into town wound past wooden or concrete houses, trees on both sides of the  road, through construction zones, and over some deep gravel where I almost lost it. Vehicles were passing the slow-moving traffic, probably where they shouldn't have passed, but it seemed the only way to get anywhere, so we did it, too. We were cooking along pretty good and came around a corner under a dark overpass when suddenly vehicles were in our lane, coming right at us. We were on a one-way off-ramp going the wrong way and we got some beeps and high-beams flashed at us. A quick u-turn set things to rights. Phew. The Uyut Hotel was nice, with parking right out in front of the main door, so we just locked up the bikes and left them there for four days. Parked nearby were several cars from the Mongol Rally.

Camped at the edge of Lake Balkhash

Truck stop restaurant wasn't open for breakfast

The ruts in the road can be pretty bad (these are OK, couldn't take a picture in the bad ones)

Lunch time kebap

Camels (OK, dromedaries really)

Once again we've ridden our motorcycles to a land where they have camels

The camel herder comes along to shoo the camels away from the road

Arriving at the Hotel Uyut

Lonely Planet found us a great restaurant, Mama Mia and the pesto penne was the best I've ever had. But I didn't know how to ask for no ice in my drink, (something)-On-The-Beach, and the next day my stomach rebelled. Some corn porridge was all it could take at our breakfast buffet. Job #1 in Almaty was to get our Mongolian Visa, so we took a cab for a fixed price of 1500 tenge ($10) to the Mongolian Embassy at 9:00 am. We should have asked the cab to wait, as the process only took fifteen minutes. A form in English was easy to fill out and we opted to pay double, or $232 for express service for two of us, so the visa would be ready by 1:00 pm that day. The other choice was to wait until Tuesday. Luckily we had brought enough U.S. dollars with us. Our GPS showed a shopping mall about three kilometres away, so we decided to walk there to kill some time. But, with fencing set up for a construction zone, we had to walk way around a residential area which took us in the wrong direction. The hot, dry, hilly walk turned into six kilometres, but at the end was a beautifully air-conditioned Mega mall. From there we wanted to catch a cab back to the embassy. Outside the mall, a guy approached us and said, "Taxi", so we said, "Da". He wasn't a real taxi driver and was just using his own car. But we knew this happened in Almaty, people just stand on the side of the road, hold out their hand and people with cars give them a ride for a fee. We said, "Mongolian Embassy" and he said "1000 tenge" without really knowing how far we were going, and we negotiated a lower price. He drove in the right direction at first, then he got on the phone and asked someone for directions, and then drove way past the turnoff to the embassy. Luckily Ekke had the GPS with him and showed him the map. We had to convince him to do a u-turn on a super busy road so he cut off an SUV, muscled his way between cars with millimetres to spare, hit the brakes hard several times, and eventually got us to the embassy. By now it was after 1:00 pm and the gate was locked. We were worried that they were now closed for the weekend and that paying for express service would be a waste of money. What a relief when the visa officer came out, handed us our passports through the gate and said goodbye in Mongolian. The 'taxi' took us back to our hotel, and I was so glad my seat belt worked. Ekke's didn't, so it was fortunate that we didn't need them.

Mountains south of Almaty on the way to the Mongolian Embassy

Happy to be at the Mega Mall

Air conditioning is turned up for the indoor skating rink

The description of the Zhety Qazyna restaurant in Lonely Planet sounded great, and it was beautiful inside. You could choose from three decors, European, Japanese, and Central Asian, which was our choice. Ekke likes to get adventurous with food, so he chose the camel milk, which, judging by the expression on his face, possibly came from the other end of the camel. I ordered spinach and cheese dumplings, which I thought would be about the size of your average large perogie. We had a great laugh when they brought them out - they could have fed a family.

Yes, camel milk tastes this good

Audrey tries a delicious, though extra large dumpling (she has two more on her plate)

A lot of time was spent working on the Russia website in our room, but we did manage to fit in some sight-seeing. On our way out of the hotel we noticed a guy checking out our bikes. He was French, and was just riding back from Mongolia on his BMW R100 GS. He apologized for his poor English, which was way better than my high school French, but managed to tell us about the rough 'roads' in Mongolia. We wished him well on his trip home through the 'Stans. Looking at photos later, we realized we had taken a picture of his bike riding by as we were walking in Astana. Small world. Ekke and I walked to beautiful Panifilov Park to look at Zenkov Cathedral. The colourfully painted structure was gorgeous on that bright, sunny day and we got some great pictures. It is very interesting because it is made entirely of wood, even the nails. Inside, women had their heads covered but it is not required of non-Russian Orthodox visitors like me. Further along a path in the park was a gigantic war memorial honouring soldiers of WWII and the Russian Revolution.

Zenkov Chathedral made entirely of wood


War memorial

Almaty's a pretty modern city and has a huge department store on the pedestrian mall. An entire floor was devoted to cellphones. It seems everyone here has one and are always chatting or texting. We also wandered among a whole floor of Kazakhstan souvenirs but it was too overwhelming to buy anything. There was just time to jump on the metro and get to the state museum before closing. Each metro station was decorated differently and our favourite had murals depicting the silk road. Almaty was a centre of silk road trade and crafts in the tenth century. The metro was only eight months old, and just sparkled because of a team of cleaners pushing Swiffers all over the marble floors. Families were having a great time riding up and down the long escalators, taking photos of each other. The escalator to exit was humongous. We timed it: three minutes long.

Riding a three minute long escalator up from the metro

Silk road artwork in the metro station

The Central State Museum was just the right size and since all the info cards were in Russian and Kazakh, we saw everything in an hour and a half. No photos were allowed of the displays but we did get a photo of the Golden Man replica in the hall. The real Golden Man, found in a nearby tomb, is locked up in a bank vault at an undisclosed location as his warrior outfit contains hundreds of pieces of gold. The warrior is a sort of unofficial symbol of the country. There is evidence that it is really a Golden Woman, as all the other artefacts found in the tomb point to to a female being buried there. Among the historic displays was a full-sized yurt all kitted out with traditional carpets and cooking pots. I was looking forward to seeing a real one out there on the Steppe. Armour, weapons and jewellery were on display, and a huge pair of leather and fur boots that I'm sure are the original Sorels. The museum only cost 100 tenge (67 cents) each to get in but the clerk wouldn't tell us that. She kept asking us questions, very surly and annoyed. She was probably asking us if we wanted to buy tickets for the special room. After visiting the main exhibits we wanted to do just that. Ekke sent me back to buy the extra tickets and take the heat for not having bought them in the first place. They cost 1300 tenge ($8.67) each. Her annoyance was palatable. But, it was worth it. The extra exhibit included hundreds of gold artefacts found in Scythian tombs near Almaty. We walked into a vault and the gold fairly glowed from its perch on red velvet inside various display cases. Some of it was in the shape of jewellery, but most were little gold leaves that had been used to decorate clothing. There were lots of animal motifs like antelope, big-horned sheep, moose and some strange creature with huge, curled antlers.

Entrance to the State Museum

Replica of the Golden Man statue

Random motorcycle shot in Almaty

More time was needed to finish the website, so we stayed another day. It's so easy to get comfortable with a place, knowing where restaurants are, knowing how to use the metro, but we knew we'd have to get going for sure the next day. There was enough time to squeeze in a visit to Kok Tobe, a cable car up a small mountain. Views of the city were great, and it was a real family place with amusement park rides, a petting zoo with fluffy chickens, and of course, The Beatles statue. Why is there a statue of the fab four on a mountain-top in Kazakhstan? Read all about Kazakh's love of The Beatles in the book "In Search of Kazakhstan".

Riding the cable car to the top of Kok Tobe

Enjoying an iced tea in the shade

Lovely views of the mountain range to the south (Kyrgyzstan on the other side)

Souvenir stands at the top of Kok Tobe

Fluffy chickens in the zoo

Of course we had to see the Fab Four

Walking through a market on the way back to the hotel

Ekke writes:

We did a quick write up of Chapter 3 of the website on Monday morning and then walked over to the post office to mail some souvenirs home before packing up and getting out of the hotel at Noon.  Only a few crazy drivers made the ride more interesting and on the whole it was good riding going north.  A bizarre little place adjacent to a reservoir was like a mini Las Vegas with a half dozen casinos scattered around the desert.  Further along, we pulled over in the shade of a tree to drink a little water when a loaded motorcycle came to a stop beside us.  It was Matt from the UK.  He had ridden through Turkey and Iran, then the 'Stans and was now heading to Mongolia.  His ultimate goal was to be in Kuala Lumpur for work.  Since Matt was running low on gas after passing by several closed gas stations, and we were headed the same direction, we decided to ride together for a while.  We rode behind him to the next gas station which, thankfully, was open. The three of us stopped at a café at around 6:00 PM and had a great conversation with the occupants of a Lexus that had passed us earlier and given us a big thumbs-up.  The passenger, Paul, had a great sense of humour and had just enough English to get him in trouble.  After dinner it seemed the shadows were getting quite long so we thought that we should probably find a place to camp for the night.  While a road heading into the hills looked tempting, it was also a little exposed and it would be easy to see our bright orange tent, garnering unwanted attention.  A little further north we found a small side road leading into a field behind some trees so we rode in a few hundred metres.  A level spot looked good for the tent and Matt went over to the local melon farmer to ask if it was OK to camp there.  He came back with the remains of a watermelon (fell off the bike on the way back), a couple of extra dog scrapes to add to his collection and the OK to camp.  We washed off the watermelon and cut it up.  Simply delicious.  It was too hot for the fly on the tent so we left that off and slept under the stars, sort of.

Hopefully this is a right hand drive Toyota RAV4

Aladdin Casino north of Almaty

Ekke does a double take (A casino in the desert?  It'll never fly!)

Ekke enjoys the first curve he's seen since the Ural Mountains

Matt pulls up

Following Matt on the way to a gas station

A yurt in the wild!

More interesting funiary arrangements

And of course those wide open spaces

Entrance to a town

We meet Paul and his Lexus driving friend, lots of fun!

Matt comes back with the OK to camp and the remains of a watermelon


Setting up camp outside the melon patch

Delicious!

In the morning, the melon farmers drove by with their Lada full of melons heading to the market.  They stopped by our tents and Audrey went over to thank them for letting us stay.  The passenger reached into the back and handed us a couple of honeydews.  What a perfect start to the day, the sweetest honeydew ever.  At the next town up the road we found a café that didn't look terribly hygienic but rustled us up some fried eggs, over easy.  It would have been nice to figure out how to order fried eggs so that we could have them more regularly.  It was another hot day of riding in the mid-thirties.  You know it is hot when it cools down a bit and you look down at the thermometer and see that it says 32 degrees.  A small town had people sitting beside the road selling apples and since Kazakhstan is the home of apples we couldn't very well leave without having any apples.  A small boy wanted to sell us an entire bucket of apples but we only wanted three as there wasn't room on the bike for a bucket of apples and a honeydew melon.  When we were standing by the motorcycles and getting ready to go all of a sudden the boy ran over with an entire bag of tomatoes.  How nice!  But where to put them?  Eventually some space was found in one of my saddlebags and we headed out.  Having the melon and apples later in the day we found that the honeydew wasn't quite as tasty as the one in the morning but the apples were fabulous, crisp and sweet.  The tomatoes weren't crushed yet so the tent wasn't soaked in tomato juice but we didn't want to take a chance and had to dispose of them.  The GPS indicated an "unnamed hotel" along the road north so we headed there, arriving a little before dark.  If the hotel didn't turn out we would need to find a wild camp pretty quickly.  But, there really was a hotel behind the café.  Only one room was available and it had two small beds.  I volunteered to sleep on the floor on my nice comfy Exped but since we paid 1,200 tenge each ($8) I wondered what exactly I paid for since I had brought my own bedding.  As we were having dinner in the café the woman who rented us the room came over and asked to have her photo taken with us and the bikes.  Always willing to meet the fans we agreed and went outside.  Strangely enough she didn't have a camera.  Now we have a bunch of photos of her and her friend with us on our camera and she has none of us.

A couple of honeydew melons for us

Breakfast restaurant

When in the land of apples we should really try the apples

Apple seller goes back to building a house of cards

Matt, "The Kazakh cemetaries are amazing.  Rather than putting up a headstone they build entire castles when someone dies."

A wild grass fire relieves the monotony of riding the endless plains


Audrey rides into the setting sun

With Matt not far behind

We find this three room motel behind a cafe (two of the rooms were taken)

It was a hot night in the tiny little room since we didn't open the window in case strange insects came in but we did get some sleep.  We asked about a shower the next morning and were shown a room out back where Audrey and I washed up.  Very nice but now she wanted to charge us an additional 600 tenge each.  We tried bargaining and suggesting that the photo of her the day before was 600 tenge but we don't think she understood and ended up paying the full cost at the time of breakfast.  Breakfast  consisted of a mashed potato filled pastry.  We rode north a little ways to Georgievka and then, donning raingear after gassing up, rode east to Semey.  A few kilometres out of town we found the most interesting construction zone yet.   It was still raining when we hit the mud but the rain storm had filled all the holes with massive water puddles.  The trouble was that when the holes were filled with water it was impossible to tell if it was going to be a small pothole or a motorcycle-swallowing monster.  There was about 15 kilometres of this and then we had a section of bad pavement, back to the mud for a little more fun and then brand spanking new pavement for a while before getting a bit more of the really bad pavement.  What made the bad pavement interesting was that the road was really wide and cars and trucks were using the entire width of the road to try and pick the best possible route through the mess, no matter which direction they were headed.  Eventually, covered in mud, we arrived at Semey for lunch at a café, where the usual chicken dance had us eating chicken in no time.  North of Semey, towards the border, we tried to spend our last tenge on snacks since, based on our experience entering Kazakhstan and that of other travellers using this border exit, we wanted to be prepared to spend three hours in the queue to leave Kazakhstan.  Pulling up to the gate there wasn't much of a queue when we arrived, one car.  And they entered the customs compound just after we parked.  We obtained a couple of pieces of paper from the guard and waited a few minutes until he opened the gate to let us in.  Then a matter of minutes in the queue for passport control, where our pictures were taken again and I received a lecture for not having registered at a hotel within five days of entering Kazakhstan but was let off with a warning not to do it again.  Then we left Kazakhstan, snacks uneaten.

Riding towards Semey we run into a construction zone in the rain




Matt doesn't look too impressed

The pockmarked, wide pavement leads to interesting driving as everyone tries to take the best route

President Nazarbayev wishes us a fond farewell (at least that's we imagine the sign says)

Map of our route through Kazakhstan  
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