Our transit into Kazakhstan marked what for me was really the beginning of the journey I’d been hoping for. Gone were the rules and regulations of the EU, the ominous pressure of hassle from the authorities in Russia, and in large parts, the tarmac. Finally, we were unleashed upon the lesser travelled world, where camping was wherever we wanted to stop, and navigation was reduced to whichever direction we wanted to travel in.
Shortly after crossing the border a man on a faded green motorbike, his young son riding in the sidecar, rode alongside us, and beckoned that we follow him, before heading off down some dirt roads. Having eight people across four cars makes you much more confident about pursuing strangers down dirt tracks towards the horizon, something I like to think we probably wouldn’t have done had it just been the two of us. So armed with our likely false sense of safety in numbers, we drove off the road, and stayed hot on the heels of what was realistically quite reckless motorbike riding. Best decision we made that day. After passing through a small village, we were proudly introduced to the most stunning view of the Caspian Sea, with beach and sand dunes stretching into the distance.
We set our camp to the backdrop of this brilliant sunset, the obligatory camping dinner was had, and a fire set. A pair of hitch-hikers had been dropped off by a lorry driver, obviously also keen to show them what Kazakhstan had to offer, and joined us for the evening, entertaining us with stories of world-wide hitch-hiking and couch surfing.
The next few days spanned some good miles, and great views, with the occasional camel, horse or local coming to say hi. A good river-side camping spot proved a good opportunity to paint Dave and JP’s otherwise plain (and slightly unexciting) blue Micra up with a huge Union Jack on the roof. Sam and I did a professional job, and were delighted with our handiwork. The Micra was unexciting, and no longer inconspicuous (which always leads to more excitement). It also turned into an appropriate time for everyone to wear hats (for some reason).
Paint-job complete we pointed our bonnets to Astana, and drove on, Sam and I painfully aware our Kazakh visa’s were going to be pushed to the limit, and should be miss our ‘leaving date’, things could get complicated.
Somewhere about now was an evening camping at a deserted quarry. As an event in itself, it has it’s own mention elsewhere.
The guys also found a defunct crane, and couldn’t resist the chance to climb all over it.
Cranes, quarries, and an old Lada helping tow us out of a muddy ditch in return for a bottle of vodka, we made it to Astana. I’m not really sure who made what arrangements for our accommodation on the first night in town, but we ended up staying in a pretty flash apartment owned by someone who was undoubtably part of the Kazakh criminal underworld, and I believe is remembered to have had a gun on his person. I’m going to firmly blame Dave for this. He always makes reckless, un-calculated decisions.
Shortly after this Sam and I had to make a break for the border, as our visa was about to run out, and driving round with an expired visa was a game best not played. A small hiccup with a police checkpoint, the most hilarious alcohol breath test anyone has ever come up with, and 10 minutes to spare, we broke out of Kazakhstan, and began the Siberian chapter.