Well rested and with a high motivation to reach Almaty, only 270 km away, we set off from Taldiqorgan. To our surprise the road had turned from a bumpy one lane road into a new two lane highway. Ironically cycling on the highway we felt much safer and due to the smooth tarmac the pedaling was easier too. If it weren't for the strong wind, head-wind of course, we could have made it to Almaty in three days. But as so often on the bicycle, progress doesn't always happen as planned.
The days were still pretty warm, and even though the temperatures didn't reach the 40ºC mark anymore, we tried to take many breaks in the shade and rest during the hottest hours of the day.
After three days we had only cycled 180km. The highway made cycling smoother and safer, but also a lot more boring. We slept in the tent again, sometimes hidden within the vegetation, sometimes behind peoples houses. But we were longing to finally leave the steppe behind us.
And not just the steppe, but this highway of death as well. In one day where we cycled 60km, we saw 34 dead crows, 56 dead song birds, many being sparrows, one black kite and an eurasian roller laying dead by the roadside. We have noticed the faster vehicles travel, the more dead birds we see.
Just as we started to feel very down due to all this death, we look up and spotted this Egyptian vulture circling above our heads. Sera was even able to get a nice photo of him!
After three days of highway battling we did manage to leave the highway, but only for a short detour. All over Central Asia, ancient civilizations have carved images into stones, so-called petroglyphs. One very small place are the petroglyphs of Tamgaly, next to the Ili River.
This is only a small sight but getting there was part of the fun. From the main road, we turned onto a small dirt road which eventually slopes down into the river valley. It is a popular place for locals to go fishing and this night we were not the only ones pitching a tent beside the river.
The next morning our goal was set on reaching Almaty! The wind was not as strong as the previous days and we managed to get up and ready quite early. We had 95km ahead of us. Doable. Today we will sleep inside, we thought, put on the air-conditioning if its still too hot in the evening and take a nice shower. I had 75km already showing on my speedometer, we were now cycling parallel to the highway along a main road and the sun was already quite low. Hopefully there's no drunk drivers around yet, I thought, when we cycled past a curious looking place. “Is it a campground?”, I asked Sera who had slowed down. “Lets find out!” he replied. We didn't' see tents or campers set up, but we did spot a little lake at the back of the property. Parasol were lined along the lake and a few people enjoyed an afternoon swim. This place looked perfect and we immediately forgot about our plans to sleep inside. We asked the family running the complex if we could set up our tent for the night and they agreed.
We enjoyed a cold beer with chips in deckchairs at the lakefront, had a swim and an outside shower, ate Laghman, a typical noodle dish, in their small restaurant and fell asleep knowing that tomorrow we would finally reach Almaty! What a great way to end another cycling day!