Kazakhstan – Part 3

Almaty! Finally we have made it to Almaty. A city which we thought we could reach within two weeks, we have finally reached after 23 days. It's a city in which we initially intended to spend a few days, to relax and recover a bit. It is a very rich city and stands in stark contrast to the simple villages we had cycled through. This meant, we could find some ground coffee again for our beloved Italian espresso machine and go on the hunt for a water filter or some purifying pills.

Our first mission was to find a place to stay however. Our idea was to contact a man called Arman, whom we had met two weeks ago when he was driving to Alakol with his family. We had met on a very bumpy and dusty road and he had stopped his car in astonishment. After the obligatory selfie, he gave us his telephone number and said to call him if we needed help. So we tried our luck and gave him a ring while eating lunch in Almaty. He was surprised to hear from us, but immediately asked for our location and said he had an idea where we could stay. Twenty minutes later he and his wife Laura drove to meet us.

He said we couldn't stay at his house, as he had guests over at the moment, but he has a friend with lots of space. Only, her house is located a few kilometers outside the city, in the direction of the mountains. We didn't want to squeeze our dirty bikes into his clean luxury car, so instead we gave him all our panniers and put the address of the house in our GPS. Cycling without the heavy luggage was a thrill. We raced through the streets of Almaty, climbing higher in elevation and eventually leaving the hectic city behind us. Out of breath and sweaty, we arrived in front of our hosts house. Maybe we should have taken it easier, but it was so much fun being able to speed up a mountain for once, feeling light.

Arman and Laura climbed out of their car and introduced us to Nataly and her daughter. They warmly greeted us and invited us into their home. “We have lots of space here and we would love to have you as guests for a few days”, Nataly said. A very kind offer, which we of course happily accepted. She is originally from Belarus, but married a Kazakh and has lived in Almaty with her daughter for many years. She spoke some English and with the occasional help of google translate, we were able to have a real conversation, something we usually don't have as most families speak little to no English and we are still struggling with our Russian.

The next day, Arman picked us up and helped us on our quest to find a new water filter. I had written to Katadyn as well, explaining what had happened, but had little hope of getting an answer as of course I had no proof of purchase. We drove to several outdoor shops, asking around, but without any luck.

In the afternoon we picked up Laura and drove to the Ile-Alatau National Park. Its very close to the city and a popular getaway for locals and tourists from the city's heat.

After a couple of kilometers up-hill, we arrived at a clear mountain lake with mighty mountain peaks in the background. After a few photos together, we drove back to the city. It was a short excursion out into nature and I'm actually happy we didn't come here with the bicycles. There are so many people everywhere, picknicking, bathing or taking photos, that the place seemed more like a city park than a national park.

The next morning, Sera and I had to make a decision about which border crossing to take. At some point we wanted to get to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, but there was a much more remote border crossing in the east. To reach this border, we could cycle along a canal on a small road instead of a highway, and also visit the Charyn Canyon. But we only had 5 days left to leave the country and this crossing was also a lot further away. After some debating, we agreed to already leave today and cycle the nicer, but longer way. It turned out, we would not be disappointed.

Some part of the Charyn Canyon is a National Park and I was really looking forward to visiting it and hopefully also speak to some rangers or other park staff. After we left the nice road next to the canal behind us, and turned onto the small road heading towards the park and later on the border, a few drivers gave us strange signals. Some were making shooting movements, while other where crossing their arms, as if indicating that the road or the border was closed. We didn't have enough time to go back and reach the other border in time, but we were very uncertain about if we could actually leave Kazakhstan at the Kegen border.

Cycling with such an uncertainty is not always easy for me. In our calculation of the time to the border, we saved one whole day for visiting the park. Now I preferred to get to Kegen as quickly as possible, hoping to take a taxi and race to the other border in the spare day if necessary.

Unfortunately it meant not visiting the park and seeing the spectacular parts of the canyon. The road does however cross the Charyn river in a place where a smaller canyon was formed. Even nicer, we were able to camp just at the cliffs.

After some up and down, some strong winds, rain and cold, we arrived in Kegen. We entered a store and asked about the border. The woman assured us, that its open until 6pm.

All this stress for nothing!

We went to the only hotel in town, labeled on our GPS as "inside OK" and enjoyed the hot shower after several days of camping. As I connected my tablet device to the wifi network, a new message appeared in the inbox. It was from Katadyn, explaining that our filter was actually not suitable for such a long trip as ours, but out of courtesy they would send a replacement to a given address in Central Asia. Now thats what I call costumer service!

The next morning we woke up to rain pattering against the window. During our whole month in Kazakhstan it rained only once for 5 minutes. We assumed the rain would stop soon and we could start cycling. An hour later the sky was still a threatening dark blue and the temperature was in the low teens. We knew the road to the border was not paved and had probably turned into a mudslide by now. Very good reasons to spend our extra day at the hotel.

A wise decision. The following morning, all the dark and gloomy clouds had disappeared. The sun was quickly heating up the air and after 30 minutes we cycled towards the boarder in shorts and t-shirt. The border literally is in the middle of nowhere, with fields and horses separated by a fence. While waiting for our passports to be stamped out, a familiar face stepped out of the building. Ilias, the blue eyed border guard from our entry point border, greeted us with a big smile. After exchanging some laughs, we set off towards the next country, Kyrgyzstan.

Thanks for reading!

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