It really says everything when we spent the first two days in Kyrgyzstan saying "I miss Kazakhstan"!
Our last two weeks in the beautiful Kazakhstan were busy ones as the end of our 30 day visa was looming and we still had a long way to go. We blasted down the road from Aralsk to Kyzylorda to Turkestan and Shymkent leaving a trail of 100km+ days in our wake. But in Shymkent I realised we had missed something in Turkestan, a mausoleum to Khoja Ahmed Yasawi a Sufi poet from the 12th century...I know what you're thinking, how could you miss the mausoleum of a 12th century Sufi poet right?! Well I thought exactly the same so on our one rest day I make the trek 180km backwards along the very same road we had spent two days on to see the sight. And boy was ot worth it! The huge mausoleum, which is now a mosque, stands on the rdge of the city and is already beautiful at first, far-off glance. It is half finished so one side looks like the open mouth of a basking shark whilst the other side is a mesmerising mosaic of geometric patterns in bright turquoise, lilac and gold. Its one of those buildings that stops you in your tracks and makes you audibly say, wow. I walked up,mouth half open in wonder, and man appeared with an incredibly angry looking owl, reluctantly I took a picture at his insistance and before I knew it I was sat on a step with the owl clutching onto my arm with its claws being photographed by the other tourists.
My day out was a success so I hopped in a Mashrutka back to Shymkent, picked up a few bits and pieces to fix my panniers in the bazaar and packed for an early start the next day to Taraz and the border.
Our last night wildcamping in Kazakhstan was a bit of an affair as we had to cycle 120km so ended up setting up camp well after nightfall. We were exhausted and there was nowhere good so we walked off the road into the middle of an open field and set up the tent there (rule 1 of wildcamping: be concealed) and went straight to sleep. Waking up early the next morning I crawled out of the tent and was happy to see that although we were one obvious green tent in the middle of an empty field the views around us were just lovely. Flat fields on one side and on the other the foothills of mountains rising out of the morning fog lit by the orange morning sun. I was sad to leave this warm, friendly, beautiful country but it wasn't done with us yet! Oh no! Our last day in Kazakhstan was one of the best.
We cycled 50km to Taraz to meet Aram at a bike shop which Chloe and Will from the Caspian Sea ferry recommended. There we met the lovely Shuran who treated us to lunch and helped us find a place to power was our bikes. I adjuated my brakes ready for the mountains of Kyrgyzstan and we set off for the border....7 of us! Leaving Kazakhstan in style we cycled the last 10km with Shuran, his wife, daughter, friend and Aram. A memorable end to a great month.
Now we are in Kyrgyzstan and the change is landscape has been dramatic and immediate. I really hope to go back to Kazakhstan at some point and explore more of the country, its a firm favourite. But first.....THE PAMIRS!!!!!!!!!! dun dun dduuuuuunnnnnnnn!!!!
Charlie's blog From Aralsk we headed towards the city of Kyzylorda along the way we would pass the famous Baykonyr, which is where the spaceport is, the setting of many famous jaunts into space. The actual launch site is out in the steppe for for obvious reasons but the town apparently had some statues and a museum which we thought would be cool to see. After a morning of cycling we arrived in time for lunch and stopped at a local bakery. We then cycled down the road to the town only to be stopped at an army checkpoint who asked for Russian visas to enter the town, which of course we don't have. Thoroughly disappointed we tried the other entrance just in case they were more lenient or on a tea break or casually looking the other way but no luck there either. So we headed back out to the main road and carried on without seeing so much as a hint of anything space-y.
Two hours later I got my first puncture of the trip. 4 months and 3500 miles ain't bad! Thank you Christie crew for the Schwalbe tyres, they are great!
This part of the steppe was back to being hot, flat and sandy. It made for some fantastic views and more beautiful night skies. We met some great people on the road including two Kazakh guys on their way home from a fishing trip who enthusiastically waved us down to show us their barrel of fish, and another two guys who gave us some biscuits and a bottle of camels milk, a Kazakh delicacy... its like a weird disgusting fizzy milkshake!
After Kyzlorda we were getting close to the end of our visa so we pushed on to Shymkent. After quite a few 100km+ days we arrived on time. Unfortunately on our one day off in weeks I was ill and all my plans to see the bazaars, a cool sacred rock, fix up my bike and buy supplies went out the window. Although I did drag myself out to one bike shop (which was closed) and braved the hot, crowded bazaar to buy some earrings and a shawl until I felt too ill and beat a hasty retreat back to the hostel.
It was a shame as I got talking to a lovely local girl at the bazaar who gave me loads of tips of places to go, food to try and things to do. She gave me a Kazakh delicacy called chokul, it is a small ball (looks decievingly like a bon bon) of dried horse milk and salt. It's awful. I highly recommend you never try it!
Still feeling ill we left Shymkent for our last few days in Kazakhstan. We made for Taraz where we would meet Aram our cycling buddy from Austria and cross into Kyrgyzstan.
After a message from our Caspian Sea friends Chloe and Will we went to find a man called Shakran and his bike shop. We had such a great afternoon, Shakran bought us lunch and took us to get our bikes power washed! Then we spent the afternoon giving our bikes some tlc before the mountains. When it came time to leave Shakran, his wife, daughter and friend all hopped on their bikes and escorted us all the way to the boarder! It was a hilarious 10km singing Rolling Stones and the Beatles and getting pushed along by Shakran so that it was the fastest 10km I think I've ever done!
It was sad to leave Kazakhstan after such a wonderful month, but what a day to leave on! Now we successfully crossed into country number 12, Kyrgyzstan! I am super excited to be here, back when i spent my time learning the countries of the world instead of writing my dissertation, never did I think it would visit this oddly named country.