So we made it into Kazakhstan! For the first time in 2 months we could no longer amuse ourselves with our favourite joke of all;
“Any preference for dinner?”
“Hmmm…..shall we get a Chinese?”
Our first few hours spent cycling into Kazakstan were positively wild and wonderful. As is so often the case when I cross a border, it seems every movement, activity, fauna, flora becomes an especially exciting one;
But cycling into Kazakhstan really did open the door to change. I had entered into a whole new chapter on my global odyssey, Central Asia; a region comprising of a multitude of post Soviet republics and consequently a place rich in Russian culture. The Chinese language I had become so used to was instead replaced by a mix of Kazakh and Russian, I exchanged my final Yuan notes for the local currency Tenge, and the convenience stores once stuffed with vacuum packed chickens feet were instead filled with bread, cheese, chocolate, biscuits - typical of what might be seen in a european store. This side of the border I was observing a noticeable change in ethnic groups too with Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek, Ukrainian racial themes taking precedence- it seemed that this side of the border I was no longer a source of constant inquisitiveness, no, here I was just another one of the gang, amongst this cultural mix of identities.
Unlike the disciplined ways of China, upon entering Kazakhstan there appeared to be this distinct ‘gung-ho’ approach to life; Clapped out european vehicles gallivanted about the place, road conditions took an immediate downward turn as I bid a fond farewell to the silky smooth highways of China- Kazakhstan appeared to have this distinct rugged, rustic interior to it.
But for me, the real beauty of this country could be found from its exquisite scenery. The southern parts of Kazakhstan are blessed with stunning vistas of the magnificent Tien Shan mountain range acting as a natural border to neighbouring Kyrgyzstan. These extensive snow covered mountains tower over vast green grasslands below where animals roam whilst men on horseback herd their flocks. I have to admit, pedalling along on a peaceful evening, watching the sunset behind snow capped peaks, whilst horses spectate your rolling wheels, it really does make for some ‘above-average’ pedalling.
Less than a week after crossing the border, we made it into the sizeable city of Almaty- Kazakhstan’s largest city. We enjoyed a brief stay here, kindly hosted by the lovely Brodie family, before my loyal wingman, George, and I parted ways as he returned back to Shropshire whilst I continued my two wheeled adventure alone- Though, having left Almaty, I wasn't alone for long; the following evening after a long ride away from the city, I was kindly invited to stay in the home of a local Kazakh family. Refusing to accept that a tent was any kind of suitable sleeping environment for a lone girl, they insisted I spend the night with them. Here I was welcomed into their small rustic home where an entire buffet was laid out for me and comfy mattress set up for my nights kip.
- There is no denying that I have just entered into a particularly male dominated part of the world here and to an extent I have reason to feel more vulnerable cycling alone here than in other parts of the world, but at the same time, as is becoming so often the case (in the above instance for example), I cant help but feel that the world is keeping an eye out for me; Its far too easy to constantly cast doubt over the safety of certain areas and though Im not naive to the dangers or risks involved in my day to day activities, particularly in places where crime and corruption is such common place, I realise that its important not to allow this to overshadow my trip or to overly dictate my movements. And perhaps this is something we should all consider when embarking on travels- Try not to allow media coverage to taint your opinion too much on a place, nor should you solely rely on 'official travel guidance’ to determine your travel choices- go out, explore and find out for yourself. Its probably not all that bad……the world is full of kind, caring people.
So, after a brief stay in Kazakhstan, it wasn't long before I crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan and eventually into the lively bohemian city of Bishkek. Here I will spend the coming week organising my visa for Uzbekistan….and when I'm not doing that, i’ll be hunting down this fella ‘Stan’- he’s so famous?!