(Emily) Our night in no-man’s-land passed without incident and we were ushered through to the border at 7.30 am. Didn’t leave ‘til after 9am though… for the life of us, we can’t work out how or why it always takes so long but it just does!! I was getting a bit impatient by the end – stomach medication wearing off by this point – but declined a trip to their ‘toilet’ (a tiny wooden shack off in the far distance!) We were mobbed by curious locals when we stopped to change some money just after the border and for the first time in a while, they were more interested in me than James. Usually, as a woman, I’m pretty much ignored and questions are directed towards James, but this time everyone was keen to try on my helmet, look at my keyring and er, stroke my hair (bit freaked out by the last one!) We managed to extricate ourselves and were soon on the road in Kazakhstan – country number fifteen and one we hadn’t even planned on visiting!
The landscape at first was much like we’d imagined: vast, barren and flat, stretching on for as far as the eye could see, but it did get greener and at times we were flanked by some pretty impressive mountains. There was no shortage of petrol stations, which seemed almost odd after the problems in Uzbekistan, and there were lots of beautiful wild horses to be seen (one of which nearly took James out when it got half way across the road then got spooked by the engine noise, coming back full circle right into his path!) We rode for about 250km (past Symkent, annoyingly where we had been trying to cross the day before) and stopped for a few hours at lunchtime. It was getting pretty hot and I was still struggling a bit with stomach cramps – it was soooo good to take off our boots for a while and put shorts on. I had a little nap and James was engrossed in his book (‘Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy – highly recommended) so we had to force ourselves back on the bikes when the time came.
Our aim was to get past the town of Taraz before finding somewhere to camp around 6pm. Somehow things always take longer than you expect (a bit like border crossings…) and it was starting to get dark by the time we’d passed the town. (We were waylaid a bit when we got chatting to a lone cyclist from the Isle of Man – I have upmost respect for these people but also can’t help thinking they’re complete nutbars for doing it!!) Finding a pitch wasn’t looking too likely as we were on a main road with scrubland all around but eagle-eyed James spotted that occasionally a dirt track peeled off to the right underneath the railway track that was running parallel to the road. He went to investigate (I am always a bit more hesitant with the off-roading, especially in the near-dark) and discovered that on the other side it was the perfect place for camping! With the mountain range on one side and the railway on the other, it was completely deserted and seemed unlikely anybody would be passing through. Good work, James!
Too dark to cook, we munched on some rather dubious items we’d picked up in a gas station shop (a deep fried pasty type thing and what turned out to be bread filled with a frankfurter, ketchup and mayonnaise – yum) and settled down under another starry night. I have to say, I didn’t have the best night’s sleep. Our proximity to the road meant that any car that passed, even though safely on the other side of the tracks, sounded as if it was on a collision course straight for the tent and then there were the old Soviet trains that rattled past with surprising regularity – soooo noisy!! (It also didn’t help having a nightmare that an angry mob was gathered round our tent wielding pitchforks!!) Still, there were no shenanigans to speak of and we awoke to a fresh morning (fresher than us after two nights wild camping without any access to a water source…) and the knowledge that we were less than 150km from the Kyrgyzstan border. As long as we weren’t directed to another crossing (by no means out of the realms of possibility based on our recent experience) we would be in Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan) by the afternoon. Hurrah!
The road to the border was pretty good, apart from a few road works with the usual gravelly diversions. It was one long straight road east towards Bishkek (so no need to worry about map reading) and at these times, you find yourself thinking all sorts of inane things to keep your mind occupied. A little insight into my brain for you: Hmmm, James’ yellow ortleib bag is looking really dirty, I guess we should wipe off the remnants of exploded melon one of these days… What shall we do when we get back home, we need a business that involves things we both love. Cats. Motorcycles. Teaching cats to ride motorcycles? Better keep thinking on that one… I wonder if I can go through the whole alphabet and think of a baby name I like for each letter (pure speculation to pass the time, mother!)… I hope Lizzie’s joined a band by now, she’s a damn good singer… How is that mini-van even moving when it’s so loaded up with watermelons…
So, I guess it’s probably lucky for James that his headphones don’t work anymore – I think I would bore him senseless with that rubbish!! We started getting a bit nervous as we approached the border; it would not be cool to be directed to another one for some reason or another. Our luck was in though, and it turned out to be an amazingly quick turnaround on both sides – no bag checking, no customs forms to fill in, and no jobsworth looking for a reason to delay us! In fact, it was so easy to both exit Kazakhstan and enter Kyrgyzstan we were worried that we’d missed something! We couldn’t quite believe it but, finally, after all the hassles, we were in Kyrgyzstan!! Happy days!!