09/05/06 : Zharkent 72 km
09/05/07 : Treed Hollow Camp 82 km
09/05/08 : Saryozek 127 km
Leaving China took a half a day because the Chinese closed the border for a two hour lunch break, and took an extended interest in our passports and driving licenses. We were bussed 1 km across the border and the security and procedures reminded one that this used to be a major border crossing between Mao’s China and Stalin’s Soviet Union. However, entering Kazakhstan was simple and hassle-free for us because, unlike everyone else’s luggage, our bikes with their panniers were not X-rayed and inspected.
The changes seen crossing the border are amazing:
- A quieter and slower culture in Kazakhstan replaces the noise and hustle-bustle of China;
- Wayne Gretzy and John Deere farm equipment replace Norman Bethune as Canadian icons;
- The population density is drastically lower;
- The four lane freeway changes into a country lane;
- Intensively cultivated land changes into open pasture;
- The Chinese concrete architecture gives way to small single wooden dwellings with old Ladas parked outside;
- Knives and forks replace chopsticks;
- Beer comes served cold in a half litre beer glass, not warm in single shot glasses;
- Towns are no longer huge construction projects visible from 10 km away;
- Places to have picnics and food for picnics became easily available;
- The cost of food and lodging has doubled.
In many ways we felt we had entered Europe, even though the Urals are still several time zones away.
The biggest effect for us is that we are no longer instant celebrities. We can walk around town and nobody seems to notice us, although offers of help are forthcoming when required. We enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, although we could do without our hotel having no water until 9:00 pm. Leaving a country where every car, motorbike, and truck that passes you by law must honk its horn is a great relief.
Unfortunately, internet access is less available as huge internet cafes open 24 hrs a day and catering to chain smoking game addicts have disappeared. These are replaced by a few internet rooms with poor bandwidth.
We chose a northerly route to Almaty. We have been on this route for two days. Both days began in wide open valleys took us through mountain passes with scenery not unlike parts of Yorkshire, then back to the open valley for supper and bed. Mornings are cold, and we suffer strong winds in the afternoon, but the bike ride is beautiful. Someday we must come back to rural Kazakhstan to ride horses in these mountains.