Even though it is the only country we entered twice, we haven’t cycled much in Kazakhstan, it was more passing through to get to the next country. Which after all is a pitty, as we learned it is a great country to travel, with lots of diverse activities and friendly locals.
After a 36 hours boat trip from Alat (Azerbaijan) we made it early morning to the port in Kurik (Kazachstan). The boat trip was relaxing and it was great just to be able to sleep and rest as much as we wanted, there was nothing else we could do anyway. We knew that the port wasn’t the usual port to arrive, they weren’t yet used to tourist at all, but the border crossing went smooth and we could start our first day cycling in Kazakhstan without any hassle.
We knew the first 50 km’s were on dirt road, however we didn’t expect it to be that hard. The road was dusty and hard to cycle and we were lucky we got our own food and water with us from Azerbajian as there was no shop for a long time, except for a shipyard company halfway the road, where we had lunch in the security office with some friendly locals. They even gave us 1 kilo of sugar, 1 kilo of coffee and 100 tea bags which is way too much, but we happily accepted there gift.
Once we finally reached the asphalt road, the cycling went super smooth. Flat new roads with almost no traffic. We only had to share the road with wild horses and funny dromedaries who can look at you in a very amusing and interesting way. It’s all about emptiness, beautiful sunsets and great camp spots. We didn’t make it to Aktau that day, which was the original plan, instead we camped on a parking next the highway, hiding for the burning sun. Some curious cars passed by and one person came to give us 5 liter of fresh cow milk and a bag full of cucumbers. We don’t really understand these things, do they really believe we can carry so much more weight? J
Definitely we had enough supplies for the next track through the dessert. However other cyclers informed us that the road from Aktau to Beyneu (465 km) wasn’t pleasant at all, a boring dusty sandy road with nothing to see. Therefore we decided to take a train in Aktau directly to Beyneu, but also to make sure we were on time in Uzbekistan before the real summer kicked in with unbearable temperatures and to make sure we would get back on schedule for the fixed Chinese entry data on the 3rd of August. Just an hour before departure we bought our tickets in the train station, with the help of the security manager of the shipyard company on the phone, as it wasn’t possible to communicate with the train staff. They guaranteed us we could take the bikes on the train, so we were happy and ready to hop on. Before we left we took some snacks and a local started to talk to us, asking us about our trip. People in Kazakhstan are friendly, warm and interested in what you are doing. Luckily we met him, as once the train arrived, it became clear there was no cargo and we had to take our bikes into the very small cabin, which was impossible. Thanks to the help of our friend we made it just in time and were allowed to put our bikes somewhere. The train ride was super hot and we arrived early morning in Beyneu, ready to continue our journey towards the border of Uzbekistan. From Beyneu we had to cycle about 90 km’s on dirt road in order to reach the border town in the middle of nowhere. We started cycling at 6 in the morning and everything went smooth, but we do like to take our time and in the end we didn’t make it to the border before sunset. Given there wasn’t a lot of facilities in the area, we stopped at a construction ground, asked if we could pitch our tent in order to reach the border early morning the next day. We found out that construction companies our good places to ask for help. We got a shower, good food and a nice talk with some locals. Ready to enter Uzbekistan!
The second time we entered Kazakhstan was when we came from Osh (Kirgizstan) and cycled to Almaty (Kazakhstan). We didn’t need a visa for Kazakhstan, which made it the perfect country to use as a transit to get to China and take some rest. The last few months cycling in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan & Kirgizstan have been extremely challenging, pushing us to our limits and pushing our boundaries. Therefore we planned one week break in Almaty, get off our bikes and do something different for once! We booked an apartment through Airbnb and we gave our bodies and mind sufficient rest before we started on the next difficult track through China and Mongolia. Almaty wasn’t an interesting city for us, not much to visit, however a good place for us to go to the hairdresser, to shop till we drop, to write on the blog in a comfy coffee bar, to do a complete bicycle overhaul, eat-sleep-repeat, repack our panniers and getting ready to get on our bikes again for some new adventures ahead of us.
The 6th of August was our ultimate entry date for China, a visa that we received exactly 3 months earlier in Tehran (Iran). The Chinese visa was necessary for us to get to Mongolia overland. Russia would have been an option too, but wouldn’t have been an easier one. The moment we received the Chinese visa in Iran we were on a tight schedule and always felt the pressure to move forward. However we made the decision to cross via China, so we had to make it on time to the border, but we also wanted the one week of rest in order to recharge the batteries. That meant that we had 2 days and 350 km to go to reach the border on time. Another pressure!
But our second last day in Kazakhstan was a surprise. Suddenly a van stopped, asking if we needed help, he offered us a lift to the next town, which we gladly accepted as it brought us closer to the border. At the end the man invited us to his house, we met his wife & children, his parents and niece who was the translator of the evening. The day after he offered us to bring us 70 km closer to the border to make sure we made it on time. Time after time we are surprised what stranger do, we arrive unplanned at their doorstep and they just make the time for you and are happy. This type of thing is most unlikely to happen in Belgium where everybody is in a rush and have already plans and unfortunately there is little room for unexpected things in life.
At the end thanks to some help, we made it on time, but the border was closed, so we camped latterly next to the military border stop and the next day we came into a complete different world. Goodbye Central Asia, helo China!
TIP: Take your time to discover Kazakhstan. It is a huge country that offers everything from coastline, to dessert, to incredible mountains with the border of Kyrgyzstan for example. We didn’t know much about this country, but the combination of the diverse nature and the hospital people will bring this country on our list of must visit again!