Episode 38 – Kostanay and Aral

With the throttle grip and the oil, pan fixed it’s time to get back on the road. There are not many kilometers down to the border with Kazakhstan. I have enough fuel to drive to the last gas station and fill both the tank and the jerrycan before continuing any farther. The fix Andrey did to the throttle was working perfectly. I arrived at the gas station at the same time a group of bikers where finishing filling up their bikes. One of them spoke a little bit of English and we could have a small chat together while filling mine. After a couple of minutes, everyone had to continue their way.

Crossing to Kazakhstan was another bureaucracy experience. In this case, there was no instructions in English, nor a translation under the labels. When my turn came, a guy asks me to step forward. As soon as he saw my passport he started to laugh. “You, Spain? Hahaha” and “Spanski, Spanski” was the only thing I could understand. I would like to think he was surprised to see someone from so far dressed in a motorcycle suit. At some point, he started asking me things in Russian, which I obviously don’t speak. Luckily for me, a woman in the line next to me translated the question for me: “How long will you stay?”. Spanish citizens have a visa-free agreement for a period of three months maximum. It was not going to be the case as I planned to be in the country just for one week.

Once I pass the security checks, I was finally in Kazakhstan. It was now time to find insurance for the motorcycle. At first, I didn’t know where to go. I started translating on my phone the words “car insurance” to see if I could relate it to any of the shops surrounding the border control entrance. In less than ten minutes I had already a guy offering me one. This insurance hunter took me to his office and in less than another twenty minutes, I was ready to go. Minimum insurance period was fifteen days, more than enough.

I stopped twice on the hard shoulder on my way to Kostanay. Both times, another vehicle stopped and asked me if I was ok. My first impression of this country blowing me away. One of them was a truck driver and a biker. He gave me a phone number of a biker post in town to call if I was in trouble. Hopefully, I didn’t need to ask for help and I already had a contact Andrey gave me: Nikita.

I arrived at the hostel I had booked. It was the first one since I entered Russia in which I didn’t need to go up the stairs with all my luggage. That was really a relief. I settle down and went out for some food. There was a woman on the hostel entrance which I never knew if she was on a long term stay or she just lived there. She offered to show me where a small shop was and then asked me to buy her some cigarettes in return. “Gift for me”, she said. I was not too comfortable with that situation but found out the cigarettes were less than fifty euro cents. I bought some spaghetti, tomato sauce, something to drink and some cookies.

Back in the hostel, I tried to work a little bit with my videos and then prepared myself to have dinner. I was not sure when Nikita would be arriving. The Wi-Fi connection in the hostel was quite poor and I didn’t buy a sim card for my phone. I was preparing dinner when this woman came and told me not to cook. Unfortunately, I was already at it so I had to finish it and keep it for another day as she had a plate for myself of what she had prepared that night. I started to realize there was a family which was also, under my perspective, “living” there.

When we had almost finished eating, Nikita and some friends of his appeared. They took me out to a restaurant but I had had dinner already. The point of meeting in that restaurant was that another traveler was in town at the same time and they wanted us to meet. Evgenya had just arrived in town with her Kawasaki 250KLX. Coming from Cheboksary, she left home because of a similar dream: discover the world. As she didn’t have any place booked, she stayed at the same hostel I was. We had a long chat that night about our riding plans. I was just going to drive across the northern part of the country while she was heading south to Tajikistan to do the Pamir Highway. I was not sure what I was going to do as I was staying one more night in order to work in peace for a day and she was leaving the next morning. Should I follow her? What about my so-called schedule? Winter is around the corner.

After saying goodbye to her the next day, I stayed at the hostel and glued the throttle grip which ended up loose. I was locked in the room for the whole day trying to catch up with my videos. I had a very big problem there as the internet connection was intermittent. At least I was ahead of schedule. That night I was surprised by the same woman again. This time she sat me on the table of the hostel owner who was very happy to have me around. I was invited to have horse meat for dinner with him. He didn’t speak any English and we were using the telephone translator simultaneously. Even if the conversation was kind of slow, we had a great time due to all the mistakes the translator was making. That night I decided I should better catch up Evegnya and discover a part of the world I was not expecting to do: Stans countries.

Evgenya was one day ahead of me but my motorcycle has a higher top speed and greater autonomy. The first kilometers outside of Kostanay were good and with civilization on the sides. After that, it was just a desert. The road conditions on the first leg of approximately a hundred fifty kilometers were in very bad conditions. It was not until I reached Antonovka where the road became very good. Now I had to drive on a straight line over a pretty new asphalt across the desert. Still, in this area, we are surprised every once in a while by a truck driver, or a local, who stops behind us to ask if we are ok or just satisfy its curiosity. Once you get this far from “modern civilization”, you start to understand what are people’s real concerns and necessities. No smartphones needed here, just someone to talk to and share your time with.

After driving for about ten hours to do only five hundred kilometers, I reached Karabutak. I was a bit disappointed about not finding any sign of Evgenya on the way.,I was not sure if she was would have stopped somewhere else or she would just be gone by then. I stopped the engine and started to look for a place to stay overnight. The first place I went to was some kind of caravan parking and then I headed to something similar to the European rest area, with a restaurant, a hostel, and so on. Guess what? About a hundred meters before I got there I saw a silhouette standing next to an off-road kind of looking bike. Evgeniya! Unfortunately for me, she was not staying there and wanted to continue down to Aral, which is four hundred kilometers farther South. I was tired but at least the road was ok, so I joined her down the road. A funny fact here: the first half an hour we were together on the road was spent looking for her thermos which got loose. It was impossible to find.

Somewhere halfway to Aral, we stopped at one of the very few gas stations around. Evgenya found something was wrong with her bike. She was heavily loaded and the plastic cover of the pipes was in contact with them and melt. While we were figuring out how to solve this, a traveler appeared. Honza drove from the Czech Republic to Vladivostok through Russia and now he was driving back on the Stans countries. It was getting dark and Hoza was quite in a hurry. The three of us had a lot of kilometers left to do. Hopefully, we will meet again sometime.

As the sun was setting, we were getting close to Aral. There was still some daylight and we could see a big animal lying on the hard shoulder. We were driving and we couldn’t figure out what it was. A thought went through my mind: “Was that a camel? It is too big to be a horse”. Just a few kilometers later a bunch of camels was walking aside. I was not sure I was going to see that again on my journey and stopped the bike and walked towards them. I had never seen camels in the wild. This, plus the sun setting down in the Kazakh desert, was just magical.

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