The plains offering Camels, Steppe and more vodka!

Trip Start Feb 05, 2009
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Trip End Dec 16, 2010


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Flag of Uzbekistan  ,
Friday, September 25, 2009

Summary:

At our last stop in Russia, Astrakhan, we camp outside a hotel, easy access to toilet, WiFi, phone and a frozen bottle for the still not working fridge! Functional shopping and on our way to Kazakhstan! Interesting border crossing at night! See details below. My first Kazakh night: Playing pool, pivo, vodka and husband nr.2 on offer! We have to cross Kazakhstan quickly as we are behind on schedule. This part of the country is mostly vast steppe plains, with many camels, salt lakes and some villages! Interesting to see that there seem to be more 'death people' villages then ‘living’ones! The graveyards are impressive here with amazing tombstones. Within 5 days we cross into Uzbekistan: Central Asia Silk Road country. Our welcome could not be more hospitable. The first day we spend with 2 truck drivers, who escort us across the desert, share meals with us and help us out in many ways. Ochin Spasiba! Hope to meet you in Tashkent! We make our way to Khiva (Xiba), the first Silk Road place on our visiting-list. And it is amazing: full of madrassas, beautiful tile work, cozy chaighanas (teahouses)! Unfortunately also lots of tourists, souvenir stalls and people who wanna rip us off ;-) Ichan Kala (Old Khiva): In many ways a place to remember!

After leaving the little village with a car full of melons we make it to Astrakhan, our last Russian stop before we go into Stan-territory, starting with Kazakhstan. This city grows on you quickly. We camp in front of a 4-star hotel, which is very handy, as we do not sleep there, but can use their toilet, bottle in the freezer, ask away at the English speaking reception desk, receive phonecalls and ‘borrow’ WiFi connection internet 24 hours a day ;-) As this will be the last opportunity for a while, we do the necessary shopping (not easy as Russian shops tend to hide themselves…little doors, no shop windows!). We also stock up on (very cheap) Russian cigarettes as I assume more bribing needs to be done later on! We also have special give-away photos printed, as we do not have enough Dutch things with us as a thank-you-for-your-hospitality.

After this functional stopover with internet overtime during the night (we had a LOT of catching up to do) it is time to cross borders. For those interested, the procedure Russia-Kazakhstan was: Russia out very quickly, entering customs area, quick vehicle check, quick passport check. They take the special paper (bought when entering) and give us a token which we have to give to the guy at the bridge 3kms down the road. After crossing the bridge we have to wait in line for Kazakhstan customs. Tough luck, we have to wait an hour (dinner time). After filling out declaration forms and waiting our turn we can finally enter customs area. Mira (passenger) has to go with passport to the terminal. I get a little paper for 1. vehicle check (quick job, nice guy) and 2. passport check at another desk. Electricity problem: so nothing to do but wait and socialize. Within 10 min. I can become someone’s 2nd wife! Thanks, but no thanks. After about 1 hour all is ok. Then I am taking away by 2 guys (Mira nowhere to be found) for customs papers and insurance... money-change guys swarming around me. First desk; filling out papers and entering in computer. I wonder how much this will cost me, as this is done OUTSIDE customs area I am guessing it is not obligatory. When he is done, he asks for T3000…in the end I give him 4 cigarettes ;-)) Insurance: No clue about prices and exchange rates, seems like I am getting ripped off, so no deal for now. One guy tells us about hotel within 500m, we can park there. Fine, as it is 22.00 o’clock and we are exhausted. No fun, crossing borders in the evening. Total time: 3,5 hours.

In the hotel we can eat ‘op de pof’, deal with money the next morning. Mira is not feeling very well, so off to bed. I am invited to play pool downstairs…My first night in Kazakhstan: Vodka, pool, more vodka and pivo with a group of Kazakhstan guys. Also my second husband on offer!  Welcome to our country ;-)

In the morning, after knowledge about correct exchange rate, good night sleep and a shower!! We make the deal for the insurance (6 days => 12 euro) and some Tinge (local currency), always tricky on border! Time to hid the road again: As far as the eye can see vast flat steppe, sand and a lot of camels! The scenery is boring yet interesting; reminds me a lot of East Mongolia. Something that is very typical here: There are probably more death people villages then there are villages where people actually live!. Being an Islam country, for the death they create huge tombs above ground, all facing mecca (?), situated within defense walls. From far they look like little villages, dotted around the landscape. Only to realize up close that there are no shopkeepers here! For the night we stop at ‘living’ village: In the middle of the plains. Far from everything it seems. But no: one of our curious visitors has his mobile WITH INTERNET connection with him!!

On our way to Uzbekistan border we pass Atyrau, located at the Caspian Sea, so it seems on the map. Nice to have another dip in the sea…Again we park near a 5-star hotel. WiFi, toilet and good cafй latte available ;-) In bikini ready to go we ask for directions. It turns out we CANNOT go to the sea??????!!!! It is only accessible by boat following the river…best option: Take a plane to Aktau 560km to the South! Must be a political/smuggling problem, because otherwise I cannot explain this madness!

As we are here now and have found good company with a Romanian guy, we stay for the day. Atyrau has nothing to offer, but 3 bottles of wine, good talks and good food on top of our van make an evening to remember! Multzimir (also for shower) Ciprian! In this city we also pass the Europe-to-Asia bridge, unofficially leaving Europe behind and crossing into Asia!

Ah and of course our second bribe encounter with the police: This time no seatbelt and wrong road turn were reason enough to stop us: License please! I pretend not to speak Russian. He shows me the offence in Russian: T6480 (about 35 euro), yeh right! Ciprian tells me to make a deal by putting T500 in my hand. Soon I am taking to the police car: again lots of threatening with taking my license and so on. Then;…Skolka? Here we go again. In the end we settle for T1000 and off we can go again. I wonder how many times we have to do this during the trip?! From now on we will try to give them no reason, but knowing that when they WANT to get our money, they will come up with something wrong anyway…and yes the next morning  we are stopped again: You can just see them think: TINGE, but no it seems they cannot come up with a mistake! Tough luck guys!

From Atyrau it takes us 2,5 days of driving to make it to the Uzbekistan border. In between more camels, steppe and curious people. On our last night in this country we are surrounded by a whole group of kids (all boys, are the girls allowed outside in this Islam country?). Later at night the older guys come and pay us a visit as well! No privacy this evening. Luckily when we are fed up, we can always close the doors and curtains and pretend we are ‘not at home’ ;-))

As we are behind on schedule, we have to make our way quickly through this country. With the not changing landscape seems we are not missing out on much. With this I do not mean the COUNTRY. Kazakhstan is huge and for sure very divers and stunning. But this part of the country is drive-through-quickly it seems. And….ancient Silk Road cities await us in Uzbekistan!

This time we cross the border in day time, so we can see where they lead us ;-)

For those interested, the Kazakhstan-Uzbekistan procedure was:

Leaving a country is always easier, this time passport checks before and after entering customs area (they are all so curious!). Filling out declaration form, handing over old stamped one (done at entering country) with new one; part 1 done. Then driving a bit further, desk nr 2: exit stamp in passport. Kuda? Where do you go? India, oke, all good: Daswiedanya!

Entering Uzbekistan is another thing. There are a lot of people waiting line, Being tourists and brutaal, I walk straight to the guard and ask him what to do? He checks our passports and we are allowed to enter customs area (without vehicle). There the labyrinth unfolds: Office nr.1 for declaration forms, then again one guy leads us to a little office outside customs area for filling out papers. This time no money is asked for (because we are girls and friendly?). With papers to Office nr.2, customs control. Confusion about the Carnet de Passage, so I am taken to Office nr.3, where a translation computer awaits me. In the midst of all, the guy asks me for my email address ;-) After reassuring that CdP is not necessary here, we go back to Office 2 to have papers stamped. Continuing to office nr.4 for the entry stamps on our visa. Then to Office nr.5 for the final stamps on the custom papers. All done now. Total time: 2,5 uur.

In the middle of this office hopping Rafsjan, a truck driver is very curious and concerned if all goes well. He invites us to have lunch with him when we all get through. So an hour later we are parked at an Uzbek road restaurant, where he shares a beautiful meal amd VODKA with us to welcome us to his country! The next 24 hours we spend with him and a colleague…They want to escort us to the next (read 400km down the road) ‘save’ place to camp for the night. So here we are cruising through Uzbekistan with a truck in front and behind us: The 3 Musketeers! At police control posts Rafsjan makes it clear we are with him, so no hassle. 2 flat tires are repaired on THEIR trucks, бfter the vodka shots are shared! They help us out with extra petrol, changing money, arranging a banya and more food. We could not expect our welcome to this country to be more hospitable. After such quality time, we find it very difficult to split up and continue solo. For sure we will meet in Tashkent guys!

We want to see the old Silk Road settlements and Khiwa (Xiba) is first on our list. Mira is not feeling well again, so we stop early. This time we are allowed to park inside old factory gates, where they are working with the collected cotton. The guy also helps me out with driving me to the nearest shop: typical assortment consisting of canned stuff, sweets, bread and beer. Fruit and vegetable are not sold here, as they grow their own? A Mongolia reminder again! In the morning after receiving some raw cotton, we are heading for Khiva (Xiba). The old city is still surrounded by high defense walls and many madrassas intact. Although mass tourism also found this place, the site is amazing. Colorful tile work, high minarets and busy souvenir stalls ;-)

Old Khiva (Ichan Kala): At one of the gates we supposed to buy a ticket for the complex with extra ticket for taking photos, tourists only. Yeh right! We ignore it and all seems ok. Later we climb one watchtower for half the price. Smiling and bargaining is the thing to do here! One evening we are invited for drinks by a Spanish speaking tour guide and his friend. From the "tea drinking bed" we continue socializing in our van. An evening of star gazing, learning Uzbek words and little sleep! In the early morning I walk around the old city. No tourists and souvenir stalls yet. Now I can picture how things could have been during Silk Road trading times. What a buzzing place it must have been, full of horses, camels and tradesmen trying to barter silk, opal, spices and other luxury goods,  staying overnight in one of the many madrassas!

After another teahouse visit it is time to say goodbye. Marak gave us the little Koran to hang in the car for protection. Good thing to have before going into the mountains! Even though we spend less then 24 hours together, it feels like much longer. The connection is strong and therefore I find it difficult to part. And so does he. Feelings do not need time and words. Khiva (Xiba), a magical place with beautiful memories!

And as before, by now lots more has happened we are further down the road in Uzbekistan, Tashkent to be precise, but to let you all do some other things as well, I had to cut the story and stack of photos in the middle...the rest to follow soon!
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Comments

mixolidius
mixolidius on

Great progress...
Nice to read the progress you make, and the car is still going strong! What an endless stories getting over borders through customs...
I hope you do well both, as we read many stories of the life and adventures around you both, but how are you hanging in your experience personally?
May the force be with you...
Hope to hear from you soon!
Big hug & kisses from my dull office at night.
Gerard

tomcom
tomcom on

Magical Silk road
You know, this sounds like a great adventurer. I would like to see Xiba as well and the other places you go now.

Maybe next summer I might go with my wife Annushka, from Ukraine to Kazakhstan and further to Usbekistan to go finally to Altai.

I wonder how you will go to India from Uzbekistan/Kirgistan, will you go all through China/Tibet and Nepal, sounds crazy or is there a way through Pakistan, but then you have to cross North Eastern Afganistan or West-Tibet, which are both military areas and probably difficult to cross by car (?).

What is your so called schedule, I didn't get it yet?

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