A nice day spent in Shymkent before heading North towards Kyrgyzstan.
We stayed on the M32 towards Shymkent. Got some petrol, had a breakfast of what we thought may have been lamb ribs and signed the garage owner's fridge. Got stopped by the police fairly early in the day and showed our documents.
On the way we continued to see people selling watermelons by the side of the road and figured it was about time to buy one. Figures were drawn in the sand and as far as we could make out they were asking for about fifty dollars. Perhaps they thought we wanted to buy the van. We handed over the equivalent of a couple of dollars and for some reason this seemed to equate to about ten massive watermelons. In a cramped car, or indeed even for a big car that's really nine too many watermelons.
Knackered we treated ourselves to a four star hotel. £10 a person. Bargain. *
(* Because two of us booked a double room for £40, then two more sneaked up and we shared the costs. We are rebels.)
Up relatively early and after some breakfast and a chat with our kind hosts we set off towards Baikonur (formerly known as Leninsk), the town set up to service the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
Every so often some graves would break up the monotony. Seemingly always situated quite a way outside of the town they served they were relatively grand affairs. As with Eastern Europe, you tended to get engravings of the deceased person's face etched onto the grave.
At some point (though tiredness prevents from remembering) we passed either through or very close to Baikonur. I only remember vaguely as we'd stopped for gas at a service station and a child drew a picture of a rocket ship on the bonnet of our car.
By 2 am we were still driving. 16 hours and counting.
3am and we stopped to sleep. We're pretty sure it's a landfill site. We have warm gin and tonic. It's been a LONG day. Warmed by a pair of Andrew's trainers burning merrily on the path.
An amazing driving through some of Kazakh desert. We drove into the darkness with desert wolves (not the technical name i'm sure) around us.
The sump guard that the local garage had kindly fitted was taking a real battering and after driving over a rough piece of ground decided it'd had enough and promptly fell off. Kieran managed to get it back on again whilst I very helpfully took a photograph.
Finally getting to the edges of the desert we came across a house and the people sitting on the porch beckoned us over. We joined them for a midnight feast of gherkins and vodka. A lot of gherkins. A lot of vodka. We slept on the porch which was covered it a LOT of moths (I mean literally hundreds). I HATE moths.
Pleased we have our petrol canisters with us as the last two petrol stations we passed had run out of fuel.
We stopped in the worlds dustiest town and saw a pudgy faced baby. That passes for news at the moment.
Having spent yesterday travelling North to avoid an awful road; today we get to travel East towards Aktobe. Exciting times. After seven hours driving in a straight line we reached Aktobe. Time to get a little closer to Aral (not to be confused with Oral which is where we started off from this morning). By 11:30pm and we'd pulled off the main road, away from some shanty towns and into a... field (Oh... and we just saw either a jet or a UFO. Not sure which.)
So then it's 2pm. Someones car isn't starting so they're off to get some new spark plugs. Fingers crossed because it'd be nice to be getting some miles done.
Why is it raining in Kazakhstan? Surely that can't be right.
Eventually we set off and the zen of driving kicked in. We drove on a road that I kid you not didn't bend for over four hours (bar the curvature of the Earth, pedants).
Eagles are soared above us.
Most importantly for the day we clocked our 4000th mile. We're halfway (probably) to Mongolia (if not the capital).
What the road lacked in bends it made up for in smoothness. REALLY smooth. Good work Kazakhstan.
Every 15 minutes or so people are camped out on what is essentially a motorway selling watermelons. I can't imagine they sell many.
Stopping to eat (and on this trip we really don't eat much at all.) I boiled up some Hot dogs wrapped in tortilla with American mustard. Best campfood yet. Wish I'd dropped less on the floor though.
We'd heard news through the Rally Team grapevine that the Mongolian border guards weren't being paid and that the border was closed. Not good news. Not good at all.
On the plus side I saw a man is herding goats on a camel so swings and roundabouts.
In other news... No, there is no other news. We drove - that's it. Nothing happened. Driving, driving and more driving.
Oh, we slept in a field. That's not news, right?
We woke up in yet another field. A lot of driving lay ahead with another push for yet another border. The Russian/Kazakhstan. We'd driven 3,548 miles since home and that was more-than-likely not even half way to our destination. We were hoping for a quick border crossing but this wasn't to be.
The Russian/Kazakhstan border was undoubtedly the most miserable experience of the trip. The guard had obviously been given something nice as a bribe by a previous team and kept pointing through the window into the back of the car saying "Gift!". We needed everything we had and didn't have anything to give away as a gift. He gave me a phone and said "Speak!". I listened. The phone was dead. Was this some sort of crazy mind game? My tired mind couldn't fathom out what was going on. I held the phone to my ear and pretended to speak for a bit. I gave the phone back and the guard went back to this "Gift!" spiel pushing his face right into mine. I rummaged through the car and found a tin of mints with "Grumpy Git Mints" written on it. Seemed suitable. "Valuable mints." I said and pushed them at him. He waved us through. Trust me as you read this that encounter lasted for a great deal longer than you're probably thinking. Words cannot describe what a properly miserable experience the Kazakhstan border.
F**k the Kazakhstan border guards.