One Steppe At A Time

 

Ranging from 1200-2200 feet altitude,  the Kazakh Steppes span about 700 miles from south to north.  As we’re getting farther north, occasional small mountains protrude in random fashion from the plain.

 

The sign we feared most in Mexico was that for “Topes” or speed bumps.  Here, the same sign means bumps in the road caused most likely by heavy trucks and/or frost heaves. See the sign – slow down – or else!

 

Just south of Karagandy, 800,000 people used to be imprisoned in a Soviet labor camp called Karlag.  Memorials from and in honor of several persecuted groups dot the former camp site.

 

 

 

 

 

Compact homes designed to survive the cold, windy, winters stand without trees for protection.  An Orthodox Church with gleaming domes provides contrast to the drab, Soviet-style block buildings.

One of those old, Soviet buildings would be our home for the evening.  Built in the 60s, our hotel once housed Soviet Cosmonauts while they trained for their missions.  Placards documenting Soviet successes during the space race adorn the  exterior of our building.  Now, the Kazakhstan soccer team and we are guests in what used to be the fanciest hotel in Karagandy.

 

Except for retrofitted vinyl windows,  the exterior of the building did not appear to have been tended since  construction.  From our balcony, crumbling stucco and general lack of  repair was in full view.  In our room, the bedspread was shredding.  I told Larry that it looked like it was from the Russian Revolution.  He quipped, “Which one?”

 

 

The Johnnie Walker Pub promised  Guinness for the Brits and escape from our room for the rest of us.  Unusual language translations are not unique in China.  Although they  were out of several requested menu items, including Guinness, we never got to the point of asking for horse meat.

 

 

An evening stroll through the square  led us by modern, somewhat abstract sculptures as well as relics of  Soviet times.  A young lad who was born about 15 years after the  Soviet Union dissolved in 1991 enjoyed an ice cream cone.  I wonder  what he will be taught in school about Kazakhstan’s history.

 

 

6 Jul   Balqash to Karagandy KZ   235 miles

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