Riding in Kazakhstan is SOOO different than in China: drivers look before pulling out into traffic, they respect right of way, pedestrians in cross walks are stopped for. One element that also is different than in China: police actually enforce traffic laws. Larry & I had a first-hand lesson this morning. I thought we were going with the flow of traffic. The cop thought otherwise. He waved us down. Larry & I walked over to the squad car that displayed our offending speed: 86 km/hr in a 60 km/hr zone. We then found out that the nice officer was not looking out for the laws of his country or in filling the governmental coffers. He wanted us to pay HIM. Not sure what he was expecting, he finally handed us our driver’s licenses when we gave he enough Tenge (Kazakh currency) to pay for lunch for the pair.
Where gas had cost $4.29/gal in China, in Kazakhstan our first tank cost $3.88/gal. The biggest source of revenue for Kazaks is oil. They own 51% of the oil interests. BP, Chevron, Agip, two Russian and a Chinese company own the rest. Our guide said that in Almaty, oil money just generally circulates. There has been little industry here since the Russians moved manufacturing here out of the path of the Germans during WW II.
Wide open spaces greeted us as we headed north from Almaty. In our 400+ miles, I don’t think we saw a tree larger than this scrubby one that caught our attention. Hawks soared above, searching for prey.
We don’t know if the lunch menu was in Kazakh or Russian. We do know that the entrees ran $2-3 and were delicious. The proprietor and her maybe daughter were making dumplings while we ate. They rolled them out right on the table top. It’s good that the dumplings would be boiled since the tables inside the purple block restaurant were not at all clean.
Russian-made Ural motorcycles with sidecars are now dotting the roads. During our first four-hundred miles of riding in KZ, I don’t think we saw more than a handful of motorcycles and no scooters. What a change from the buzzing scooters and crash bar equipped small motorcycles of China.
Gray residue waited in flat ponds along the road. We wondered if it was something usable. Ah ha, the modern looking cement plant probably uses that gray matter as its raw material.
During a pit stop, we had a Russian on a sport bike stop to see what we were all about. He had been riding south for three days. The pavement is “changeable” and got rougher as the day went on. I cannot imagine covering vast distances on these roads in that crouched riding position.
Aqua blue Lake Balqash was on our right for maybe seventy miles. No boats, lake shore homes, motels, or restaurants were seen along its beautiful shore. Seemed strange.
During a section of the road, separated from the lake, we spotted a herd of camels. Larry & I left the pavement to do a little recreational camel herding. Yee ha!
A new, clean, simple motel would be our home for the night. Toilet paper hit a new low here. It looked like dark gray crepe paper with a texture simulating 150 grit sandpaper. Larry was the first to notice that the paper had holes in it. EEEUUUU.
With no restaurants within walking distance, Kevin, Mick, and Marat, our Kazakh guide arranged a simple supper at the motel. Normally, only the first beer or glass of wine is included during group dinners on a Globebuster trip. Tonight Kevin opened the bar. Then he hit us with the news that Gunter had developed a serious infection in his badly broken leg and that the leg had to be amputated. Although we toasted to Gunter’s health, no amount of alcohol could ease the pain of this horrible news regarding our dear friend and travel companion.
Gunter, you are in our thoughts and prayers daily. We wish you a quick return to good health and for a successful adaptation to your new situation.
5 Jul Almaty-Balqash KZ 405 miles
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