Across Continents

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Crossing Kazakhstan

Less than three weeks to reach the Chinese border. Otherwise I’ll need a fresh visa. Problematic at best. Unfortunately, this means compromise is unavoidable. Cycling Kazakhstan in its entirety, a country sixty percent of the size of the European Union, simply isn’t a practical proposition. Ironically, I’ve a generous Kazakhstan visa that would allow me to do so. But then that would jeopardise China. Practicality over purity.

Quite apart from reaching the Chinese border in time, I’m determined to visit Bishkek, the Kyrgyz Republic’s Capital. Scene of rioting in recent months, the situation appears to have calmed a good deal, making safe entry feasible. Keen to track down our Honorary Consul at Fat Boy’s Cafe. And I’ve an offer of tea at the British Embassy in Almaty, until relatively recently Kazakhstan’s Capital. Shame to miss that. A few things to weave into the plan for crossing the country.

The plan? A train from Atyrau, at the northern end of the Caspian Sea, to Kzyl-Orda, about three hundred kilometres east of the Aral Sea. Across largely flat, featureless terrain. But not the easiest of options. A twenty four hour journey. I’d been advised to take the luxury option for about forty pounds – a twin berth sleeper. Curious to know who I’ll be sharing with. Hopefully Emma, my trusty steed. Might have to pay a bit extra for that. We’ll see. I’ll reach my destination close to midnight so could be interesting finding somewhere to sleep.

Rail ticket

Getting the rail ticket had been a bit tricky. Queued for quite a while, only to reach an impasse. I’d a piece of paper explaining, in Kazakh, exactly what I wanted. Couldn’t understand the problem. Lots of phone calls made by the saleswoman, but no, a ticket wasn’t possible. Frustrating.

A young man, next in line, explained that the difficulty was that my name needed to be translated into Russian Cyrillic to be entered into the booking system. No doubt he could have done it for me in seconds, but he’d been pacing around endlessly, trying to push in front of me, so helping out now wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I disappeared off to seek further help from English speaking Manshuk in a local hotel. Half an hour later I had my ticket.

Beyond Kyzl-Orda I’ll be heading south-east for about four hundred kilometres to Shymkent, swinging north-east through the mountains towards the Kyrgyz Republic’s border. Brief foray into the Capital Bishkek, then back into Kazakhstan and its former Capital Almaty. Few days there and then the push through the mountains to the Chinese border. Fingers crossed.

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