Across Continents

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Reflections on Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan was the Stan the others secretly wanted to be. Probably. Relatively prosperous, stable, none of the endemic corruption and nepotism I’d encountered elsewhere. The generosity of the people I’d met, their kindness to strangers, quite humbling.

There’d been fresh challenges. The Kazakh Steppe, fearsome heat to contend with. Alone. Learning how best to adapt to such an unforgiving environment. More than physical, part mental, part intellectual. Border crossings in and out of Kyrgyzstan a test of robustness, self-confidence. And an element of brinkmanship.

My point of entry, the large oil town of Atyrau, had been a gentle introduction. An English pub, catering for the influx of Western petroleum workers. But most memorable had been my time in the smaller places, the night spent sleeping on the floor of a roadside cafe, inside a petrol station. Or wild camping in the rolling hills north of Bishkek, pitching my tent as the sun set. Splashing icy cold water on your face in the morning.

I’d also been fortunate to be able to spend a little time with a Kazakh family in the suburbs of Almaty, the former Capital but still the country’s cultural and financial centre. Sophisticated, vibrant, but not claustrophobic. Lots of well kept parks, and a splendid mountain backdrop.

If I’d one regret, it was that I’d not had enough time to be able to cycle the whole way across, entry constraints of my first Chinese visa precluding this. Ironic really, as I’d had ample time on my Kazakhstan visa, and I’d ended up having to return to my “Nation of Convenience” for a fresh Chinese one. Filling in the gaps really wasn’t a practical proposition, for now at least. Besides, it gives me an excuse to return one day and explore some more, not that I really need a pretext to visit. I’d loved my time here.

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