We have officially crossed from Asia into Europe!

in Border crossings, Kazakhstan, Russia by on August 18th, 2010

With its proximity to Kazakhstan’s largest oilfield, Atyrau is a fairly rich city with many expats.  Its hotels cater to the many oil workers, so expect rather steep prices though the prospects of getting a hot shower in Atyrau are definitely much better than in Beyneu!  Another benefit is that you can actually get a decent gin and tonic in Atyrau.  And this we did at the Guns ‘n’ Roses Pub.  In spite of our hotel’s receptionist’s insalubrious description of the place, we found it to be a very cool spot, particularly taking into account that we were in the middle of Western Kazakhstan.

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Cheers at the Guns n Roses Pub in Atyrau!

The next day, we took a little side trip to see the Caspian Sea.  Initially we had visions of swimming in it and maybe even having a nice meal on the beach, a lá the French Riveria.  But those visions quickly disappeared when we realized that the last 10km or so of road leading to the sea was a little-used dirt road.  Hmm, maybe going to the Caspian Sea from Atyrau is not a common tourist activity?  In any case, MJo had some much-missed fun riding off-road.

Afterwards, we rode across the Ural River, which officially marks the line between Asia and Europe.  With that we officially made it to the European continent!
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Asia => Bridge over Ural River => Europe!

It was then a further 290km to the border.  We had to wait a little on the Kazakh side as we arrived at 7pm just as their dinner time started.  It also took us a while on the Russian side as we had to buy insurance for the bike, or at least we think that’s what we paid US$20 for.  Eventually, we entered the “Motherland” en route to the “Fatherland” (apologies for the bad joke).

Riding into larger cities can sometimes be a little tricky for us when we do not have city maps.  In this case, we did not have a map nor a hotel address.  So for a bit, we rode around trying to ask people for a hotel and getting lots of “preyama”, “eta” and “dar” (“straight”, “this” and “there” – the full extent of our Russian fluency). By now it was dark around 9pm which didn’t make since easier but eventually we got to a hotel near the railway station.

But there was one problem – there was no secure parking for our baby.  And even the hotel staff did not advise parking the bike outside.

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MJo sitting outside the hotel waiting for things to get sorted

Phone calls were made, and eventually the owner of the hotel who spoke some English, showed up.  “I have cottage over river. You come with me.”, she said.  Not having any other options by then, we did and 15min later found ourselves in a house in the suburbs of Astrakhan for the night.  It turned out to be a nice place with a large room and a garden. Once again, we have been lucky with finding a place for the night.

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Desert riding: Kungrad=>Beyneu=>Atyrau

in Border crossings, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan by on August 17th, 2010

Since leaving Tajikistan, our riding conditions have changed dramatically.  Much to Sabby’s delight, there are no more mountain passes or gravel roads.  Instead it is all seemingly never-ending tarmac roads through flat terrain now.  From mountains in Tajikistan, we then had desert in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, a very different experience altogether.

We started from Kungrad early at 7am and rode the 300km (the first 50km gravel then mostly tarmac) to the border easily.  After the border, a few of the blogs had mentioned that the road surface was very poor and likened the experience to “driving on the moon”.  For us, that 80km of unpaved road to Beyneu were rather “pleasant” after our previous experiences, we could average about 70km/h.  In retrospect, we were really glad that we started in India with a baptism of fire on an ancient bike through some of the worst roads, rather then the other way around.

The road from the border to Beyneu was not all that bad...

When we got to Beyneu, the first thing that MJo saw was a petrol station, and one which actually had petrol and no queues!!!  He was over the moon and after his “benzin depravation” in Uzbekistan, he instinctively wanted to fill up.  Sabby had to remind him that we did not have any Kazakh tenge (local currency) to pay for petrol to curb his enthusiasm (the only living things we met since crossing the border were camels and they didn’t exchange US$).

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With Lyoxa, a former Soviet Motocross champion, in Beyneu

We had been given directions to a local who was a former Soviet enduro champion, Lyoxa.  His workshop was located near the town entrance so it was easy enough to find.  He was very welcoming – he showed us photos of his former Motocross days and his recent rides and also changed money for us (at it was Sunday no banks were open and we needed fuel!).

With petrol money in his pocket, MJo was excited and raring to ride on.  The morning’s ride up to Beyneu had been easy enough that he felt he had another 430km to go.  So we decided to ride on to Atyrau.

The ride to Atyrau must have been the hottest ride we have had on this trip and this is in spite of the wind we got from riding at 120 km/h and the strong desert winds.  The air was just hot!  Riding through the desert, there is not much along the way to see, other then MJo’s latest obession – camels!  Ocassionally, there are some road signs for turn-off to villages, but then the villages must have been so far off that we couldn’t actually see them from the road.

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Camels!

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From afar, we wondered what historical monuments along the road these could be. They turned out to be very fancy tombstones!

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Random abandoned building in the middle of the desert, wonder what it could have been?

13 hours and 860km later, we made it to Atyrau around 9pm.  We set a new record for distance covered in a day, thanks to a nice road through barren desert land.

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