Saturday, 16 October 2010

Taraz (Kazak) to Almaty (Kazak) - Oct 13th

8am - The phone rings in our room, it’s the girl from reception. She wants to know if we’re ready to pay for the room now. Maybe it’s the way we look ?!

Back on the road and the 500km drive to the former capital Almaty is pretty awesome. The road skirts the base of some huge snow covered mountains, the scenery is spectacular.

Various vendors are lined up along the side of the road in each little town, some selling fresh fruit others jars of local honey. Curious to see the fruit stand, I pull over and check one out - I thought I knew every type of fruit going, but I ended up buying a bag of fruit that was completely alien to me. All of it tasted great.

We make good progress down one particularly steep hill, our speed gradually creeps up to about 80kph. You guessed it, out of nowhere a cop flags us down - A small team of local police have setup a radar gun at the side of the road…they revel in showing me how their new Russian camera has caught me, the English Porsche driver, well and truly out.

It’s a fair cop, I was doing 80 in a 60 - But I wasn’t keen on paying anyone any bribes today. The captain asks to see my driving licence, here we go again….I knew what would come next, he takes my licence from me then tells me it’s a $50 fine or he keeps my licence....Blah, blah, blah.. In a moment of genius I tell him I no longer have my licence, the police in Turkmenistan took it away from me.

He looks totally stumped…After several minutes of pacing about, he wags his finger at me and tells me to go. It worked !!
Back on the road, the scenary changes once again. We leave the mountains behind us, now an arrow straight road carves through a totally deserted wasteland and disappears into the horizon. Its easy driving and the roads are fairly good.

We pass through a roadside police check point, I’m actually driving under the speed limit but a cop waves his baton at me and signals for us to pull over. I wave back at him and keep driving, a natural development of the “I’ve lost my licence” tactic. OK, its not entirely right for me to do this, but neither is it right for them to continually try and get money from us. Besides, I could always say that I didn’t see him. Contempt for corrupt cops is entirely justified. (until I get some massive fine, or get locked up for failing to stop, in which case I’ll eat my hat)

Looking at the map, the main highway through Kazakstanh to Almaty actually dips into neighbouring Kyrgystan territory for about 30km. I was unsure how this would resolve itself, whether we would be turned back, or if there would be some kind of customs control. In actual fact, the road is deemed a narrow stretch of no mans land - Barbed wire fences and watch towers line the Kazak side of the road, bored looking soldiers sit on the decking of the watch towers, their feet dangling over the edge.

Desperate for the loo, I pulled over to a wooded section of road to take care of business. Shortly afterwards Becks also disappeared off into the woods, it seemed like a good a place as any to take a leak….We fired up the car and pushed onwards, 100M further down the road was a sign “Danger, absolute no stop, restricted border zone” Oooops, fortunately we weren’t shot for taking a piss on this occasion. I’m sure theres a joke there somewhere!

Shortly afterwards it began to rain, incredibly the first spell of proper rain since we left England. We’d had lightning and some sporadic drizzle in Georgia, but this was proper British style rain. Big, cold drops.

So,after another long days drive we arrive in Almaty. The traffic was the worst we’d seen since Istanbul, total gridlock. It took us around an hour in solid traffic just to get into the center of town & literally every other car would hoot their horn, wave or try to speak with us in Russian - They absolutely loved the car.

Sadly it took us 2 further hours of aimless driving around Almaty before we found our hotel. Even then we were driven there by an off duty Airborne Ranger, who felt sorry for us and insisted on helping us out…
As an example of the problems caused by the Russian signs... The main street is called "Gogla" Street, its pronounced Googler, but its spelt something like "TYVLO" on the street sign.

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