One steppe closer

Trip Start Jul 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
So Young's Guesthouse

Flag of Kazakhstan  ,
Friday, September 4, 2009

If you are wondering how on earth I managed to cycle from England to the middle of Central Asia quite so quickly, I must confess: I am not a Tour de France cyclist on the sly. I flew. Not only did I fly, but it appears the weather did too, and the great British summer (ie rain) has joined me.

The realisation that speaking 'Borat' Kazakh or Russian to the locals would probably get me a speedy return to the UK, I have cracked out a Russian phrasebook, which provided much amusement to the taxi driver. I had contemplated setting the bike up at the airport and discarding the boxes there, but (again) realised this may not be wise for initial first impressions with the Kazakhs and could also cause a bomb scare. And so it was, with some careful balancing and shoving, that my bike box and associated clobber meandered through the hectic morning rush hour Almaty traffic, sticking out of the boot of a taxi. This seems to be a regular feature of any trip I make with taxis and my bike. So far, my respective bicycles from trips have survived the Boston freeway in the USA, and the motorway in Rome. I can now add Almaty to the list.  

As I write this, I am really unsure of the time (it is around 7pm, I checked), although my body seems to have had little effect of any jet-lag. Erratic sleep patterns on the plane (as well as a general lack of sleep the day before I left due to packing) seems to have reset everything back to zero. Hurrah.

Flying into Almaty, the sun had just started to rise over the steppe and mountains, and the sight was quite fantastic. The occasional remnant of a collective farm dotted a landscape that was otherwise crossed by ravines, steppe, dirt tracks (presumably the main roads...) and, closer to Almaty, what I presume to be cotton farms. It was now that I remembered GCSE geography and, when not colouring in, we had learnt all about the Aral Sea, the cotton, and the general problems caused by the whole thing. Geography lessons in action!

Well, there is not much more to say about today, really. I have successfully (or so it initially appears) put my bike back together, with no screws missing either (from the bike, rather than the author. It is not up to me to comment there...). The accommodation in Almaty seems to be largely based on business people, here for the oil, gas and mining interests. As such, budget hostels/places to stay are somewhat limited, and it was by chance online that I found a guesthouse that had rave reviews from people who have stayed here (along with a map of where the heck it was - all the streets in Almaty appear alarmingly similar, being massive boulevads with Soviet style buildings, the occasional new tower, and lots of trees obscuring any landmarks). So far, it seems as though they are not wrong. It is essentially someone's apartment, that someone being So Young, a Korean who is working here in Kazakhstan. Incredibly hospitable, and helpful, who just wants you to feel at home.

That is all from me for now, as otherwise any readership I have could well get bored by my ramblings and fall asleep.
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