Uralsk, Kazakhstan

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of Kazakhstan  , Batys Qazaqstan,
Monday, May 14, 2007

Kazakhstan was a name as obscure to most westerners as any of the other nations that emerged from the former Soviet Union in 1991 until the movie "Borat" was released last year. Now everyone has heard about it but still only knows the complete misinformation about it in the movie.  Kazakhstan is the world's ninth largest country in area and supposedly the most advanced and prosperous of the five former Soviet 'stans.  After Borat was released I recall reading an article on the country that noted that of the roughly 12,000 visas Kazakhstan issued annually to Americans only about 1,000 were tourist visas, most of the rest being for business purposes mostly to people involved in the oil industry.  But don't expect a report back about my adventures at the "Running of the Jew" festival; those parts of the movie were actually filmed in Romania and most of Kazakhstan is a barren grassland much like the American High Plains.  Kazakhs speak a Turkic language similar to others in Central Asia and are mostly Moslem.  However, there are still large numbers of Russians in Kazakhstan and Kazakhs comprise only a small majority of the country's population.

Uralsk was our first stop in Kazakhstan and a fairly uninteresting oil service town.  We had no plans to stop here other than to pick up some provisions for a couple nights of camping, but this is where the bus from Russia stopped.  Uralsk seems rather prosperous because of all the oil money, with many new shopping centers, restaurants, and public buildings, but still very Central Asian because of its friendly people and big outdoor bazaar.  We all met at 6:00 P.M. the next day for the plans for the day ahead, which turned out to be to catch the thrice weekly Moscow-Almaty train at 2:00 A.M. for the 20 hour 800 mile voyage ahead to Aralsk.  There wasn't much to do for the evening until we left on the train except "hang out" for a while at the bowling alley in the shopping mall across the street from the Hotel Uralsk.  I think the last time I bowled this part of the world was still called The Soviet Union, so needless to say my score wasn't very high.
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