#SubaruOfftrax Week Eight Highlights
September 9th- 17th Kazakhstan & Russia part one
In Osh Michael and Corinne managed to find a new tire for the XV for a mere $30. On our way out of the city we stopped by the giant three story ger / yurt then to the bazaar. In the food area we stumbled across what appeared to be something white in the shape of a lung. What a weird texture-slimey and almost gelatinous-like. Turns out it was cow lung cooked in some bazaar way. We sampled horse sausage just to cut the lung taste.
Back on the road we headed North, along decent roads through minor mountain passes and past rivers and reservoirs. By sunset we settled on a lake enjoying the local fish.
The next morning Corinne had to pull over as the car was oddly shaking back and forth. Roadside at a tire specialist the patched tire, ready to blow, got exchanged for the new cheapy tire. En route we spotted many ma & pa shops advertising horse meat for sale… The Outback was stopped by the cops for not having our headlights on. We offered them “smokes” and sunglasses to no avail. They wanted $100 USD. We gave them $30 and called it a day. No sooner later, Corinne got busted and chased down for going through a stop sign. Luckily they got outta that one scott free. Further on, the Outback was pulled over again and told not to use the left lane when passing through a police check as they cannot see you!!!
The Kyrgyzstan / Kazakhstan border took a painless two hours. Onto Almaty, GPS took us to the wrong end of the city and not to the hostel. An hour later we found the correct location and were ‘treated’ with dorm rooms with no one else in them. Now which of the eight beds does one sleep in?
On our day off we all went in our separate ways discovering the former capital of Kazakhstan, of which is now Astana. Almaty lies at the foot of the Tien Shan Mountains and means, ‘apple’. The next morning we visited the Almaty Subaru dealership. WOW, what a great group of people. We were treated to a smorgasbord of breakfast treats, including Kazak chocolate while the cars got oil changes, etc. We learned the director of the dealership, Murat moonlighted as a movie star! Lunch with some media folks was at a highend Uzbek restaurant with a huge spread of salads, horse meats, different fish, cheeses and warm breads! We dug right in sampling everything. To our surprise this was just the beginning of what was to come. Stuffed, but not to be rude, we continued on with were massive bowls of soup with huge samsas filled with lamb which we were supposed to dip into soup. OMG! we were all bursting at the seams when two enormous platters arrived with 2 different plovs (rice dishes, Uzbekistan’s national dish) one white and sweet, one brown and more savoury, both with meat in them. We could hardly move!!! To top it off was dessert of chak chak (honey and nuts). Waddling out of the restaurant for photos then back to the Subaru dealership for more photos. From there some of their team took us up to the mountains for more photos and to seed their famous skating rink. We soon learned that they wanted to take us out for dinner now. Still stuffed from lunch, how do you say no? Another high end place too! Unfortunately most of us were stuffed and couldn’t appreciate the exciting Kazakh menu and stuck with salads. However, Andy and Michael pulled through enjoying horse ribs and beshbarmak – a local dish of boiled horse meat and mutton that you eat with a thin dough that is cooked in broth and eaten with your hands. Very choice day overall and quite something to learn so much about Kazakhstan from a great group of people.
After getting officially registered in the country, which is apparently mandatory, we packed up and parted ways with Hostel 74/76, Natalia, Anton and the adorable kitty. Next stop: Semey, in Northern Kazakhstan was a lengthy 1200km drive that we broke up in two very long long days. We camped in a ravine in the mountains somewhere enroute.
After another long day driving we arrived in the former nuclear testing town of Semey. To our surprise there was a good pizza joint in town, that we enjoyed immensely after overdosing on Kazakh food. The following day, while waiting for our Russian visa to kick in we bummed around the city checking out a park full of Lenin statues and busts. Knowing Russia isn’t exactly known for their food, we treated ourselves on pizza again.
At 6:15am we were all on the road, heading towards the Russian border, 150km away. To our surprise the roads were good and the crossing was a breeze. To add to this gas was just a $1/litre for the good stuff! We lunched on borscht and rye bread in the big city of Barnaul then onto to Biysk for the night. Searching for a decent, yet cheap place to stay we came across some real beauties including on that we had to drive on a nasty puddled ridden road to reach rundown apartment looking building that upon going inside reeked of shit and barf. To add to the nasty, there was any sign of the place being a hotel or anything like that. This was just what Andy’s GPS was saying. With no more options, we returned to one of the previous places we had looked into and booked in…it was then we were told that the hotel would have to keep our passports till 3pm the next day in order to register us in the country (another Russian bureaucracy). It was either stay with her and waste half a day of driving or camp and not register. We gave in due to the late hour and stuccoed up the registration bit.
We were all surprised when at noon the next day our passports were returned, fully registered. Not knowing if we’d make it to the Mongolian border today, we did the best we could, but were soon overtaken by the beauty of our surroundings in the Altai Mountains. Driving alongside a river with so many cows, horses and sheep that were all very big so they could survive the brutal winters was gorgeous. We found a beautiful campsite with tiny cabins on a roaring river earlier in the day than we would have liked, but decided to stay and enjoy the outdoors and river. Mongolia would have to wait another day….
And for those wondering (I was…) nobody looks like nor talks like Borat that we have come across. Everyone acknowledges him and the amount of tourism he has since brought by putting Kazakhstan on the map, but that’s it.