Semey (Kazakhstan), 15.10.2013
The first sunlight woke me up on the day that marked six months on the road. The showers of the “gostiniza” were indeed hot, the heating warmed the room, thinking about the last two nights in Mongolia everything was good. In no rush I washed my food containers, made sandwiches with the delicacies from the supermarket in Ulaan Baatar, prepared tea and coffee, peeled apples. The host handed me back my passport and the registration papers that are needed for every night in Russia, and wished me “good travel” with a smile.
A heavy grey sky over the village and -3 degrees Celsius welcomed me outside. Out of town I started my breakfast while I drove through the last piece of Chuysky Trakt, this beautiful alpine landscape in the Altai mountains. The villages were all of mostly wooden houses. Further down the mountains, in the woods I passed plenty of hotels, bungalows and guest houses in rustic wooden constructions, mostly new. The area was very beautiful, and I could imagine it being a popular tourist destination, in summer and winter.
The further I drove, the flatter the land and bigger and straighter the roads became. Coming from the rough and arid Mongolian steppe it felt like being back in civilisation, and one with a European touch. I drove for hours along the main highway, over endless hills and fields. While in Mongolia there was nothing all around (the steppe was not cultivated) here in Russia the land was used for agriculture, and on a huge scale. The entire day I drove past all types of fields. At 15:30 I reached Barnaul, a city on a river with a skyline of high rises. The road led around it, and I just saw it from afar, as I took a smaller road leading south towards Kazakhstan. This one went straight down for another couple of hours, and shortly before 18:00 I passed a sad Soviet industrial town and reached the border. The longest part of the crossing was the waiting in front of the Russian gate, as the sun went down. Controls were very easy, just passports and no customs, and in 1,5h I made it. Hello Kazakhstan! While waiting at the Kazakh controls, two guys asked me where I was heading and warned me about the bad roads ahead. So I left the border station expecting the worst. And indeed the roads were very bad, almost at Turkmenistan levels. In the dark it was even more challenging to avoid the potholes. 110km later I reached Semey, where I found a hotel that turned out to be very clean and decent. The guys at the reception were all young, with short black hair and smart suits. They reminded me of the Turkmen guys I had seen months ago. But everybody was friendly, there was WiFi in the entire hotel and the restaurant dished out a decent hot Solyanka and Beef Stroganoff with mashed potatoes. During dinner I started to read the LP guide and found out that the city was formerly named Semipalatinsk, and close to a major Soviet atom bomb test site. Hundreds of bombs wee detonated until the end of the USSR, with the city getting quite a hit from radiation. With this reassuring information I went to bed. Tomorrow I had to get out of here!
– Km driven: 917
– Hrs on the road: 11
– Diesel l/100km: 10,5
– Daily high: 17 degrees Celsius
– Daily low: -3 degrees Celsius