The Last Rough Stretch

Taraz (Kazakhstan), 20.10.2013

Waking up late (the wine of the previous night seemed to have nocked me out), the day started slow, I packed, checked out, and somehow didn’t want to leave Almaty. The first stop was a nearby supermarket to buy food for the next days. Then I had to fuel up. I wanted a full tank of diesel, but for a reason I couldn’t understand the guys at the gas station wouldn’t sell me more then 40l of diesel. In Russia and sometimes also in Kazakhstan they have this incomprehensible habit of prepaying a specific amount of liters of fuel. The concept of a full tank is something they don’t get. I tried to explain I wanted more diesel, without success. I left frustrated.

DSC_0006After Almaty comes the last stretch of this trip that leads through vast empty land, part steppe, part desert, and some of it maybe offroad, depending on what conditions I find at the Aral Lake. I left Almaty very late in the end. Given the city traffic and constant police controls it was impossible to get to speed. Out of town the road converts into a nice, new motorway, with two perfectly tarred lanes per side, and finally things moved faster. But the Kazakh police, like those of so many former Soviet countries, puts up sudden speed restrictions of 50 km/h on stretches of road with no danger, no urban environment, no curves or construction sites, on perfect road conditions. The purpose must be solely to terrorise drivers and extort money. I got stopped three times today. The first two times with not speaking Russian I was let go. The police officers just wanted to have a look inside the car basically and seeing that there was no point to ask for money in Russian I was let go. At the third stop, there were two police cars on the roadside with four officers. One stopped pretty much all cars that passed, two sat in a car and collected money. The locals made me understand that I should just pay and leave, but I don’t pay corrupt police officials. I have already lost any respect for the police on this trip, and I prefer to give my money to local commerce or just enjoy it by myself then to pay it to criminals and terrorist in uniform. I spent over 15 minutes in front of the car refusing to pay. The police tried to intimidate me by seizing my documents, making believe they would issue a fine on an official document, trying to make me sit in their car (that I refused to do), and ultimately asking for 50 USD. I didn’t pay, spoke only English, asked for explanations and a receipt on an official form in case I had to pay any money. That proved to be too much for them, and they let me go suddenly.

DSC_0007As the sun disappeared, the land around me got coloured again in this beautiful array of pink, red and finally purple. The air was dusty, making the mountains in the background appear like 2D silhouettes in different shades of grey. After 510km the road suddenly got bad, full of potholes and small. I wanted to drive further, but on this road with no light it didn’t make any sense, so I decided to drive into town. I had researched Taraz briefly as a plan B, and found a clean hotel after a while. While I uploaded stuff a German guest knocked on the door and started talking to me. He had seen the car and wanted to chat. I learned about the road conditions and weather forecast for the next days. Then I went to eat. Across a huge square with monumental buildings all around was a Turkish café, where I had a delicious lahmacun and adana kebab with ayran. Leaving Almaty I had seen a kebab and had been dreaming the entire day of it, and here it was!

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Trip data

– Km driven: 542

– Hrs on the road: 7h

– Diesel l/100km: 8,9

– Daily high: 25 degrees Celsius

– Daily low: 15 degrees Celsius

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