Atyrau (Kazakhstan), 24.10.2013
After Aralsk there is nothing to see for hundreds of kilometers. The LP guide mentions no town, no hotel. Since I couldn’t drive across the desert from Zhalanash to the Caspian See (if I got stuck in sand on the first meters there was simply no chance to do a couple of hundred kilometers), I had to take the main roads to the north. At 09:00 in the morning I left town. The gas station of the previous day gave me another 20l of diesel, and then I drove for hours across the usual flat steppe. The sky was grey today, bad weather loomed in the sky ahead, and temperatures didn’t get over 11 degrees in the morning.
After two hours on a brand new tarred road I left westwards, towards Shalkar. Here the good roads ended for the rest of the day, and I started fighting my way ahead over stone tracks and mostly on the sand parallel to the main road. The hours passed quickly somehow, but driving was an ordeal. In the afternoon it started to rain a bit as the landscape got hilly. The more I went north, the colder it got. The sky closed completely and the rain got stronger. A few km before Oktyabrsk, as I passed over a ridge, the rain became snow, and the fields got white around me. As I fuelled up in town, I thought about what to do. There was nothing here, I had seen no “gostiniza” on the road, no trucks in front of a building that might have a place to sleep. It was still early, but the next major town was 500 to 600 km away. I didn’t know exactly, since for this area I had no maps, just the GPS.
Leaving Oktyabrsk, the snow intensified at zero degrees outside. 15-20km later I got a red warning message on the Evoque’s front display, “reduced performance”. In the middle of nowhere, thousands of km from the next service station, as I was driving into a snowstorm, the engine slowed down, to no more then 2800rpm. I didn’t have enough power for quickly overtaking vehicles! I tried to stay cool, there wasn’t much else to do anyway, so I kept driving as the daylight disappeared. The roads switched constantly from small stretches of bad tar, to pothole tracks to mud and stone. Strong winds blew the snow all over the road, and it got so bad that I could barely see the 20m in front of me. Slowly I moved on, the GPS helped me choose the right roads at the couple of intersections I passed. In the beginning of the night several cars drove without lights, and indeed visibility was often better then with lights, since the beam illuminated the snow flakes a few meters ahead but nothing further on. I didn’t want to crash into somebody not seeing me, so I decided to keep the lights on.
I spent the entire night battling my way ahead. The snow storm stopped at some point, but the ground all around was mud and waterholes, many of them frozen in minus degrees. The potholes converted to craters, sometimes over a meter deep and with water and mud in them. I was scared to get stuck, there was nobody around, no town, and here I wouldn’t have known how to get help. The car got hit several times at the bottom, and covered in ice and mud to a point that I could only see through the front window. And also here there were pieces of mud the wipers couldn’t wipe away. At 01:00 I stopped, in front of a cemetery in the steppe. -2 degrees, strong wind, but no snow and moonlight, I parked the Evoque on the side of the road and fell asleep for some hours. It was so cold I had to keep the engine on, but since I didn’t move, the heating didn’t get to full power and my feet were cold. Water had leaked into the car passing though the deep craters, and my boots were wet. At 05:30 I started driving again, and the ordeal continued. I was so sick and tired of countries that have no roads, of driving through potholes, I dreamt of a European motorway for hours.
As the first daylight appeared, I started to relax. If I could finally see where I was, avoiding to get stuck would be easier and I could find better tracks. But there was no need. I reached Makat as the sky got coloured in deep red and purple on the horizon, and from there on there was a road again, and it got better every km I moved on. I stopped to wash the windows and mirrors, and take a break. I had made it, through the last stretch of nightmare roads on this journey! While the sun rose I drove on the highway towards Atyrau, where I found a Renaissance hotel, an oasis of western comfort in this desert. Shortly before the hotel I drove over a bridge. Under it flowed the Ural river, that divides Europe from Asia. I was back in Europe! I checked in before 10:00, took a shower, shaved, had a normal breakfast – all luxuries I didn’t have for some days. And fell asleep in no time.
– Km driven: 1.148
– Hrs on the road: 25h
– Diesel l/100km: 9,4
– Daily high: 11 degrees Celsius
– Daily low: -3 degrees Celsius