KAZAKHSTAN PART 3: ALMATY, OUR FIRST FINAL DESTINATION

From Holland to Kazakhstan 20,000 km and a bit. Kazakhstan is our 19th country on our trip, it has to be said that this includes Holland. Kazakhstan is also the biggest country that we have visited. After almost five months it’s time for a break. No more camping for a few months. During this break we will probably miss traveling with our own bed and kitchen but on in return we will hopefully have access to toilets and hot showers. But we’ll see. First we have to drive another 600 kilometers from Shymkent to Almaty.

Somewhere in the middle of Sairam-UgamFrom Shymkent we drove through a million small towns to arrive at our pit stop for the night: Sairam Ugam. Weather was still good and we had the guts to set up camp at 1500 meter altitude. We found a perfect spot with astonishing views, one side mountain peaks covered in snow, the other a beautiful valley with some farmhouses and in the back more mountains with once in a while a group of wild horses. We made campfire and enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets of our trip. After eating too much marshmallows we crawled into the roof top tent totally satisfied. Unfortunately around 4am we got a wake-up call. Strong winds were hitting the tent. Tom went out to check everything and to tighten the guy lines. Quite pointless when the wind an hour later only became stronger. We had to fold the tent and stay for the rest of the morning in the car. Not the best morning but still we had good laughs about the situation, two people under a blanket with a very nice tiger print sitting in their car because of a storm. And it was only the first time during our journey so we really can’t complain about this. We stayed in the car till 7am and then we drove a few 100 meters to a more sheltered place to prepare for a new day.

camp spot Sairam-Ugam

On our way to our next stop from Sairam-Ugam

The following two days we took it slowly to Almaty. From the 1st of november we had booked an apartment in Almaty and till then we would camp. We had the time so we enjoyed every bit of it. We hiked few short routes, took the time to make bonfires and went to small villages to collect our groceries. Until we arrived at Almaty the camping thing was no problem. We were sure that we could find a place for our last two nights of camping around Almaty. We took the car up to the big Almaty lake. It takes you only half an hour from Almaty to get at this lake. And we saw a lot of good stories and pictures on the internet about this lake. Time to check it out for ourselves. When we left the city we continued on small roads all the way up to the Almaty lake at an altitude of 2500 meters. The whole scenery was beautiful, we parked the car somewhere along the road and decided to descent all the way down to the lake like many others did. After making some stunning pictures we sat down and enjoyed the beauty of this part of the world, until…. pfiewwwww. Totally surprised by the sound we looked a bit confused around. Ooops two police officers blowing on the whistles gathering all the people who were down at the lake together, including us. What was going on here? The thing was that those police officers worked so unorganized that one was already leaving the scene with part of the group including us and the other was left behind still trying to gather the remaining people together. We were the last two who followed the police officer to the office and were quite a bit behind this officer. Since we didn’t really know what was going on, for sure something not in our favour, we were thinking to escape the scene. But we thought that this could cause even more problems. Fortunately there were two local girls just a few meters ahead of us and they spoke some English. They explained us that it was forbidden to get down to the water. And that the police officers now wanted to see money (read for their own pockets). The following thing the girls said was run. We knew exactly what this meant. So we ran like hell uphill to get away from the police officers. After we were sure that nobody came after us we stopped for a while to recover. We thanked the two girls and went further up to our car. While we were walking up we were looking for the sign that was saying that it was a restricted area, and of course we found this sign. The problem actually is that there is only one sign and the route we took didn’t pass along this sign. So how would we know that it was prohibited to descent all the way down. Afterwards we heard that this could have ended quite bad for us. Because the reason why it is an restricted area is because the water is used to provide Almaty from water. Therefore they can’t take any risk with this water with a chance on pollution. The second problem was that we left our passports back in the car while we were going down. So when the police had stopped us and asked for our passports and we couldn’t immediately show them they had grounds to even arrest us. This is what was told us afterwards, but fortunately none of these things happened.

Big Almaty lake, yes you can find this in Kazakhstan

Dani is enjoying this view too

We got away from the police troubles but we encountered the next one. All the camp spots we had spotted were above 1800 meter altitude which means freezingly cold at night. We decided to leave the mountains behind and go for plan B, which was driving to a spot which we had found on the iOverlander app. This spot was near the city center and only on an altitude of 600 meter, something which is doable with good sleeping bags and our blanket with tiger print. Unfortunately when we finally got close to the spot it was already dark outside and it turned out to be very hard finding the road leading to this place. In other words we didn’t found it and there we stood, somewhere in Almaty without a camp spot. This meant we had to make a very hard decision exchanging our tent for a hostel. Our camping adventure stopped two days earlier than planned. Too bad but the only wise decision for that moment. The days that followed we explored the city, moved to the apartment, made some calls to the home front and planned our winter trip. We went eating at Daniyar’s place with his family. Daniyar was two years ago in Mallorca and spent a few nights at the restaurant where Tom was working. On the last night Daniyar and Tom exchanged LinkedIn profiles in case Tom was ever in the opportunity to visit Kazakhstan. At that time Dani made fun out of it, why would you ever go to Kazakhstan? but now we know better!

Dinner with Daniyar and his familyAt one of our first nights we ate with this fantastic family. We had good conversations had fun and drank a lot. Especially Tom was the victim again since he had to drink again vodka with the other men. Beside all the fun we arranged that we could park the car in the parking garage under Daniyar’s apartment. Something that he on his turn had arranged the night itself when his father came by to say hi. Perfect for us. The rest of the week we spend pretty much time with Zhanar in Almaty. Zhanar is a young woman whom Dani got in touch with on Instagram. Zhanar is starting her own business as a travel guide which was perfect for us and for Zhanar too. We had a lunch together, drank coffee and she gave us a city/food tour. Because she is only in the business for one year she needed guinea pigs for this new tour she had developed. Lucky us because we could join the tour at cost and in return we should give honest feedback. Really a good deal when you know that we tried local food and pastries and on top a Kazakh wine tasting. For your information some Kazakh wine houses produce really quality wines. Beside all these fun things we had to organize and repack the car and our backpacks. And of course the car could use a cleanup again. Our time flew in Almaty. And on our second last day we caught up with Quinten. Quinten is from Belgium and is a pretty good sailor. Totally random he had booked a trip to Almaty with friends. And since he lived for almost two months with us when he was training and sailing a regatta at Mallorca we of course had to catch up. We ate together at a place with local food recommended by Zhanar and afterwards we went for a drink until the bars were closing. It was just an ordinary Monday night but we had a great night.



Food and wine tour with Zhanar

Tuesday we had to bring the car to its temporary resting place. Daniyar was not at home but his dad would help us. He is living in the same building at a different floor. With some gestures and Russian he explained where we could park the car. Really a five star parking for our pack donkey. And when we were finished he invited us for tea. The tea was more or less cognac and whiskey, okay and one cup of tea. But Daniyar’s dad turned out to be a really good host. He didn’t only provide us with boozes no he prepared plates with really nice Dutch cheese some chorizo walnuts and almonds. It’s amazing how far you can get with hand gestures and a bit of google translate if you’re not speaking each other’s language. In the end we stayed like three hours with him and it was so good and fun. On our way back to the apartment we decided to buy a pizza and enjoy our last night in Almaty in the apartment.

This is where our pack donkey will rest for a few months

That’s it for Kazakhstan, at least for now. Our winter plans have changed a bit. We’ll first fly to Hong Kong then to Japan our next destination is the Philippines and after that we go to Vietnam which is also our last destination before we return to Almaty. This means we’re already back in Almaty around beginning/ half February but we’ll stay there for approximately four weeks and then continue our road trip adventure. We really enjoyed Kazakhstan, what a lovely people and beautiful nature. We still have to discover a lot but that’s for when we’re back. Then we’ll write new stories about this undiscovered country, which you will hopefully enjoy as well. Bye bye Kazakhstan, Hong Kong here we come.

For more pictures click here.