Day one in Kazakhstan and we are stuck at a border again! Three hours in and we realise we’ve changed time zones and have lost another hour. After four hours we move from the side of the road to a near by cafe. Seven hours in and we are on to our 10th pot of tea and 50th game of cards. Nine hours in and we are all gradually losing the will to live. Ten hours and we are finally on the move. We head to a camp a couple of kilometers down the road, rush to put up our tents and enjoy a dinner of toasted cheese and tomato sandwiches.
Pot of tea number 23 at the border
Bush camping, night number one
Day two in Kazakhstan and we have to make up the 100km that we didn’t manage to do the night before, plus the original days mileage. We make a stop at a small town along to way to pick up supplies, our guide Svetlana takes us around the market and to visit Kazakhstan’s mosques and minarets, left over from the time when the area belonged to Uzbekistan. We stop for lunch at a water reserve surrounded by semi-wild horses. After some debate we decide they are probably being bred for meat. Despite the trauma of knowing my favourite animals may end up on a plate in England very soon it is a beautiful spot for lunch and we are even lucky enough to see the elusive mating ritual between mare and stallion, which certainly brightened up the view from the toilet.
Wandering around the market
Herds of horses at lunch
After a long and very hot drive day we make it to the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve in the early evening. The park ranger canters up to the truck as we approach our camping spot. The reserve is the oldest in Central Asia and covers the north-western mountain chains of the Tian Shan. In the largely flat Kazakhstan the mountains provide some striking contours to the landscape.
We are to spend two days in the park hiking and camping surrounded by spectacular mountain ranges and untold numbers of animals. We spend most of the evening being sucked on by baby cows and occasionally wandering into fully grown ones in the dark.
The following morning Svetlana has managed to arrange a mammoth day ride from one camp to the next, however there are only eight horses and being keen to hike into the Aksu Canyon I decide against it, only to regret my decision a moment later once all the places had been filled.
Despite a severe case of fomo (fear of missing out) I make it to the canyon in good spirits, the spectacular walk down and a promise from Svetlana that I’ll be able to commandeer a horse when they make it back to camp helps raise my spirits. We make it into the canyon in good time and spend an hour at lunch cooling ourselves in the ice cold water before trekking back out.
The girls before the canyon trek
Svetlana teaching us about the local wild life
At the bottom of the canyon
After setting up camp we head out along the top of the canyon to look out for the riders. Before long we see them walking along the ridge looking slightly worse for wear by thoroughly happy with the days activities. As we come across one of the rangers Svetlana explains that I would like a ride and he happily hops down so I can clamber on board. Back at camp the ranger has difficulty removing me from his steed but Teresa wisely ignores my pleas for a truck pet.
Mary has cooked up a storm whilst we have all been off riding and walking and we settle in for the night after a feast of chilli and apple cake cooked over the camp fire.
Wonderful evening at camp
Mary and her sublime apple cake
We raise early for our final day in Kazakhstan. Our stay has been short but wonderfully sweet. The spectacular scenery and incredibly friendly people make this one of the most welcoming and enjoyable countries we’ve been. I think all of us plan to return at a later date to experience some more of this amazing country. So yes, for the Kazakh Seven with all our visa woes, it has been well worth it. We spend the morning wandering around a self sustaining village at the bottom of the mountains. Svetlana imports a wealth of knowledge about the Kazakh people and the way they live, I’d love to tell you some of this but unfortunately I was too busy playing with the puppies, calves and goats.
Calypso in the mountains
Traditional Kazakh breakfast
Making the traditional fermented mares milk, Svetlana assures us it is every bit as nasty as it sounds.
Obligatory shot of the baby animals
We end our time in Kazakhstan at yet another stunning bush camp complete with its own stream, perfect for cooling down and washing away at least some of the four days worth of grime we’ve accumulated.
Calypso getting a wash
The perfect bush camp for our final night
We are sad to say goodbye to this beautiful country but excited about what Kyrgyzstan will hold. More of the same, we hope.