Boiled Guts and butter tea!
Now in Elista in Russia, half way between Kazakhstan and The Black Sea. Amazingly the population here is mostly Mongolian, still here from Genghis Khans days! Fortunately we have found a cheap Hotel, with the fastest wifi we have had since we started and serves proper russian food, apparantly it is the only place in town.
What a week, 1250 miles travelled from summer (35 degrees) to winter (5 degrees) on really rough roads.
The day after the last update the skies were blue (but the wind kept the temperature down to about 15) so I belted round Khiva for a few more photos before breakfast. Then up to Nukus to an art gallery of works rescued from the Russians and on up to Moynaq where there is an Aral Sea memorial with a number of rusting ships sitting on what was the sea bed, under the cliffs that once overlooked the sea - which is now over 100 miles away. Moynaq was once a thriving fishing village, with cannaries that employed 100's of people, all now closed down. I knew the Aral Sea was shrinking but it is now only 10% of what it was in the 60's (hopefully you will be able to read the photo of the plaque below.
Then to the border - Ye Gods!!! (it was going to be a lot stronger but Chris wouldn't let me). Lonely Planet says there is little traffic on this road - probably because they are all still sitting at the border. The Uzbec side wasn't too bad, 12 cars in front of us, but nothing moved for an hour. When they eventually opened the gates 3 cars went through but the driver of the 4th was missing and the rest were so close they couldn't get round - except me - so - nobody else wants to go? I will - and in we sailed. An hour later we were in no mans land, headed for the gate to Kazakhstan, but was waved to the back of a huge pack of 50 cars in no particular order. I walked to the gate, spoke to the guard and said 'Anglia, Tourist, can I come through?' With a shake of the head he disappeard. I hung around for 10 minutes and amazingly he returned and waved me through! Only to be put in another pack of 15 cars. Another hour went by (with none of the 15 moving) and we were then beckoned through with the two that had arrived in front of us (a Russian and a kazhak that appeared to be together. All in all it took 5 hours. Amazingly it cost nothing, after all the tales this is one area they could make money as I would have gladly greased a few palms to get thorough that lot.
Now dark we decided to push on to Beneu about 40 miles up the road (I use the term loosley as it was almost non existent) but it actually worked well in the dark as there was little traffic and the spots picked out the potholes better than the day time. Little traffic except the accident we came across, where 5 cars had managed to crash into each other! I think we only saw another 5 in the 40 miles and the 'road' was about 8 cars wide!. After Benau the road was so smooth it could have been a GP track and a couple of miles up the road we came across a cafe, that had rooms so there we stayed.
300 miles later we arrived in Atayrau and went round in circles trying to find the centre (Lonely Plane has a map of the centre with various Hotels but we couldn't get on the map). Finally we found a restaurant so I set off on foot to get bearings. When I go back an English guy (Shaun) had spotted the reg and was talking to Chris. He jumped aboard and took us to two Hotels but were both full, then he offered us his annexe and took us to his house. After moving the Hummer out of the way we parked in his yard, next to his MGB and outside his garage with his 1200cc BMW Enduro (which could clearly tell a few tales) and the Hovercraft he is building (the boats were garaged elsewhere). The incredible thing is that he left at 4am the next morning for the UK and left us with the run of the house!
Evan more incredible is that we asked if there was a Toyata Centre in Atayrau and turned out not only is the manager one of his best friends but was due round a couple of hours later to collect his gun, so the service was arranged for the following day.
After ordering in Pizza's he realised that the lady that looks after him when his wife is away had cooked two plates of sausage, mash, peas and gravy (real sausages from England!) and offered these to us on the basis that he would be in England the following day, Chris was reluctant at first but I had no such inhibitions and tucked in - bloody marvelous!
In order to avoid missing his flight (which apparantly he does on a regular basis) we all stayed up till 4am and after a number of beers we downed a half bottle of rum!!! (makes a change from Vodka) and played numerous board games.
It was just as well there was a Toyota Centre as we had had a little trouble starting for a couple of days (after always starting straightaway) but when they came to move it into the service area it wouldn't start and they had to jump start it.
As we had decided to stay another day we left it overnight and collected it in the morning, they had changed the oil and filter, fuel filter, changed the front pads (with a set I was carrying), checked the whole thing over and sorted out the starting problem and would accept nothing for it. Incredible!
Crossing from Kazakhstan into Russia was a civilised 1.5 hours and back on Tom Toms radar finding Hotels is no problem (when they have rooms). The skies are blue and the sun shining, but max temperature is 5 degrees with a bitter cold wind so we are not braving the roof tent for the moment.
We have visited the Kremlin in Astrakhan and a huge Mongolian Budhist Temple here in Elista (certainly much bigger than anything in Mongolia - makes us wonder why we went there at all) will be pushing on towards the Black sea, and hopefully warmer weather tomorrow.
Khiva in the early morning sunshine.
The Tower of Silence. Dating back to 3000AD and where Fire Worshippers used to lay their dead for the sun to bleach their bones.
Jan, a French guy we met in Bukhara and gave a lift to Moynaq, coming down from the Tower of Silence
The ships graveyard at Moynaq