Saturday 24 May - Kizilorda to Shiyeli, 134 km
Up at 5.30, no shower as water cold. A long day, but not too bad. Nice green bushes and small rivers the early part of the day, but later back to dry steppe. The road was good and we had a following wind. Today we cycled in our groups; the Reds let me go ahead with Jean-Jacques and we had a good day. We had a bit of a wait at lunchtime, stopped for some time before the van arrived, which was a big waste of time in the middle of the day.
Arrived in good time at Shiyeli. We stayed in a youth camp in the middle of town. It was divided into big rooms with 15 beds each, a bit close together but pleasant and clean. We walked round to the village Russian baths accompanied by a policeman and got cleaned up. Walked to the tiny village shop, got some toasted bread and an icecream. I had time to read a bit but then the usual concert started up outside the window. Dinner much as usual. Slept covered in mosquito repellent, there were lots here.
Sunday 25 May - Shiyeli
to Janqagorgan, 79 km
Eggs for breakfast, both boiled and fried! With cold pasta. Coffee and bread and jam. Three birthdays today -Andre Arpin, Joel and Pierre. Made very good time today. Stopped at a small café for drinks - I bought a litre of Fanta and drank it all! The people had three little boys and another baby on the way. They had a new house, and behind were a herde of cows and of horses. If that is all theirs they are doing OK!
When we reached Janqagorgan we turned off onto a rough track and found we had a strong cross-wind; it was midday and very hot. We suffered 12 km of this track before arriving at an oasis - a youth camp “Tao Sahal” arranged in bungalows surrounded by trees, lots of rooms inside. I chose a little intermediate room with two other rooms leading off it. There was a housemartens’ nest in one corner and the poor birds didn’t know what to do.
One of the vans has a serious problem. We had to sort out the luggage; some people (the blues and greens) won’t have their big bags for 2 days, and none of
us will have our mattresses, just camp beds. The van was towed away by one of the lorries, they had to go as far as Shimkent to get it fixed and left Jean (it is the van he drives) there in a hotel.
There were cold communal showers. Andre Arpin bought beers for all the Red group for his birthday and we sat under a shelter and drank and chatted . There are lots of little shelters to sit in the shade. There are two little brooks running through, and some newly constructed (and excavated) toilets.
At 6 pm there was a concert in a sort of marquee, where we later ate dinner. The usual loud singing and graceful dancing; this time there was also a live rock band. It was a bit cold at night, several people said they woke up and put clothes on (as did I).
Monday 26 May - Janqagorgan to Turkestan, 130 km
Loaded the beds into the lorry then breakfast at 6. Potatoes and meat swimming in fat. Very tasty potatoes. Lots of flat bread. Coffee with milk eventually. Had a bit of cheese. Left at 7 to return along yesterday’s rough track. It
wasn’t so bad without the wind and in the morning cool. In total it was 18 miles back to where we left the main road - but it was a nice oasis.
The landscape today was quite nice, some trees and animals and villages. The Reds stopped late morning at a little bar, I actually got a coffee, a rarity here. It was hot but a bit cloudy; 39 degrees in the afternoon. Lunch was cracked wheat and meat, and a huge flat local bread. I had some cheese and an apple and gave the rest of the bread, and the apple peel, to some local donkeys, which seemed appreciative.
The wind got up in the afternoon, which seems to be the usual pattern. I cycled with various groups, but ended up with just JJ at the entrance to the town. We were escorted by a car towards the hotel, but were overtaken by a group of Greens with a noisy police car. I was the first woman to arrive today.
We are in two hotels, most of the men in one, we 4 women in a rather cramped 4-bed room. I got first shower and the best bed -
in a corner, the other three are in line with not much space between. There is a famous mausoleum here - took a picture from the hotel window - there was a visit to the museum and mausoleum but I missed these as I went out to look for a shop and a bank. Found a little shop and bought biscuits and cheese and water. The zip on my Rostov bumbag broke in the shp, but I was able to mend it at the hotel. I didn’t find a bank.
Tuesday 27 May - Turkestan to Tortkol, 73 km
Breakfast at 6, quite good, everyone got a plate with a fried egg, cucumber, tomato, 3 olives, butter and cheese and a slice of fried sausage. There was also honey, served in wine glasses to share between several people. Apparently the breakfast at the other hotel was very poor.
My front tyre was a bit soft so I pumped it up, but it went down again (my 5th puncture) and the Reds helped change the tube. They put in a new tube supplied by Andre Arpin. Today was very short, one pee stop, one stop at a shop, and arrived at 11.10 am! It was quite fast on good flat roads, and I just managed to keep up with the Reds.
On arrival we put our bikes in a building under construction and ate our picnics at tables in a restaurant room in the building. I mended my inner tube, put a mended tube in my front tyre, and gave the good tube back to Andre. My cycle computer quit working when the wheel was taken out this morning.
Walked a km or so to the new school building where we are sleeping in a gym. No water. New earth toilet block, very smelly. I helped unload the mattresses from the lorry then walked with a small group to some natural hot spring showers. The water was very hot and flows continuously from pipes coming out of the wall. I washed out my cycling clothes.
On the way back I talked to out Kazakh interpreter, Andrei, who told me he is of Russian origin, was a child in Siberia and moved to Kazakhstan when he was 10. He is a student and plans to be a translator. Kazakhstan became independent 15 years ago after being part of the USSR for 70 years, and a colony of Russia for 200.
This part of Kazakhstan is much more affluent: lots of nice new cars pass us on the roads, BMWs and Mercedes and such, there is a lot of new building going on. There are a lot of animals in the green countryside: sheep, cows, goats, horses and donkeys. Near the town we saw a lot of old cars again belonging to the locals, and there were animals in the streets and between the houses.
Wednesday 28 May - Tortkol to Shimkent, 90 km
Breakfast at the place we left the bikes and ate last night. Fortunately my mended tyre appeared to be holding up, although the computer is still not working. Mid-morning we stopped at a museum in honour of some local wrestling hero; I got a cup of coffee at a local bar. After the stop I tried to keep up with the Reds but it was harder today and hilly - low hills, but continuous - and in the afternoon very hot with no cloud. Lunch stop was at a place where there was a bar/restaurant. I got a beer and ate my sandwich. The restaurant had an outdoor kitchen with three built-in cauldrons like those in Roman wine shops, and a tandoor where they were cooking meat pasties stuck to the walls in the same way that naan bread is cooked. The food looked good, though not for me.
Around 3 pm we arrived in a big city with wide streets, modern buildings and traffic. There was a welcome ceremony in a car park, then we were escorted some 8 km to our hotel - which is excellent. I have a huge airconditioned room to share with Liliane. Unfortunately she doesn’t like A/C and we had a bit of a struggle to reach a compromise on this. However, by the second day she even switched it on voluntarily.
I had a shower (excellent) and did the washing and hung it out on one of our 3 balconies, then relaxed and read a bit. Went out to dinner by taxi and joined a party at a new restaurant which was quite good, but very expensive. There were Jean-Jacques, Marc, Lionel, Michel Bedard, the Spanish couple, and a Turkish friend called Mustapha who had recommended the restaurant. I had an omelette and roast vegetables and even a dessert, and drank a huge Kazakh brandy (supposed to be an aperitif, but lasted the meal!) I had to borrow 1000 from JJ to pay my share of the bill - 7600 tengue.
Thursday 29 May - Shimkent
Good breakfast - eggs, yoghurt, coffee, black bread, jam and honey. Cleaned shoes, washed rucksack, did some computer tapping, went to lunch. Out to Internet Café - since they told me the WiFi at the hotel didn’t work - and did all my email. Went to a shopping centre and got a couple of souvenirs, then to a supermarket for supplies. On the way back went into a little shop and tried on some tops, bought an animal print one for 850 tengue.
At 6 pm there was a video show of the stuff that appears on the French website. It only went as far as Serbia, which was a bit disappointing as I thought it would be up to date. Dinner at 7.30 with concomitant ceremony and a concert with a big music ensemble, singing and dancing and accordionist. Andrei our interpreter did 2 numbers on accordion.
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