Fri 23 aug 2013 Arrived just outside Aralsk - famous for its inland sea

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August 23rd 2013
Published: October 8th 2014
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At the cafe outside Aral, I met these friends of mine from Kyrgyzstan. They were traveling to Germany on a Schengen visa to buy old Mercedes cars and then drive them back home to sell to their countrymen. They showed an interest in my car, but I refused because I do not know how to ride a camel.
Fri 23 aug 2013

Arrived just outside Aralsk

After breakfast, it was long hot drive towards Aralsk.

I checked into the only hotel in Aralsk for about 6000 Tenge or about £20. The hotel decor must have dated back to the soviet 60’s mixed in with a hotel corridor scene from ‘The shining’ produced by Stanley Kubrick, starring Jack Nicholson - dated and a bit scary. There was no shower in the room or outside, so had to have a ’sponge bath’.

Sat 24 aug 2013

The next morning I hoped for a quick getaway. So once the SatNav was set up and the vehicle checked, I was heading for Taraz.

I encountered a checkpoint just outside Aralsk, so went through the usual document check. Then one of the officer asked me to visit the office. It transpired that I was only given 5 days of stay in Kazakhstan and the visa has to be extended at a police station. So I was detained for visa violation. I was kept there for 2 hours before being led back to main police station in Aralsk. My vehicle was impounded and I was kept in the police station for ages. Then an officer took me into his police car and we drove to pick up a interpreter. This interpreter was a man from Xinjiang in Northwestern China. Back in the police station the interpreter explained the situation to me in fluent Mandarin. I was asked to pay a fine for overstaying my visa and I had to pay a fee to extend my visa. So even though I was allowed 15 days visa-free stay in the country, it had to be renewed every 5 days at a police station. All this visa business was not made clear to me at the point of entry and I could not read the visa document. I did not violate the terms of my stay intentionally. I had the options of writing a confession and pay the fine and visa extension or face jail. I did not want to spend time in jail, so I opted to pay. A heavy fine by local standards.

The policeman allowed me to visit the local ATM cash machine to withdraw some money to pay for the fine (because they had already impounded my car). I handed over the cash and they extended my stay for another 5 days. I was then taken to my vehicle where he removed all the paper seals from the doors, bonnet, etc. So, now the vehicle was also released.

After the fiasco, I was very keen to leave Aralsk, and Kazakhstan within the next 5 days.

The race is on to reach the Kazakhstan- China border in Kashgar. Five days was not a lot of time to travel this big country, Kazakhstan is the world's largest landlocked country by land area. The land area in Kazakhstan is greater than western Europe. Good thing this is a relatively flat country, ideal for a car that does not like going uphill nor does it have good enough brakes to slow it down when going downhill. I felt much safer driving this car now.


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