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Published: December 20th 2013
Cycling from Taraz – Shymkent – Saryagash (Tashkent border)
I expected Southern Kazakhstan to be flat and easy but it turned to be pretty hilly and windy… Surprise!
The first thing I noticed after entering Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan was the gas stations. They were to be found every 2 or 3km. They all looked very new and flashy, with great colorful billboards announcing them. The second thing that caught my eye was that there was always a pipeline along any road I took until I entered the city of Taraz. If you’ve looked at my last blog (from Bishkek to Taraz) on the mountains of Western Kyrgyzstan, you may have seen a picture of smog hanging above Taraz. Well, the city was surrounded by power plants and all kinds of industries. Coming from the quiet and pollution-free mountains next door, it wasn’t exactly too pleasant.
The city center of Taraz was nevertheless quiet and relaxing. Taraz is far from being an exciting city to hang out but people were friendly and it was easy to get around on a bike with most streets being very large avenues. The hotel I stayed at gave me a big discount. I
had a nice meal at a Russian restaurant (but the cook was Turkish) and it was nice to get back on the Internet since I hadn’t found a single working connection since Bishkek (In Talas, Kyrgyzstan, I found an Internet café with no internet…).
I got back on the road the very next day and got to see the vastness of Kazakhstan. You need to imagine vast extents of land on each side of the road. Brown ploughed dusty fields (in November) with a few cowboys keeping an eye on the cattle and the sheep.
I had planned on spending a bit of time in Shymkent to visit a few holly places around the city but, and this doesn’t happen often, I didn’t like the city at all! First of all, Shymkent is extremely spread out and I had to ride for almost 10km across it to get to a hotel. On my guide book, I had one address but when I asked people for directions, whether I used the new name or the former name of the avenue I was looking for, people didn’t know, or they sent me in the wrong direction, or worse they told
me to go screw myself, being all the more explicit by showing me the finger… I couldn’t tell you why. Whenever I approach people, I smile a lot; I greet them both in their language and in English. I don’t know, I must have been unlucky and only picked people who for some reason resent cyclo-tourists with a yellow jacket and limited Russian vocabulary… I didn’t feel welcome at all. It seemed like people were either afraid of me or simply didn’t want to help.
I ended up finding a few hotels but they were pricey (around 80-100 dollars). At last, 3 hours after entering Shymkent (I should have bought a GPS, right?) I walked in a cheaper hotel. Happy to drop my bags and take a warm shower after 2 days on the road, I asked the receptionist where I could register at the Immigration Police. In Kazakhstan, foreigners are supposed to register at the Immigration Police if they stay more than 5 days in the country. As I was asking the young lady at the front desk a few questions, I felt a hand caressing my back! Oh yes, not a tap, not a quick touch, but
a slow rub. Completely startled, I jumped aside and realized it wasn’t a sexy blond behind me (as you could expect in this part of Central Asia!) but a tall ugly mafia-looking man with dark stubble and features, a leather jacket and black army shoes. WTF?! For a second I thought he was a policeman who wanted to ask me a few questions, but after I asked him several times not to touch me, and he saw that I was mad, the only thing he could say was “What’s up?” many times. Weird! I am French and where I come from men touch each other, we shake hands, kiss each other. It’s okay for a guy to put his hand on my shoulder and I am not in any way paranoid, or trying to act all too manly… But I really felt ill at ease. As I was walking away, the young receptionist told me this man just wanted to be “socializable.” Heu?... (You guys friends with Borat?!)
After this little incident I wasn't in the mood to go back to the reception desk to ask about where I could possibly register at the Immigration and I decided to
get back on the road the very next day. I didn't’t take a single picture of Shymkent. This tells you much about the mood I was in.
More fields, more emptiness, more donkeys and shepherds… some nice and quiet camping (no one rubbing my back!) and here I was at the Kazakh-Uzbek border, north of Tashkent. There were thousands of people lined up at 9am (Uzbek cotton field workers going home for the winter?). It was cold. Every single man was wearing a dark jacket and I really stood out with my yellow jacket and big bike with the red panniers! The border guards were extremely nice to me and they helped me fill in the immigration form (all in Russian) and took me to the very front of the very long line. I felt bad about this privilege (I have no doubt some people had to line up for 5 hours at least) but the other people all got out of the way, and some even helped me carry my bike through many doors, stairways and security checks inside. It was a bit weird to roll my bike inside the buildings, especially when every single hallway was packed
with people. Anyhow, it only took me an hour to go through the whole process. I declared how much money I was taking in Uzbekistan, went back and forth 2 desks to get the right stamp on my visa, and on a sunny morning on November 13, 2013, I found myself cycling in Uzbekistan. Great life! I feel so lucky! ;-)
Tot: 2.419s; Tpl: 0.069s; cc: 11; qc: 34; dbt: 0.0397s; 2; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb