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Published: October 2nd 2014
My two Russian friends at the cafe outside Astrakhan. He told me the area benefited economically from fishing by the rich Russians and the local oil industry.
First serious off road driving
The area between Liman and Astrakhan was sandy, I think it was part of the seabed of the Caspian and the lovely tarmacked road disappeared and it turned into a white single lane sandy track.
For the first time on this trip, I was able to take the car off-road and drive it hard. The E119 still appeared as a purple line on my SatNav, but on the road it was just a sandy dirt track surrounded by flat featureless and desolate landscape. The area was also quite windy because it was beside the Casian sea. For four hours I was driving on this white sandy stuff and occasionally hitting large puddles of muddy water. I was amazed by the Mercedes G wagon's ability to handle itself off-road. Until now the car was pretty useless on normal roads. It struggles uphill by overheating the engine and going downhill made me wonder if I can make it alive at the bottom of the road because of the poor brakes. Here on the sandy track it was in its elements, the car preformed flawlessly and for the first time I was having fun driving. This 3
Long queue to the border crossing.
tonne monster of a 4x4 overcame all the challenges I threw at it. Now it made sense for me to bring a heavy 4x4 vehicle on this trip.
By noon I arrived at Astrakhan, famous for its rocket launch and development site.
I stopped at a cafe outside Astrakhan for a cold drink and coffee and had a chat with the Russian cafe owner. Next door to the cafe was a car wash and I decided to give the car a wash because it was covered in sand and mud. one hour later, the car was clean and shiny. Ready to cross the Russian - Kazakhstan border.
Drove into Astrakhan and it was a big city, full of traffic. Eventually, I stopped for lunch outside a restaurant that served kebabs. The SatNav also gave me trouble because my route was blocked because of roadwork and it was unable to take a detour to a road to the border crossing.
After eating a delicious lunch I tried to ask for directions by muttering the word “Kazakhstan” to the manager. This man must have seen many tourists like me and quickly asked his friend to take me onto
Oil leaked onto my front tyre.
the road leading to the border crossing. After following this man for about 20 minutes he stopped and said carry on this road to Kazakhstan. I offered the kind man some Russian ruble but he won’t take it. That is what I call hospitality.
Three hours later, I arrived at the Russian - Kazakhstan border crossing near КАРАОЗЕК. It took nearly 4 hours to cross the border to Kazakhstan. I had problem explaining to the Kazakhstan immigration officer about visa requirements. He keep asking for a visa and I said I am entitled 15 days visa free travel in Kazakhstan. After a long standoff, a more senior officer appeared checked the rules and then allowed me into the country. After the vehicle check, I was finally in Kazakhstan, but by that time it was dark. It was too dark to drive to the next city so I decided to camp overnight near the border crossing where I can get some food and drink. It was also safer because there were lots of people at the border crossing.It was a restless night because somebody tried to open my car door in the middle of the night.
next morning, I realised that ATM machines are rare, so I plucked up my courage and changed some of my Euro for some of their Tenge. There were many money changing people there, so I quickly found someone to do the exchange in currency. The exchange rate was approximately £1 to 300 Tenge. Armed with some Tenge and breakfast, I was glad to leave the Kazakh border.
Within minutes, I was taken back by the poor condition of the road. It was worst than the Bulgarian roads I traveled on. There were many potholes of different shapes and sizes. there were some holes that I would not describe as potholes but more accurately described a craters. I was glad that I fitted front and rear heavy duty shock absorbers on the vehicle for this trip. The state of the roads were so bad that frequently oncoming vehicles will drive on my side of the road to avoid these potholes posing danger to me as I am driving. The WC facility was also very basic, it consisted of a hole dug in the ground with a wooden hut over it. There were also plenity of flies around.
Panoramic view of the border crossing.
stop was the city of Atyrau 350 km from Astrakhan, famous for its oil and fish industries. The inhabitants of this city are mainly Kazakhs (90%), the rest are Russians and other ethnic groups.
Unlike other places along the road, this city exuded lots of wealth. The roads were smooth tarmac, lots of tall shiny buildings, lots of new white expensive vehicles - (Toyota Landcruisers and Hiluxes are very popular with the locals with money). A hotel room was about £100 a night - ouch! I looked for somewhere more affordable to stay.
An evening meal can cost nearly £30- ouch!
I was bitten by many mosquitoes. I did not like Atyrau, not only did they take my money, but wanted my blood as well.
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