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Goodbye Kazakhstan!

After only two days in Kazakhstan we have to say goodbye again and move on to Kyrgyzstan. You may ask why we spent only two days in Kazakhstan which is very short for such a big country. Well, originally we didn’t plan to go to Kazakhstan at all but enter Kyrgyzstan directly from Uzbekistan. However, the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) advised against all but essential travel to the Kyrgyz oblasts (provinces) of Osh and Jalal-Abad. Therefore, we changed our plan to avoid the southern region of Kyrgyzstan and instead visit Kazakhstan for two nights en route to northern Kyrgyzstan, the region our travel will concentrate on. Safety always comes first and as much as we love to travel to remote places the less we would like to find us in danger.

I really enjoyed our short stay in Kazakhstan and definitely will come back one day. Ideally, I would like to do a self-drive tour for 2-3 weeks visiting a number of small villages and staying with the locals. I was also surprised how much truth about Kazakhstan is in the movie “Borat”. It’s not only our local guide Svetlana who has the same accent as Borat but there are also lots of jokes in the movie which are actually true. For instance when a boy likes a girl he’s not expressing this by saying “I love you” but by kidnapping her. Svetlana also told us after the release of the movie less Americans came to visit Kazakhstan. I’m wondering why this is the case since the “US and A”, as Borat calls the country, is treated as an example for the future development of Kazakhstan.

After a night in the house of our local guide Svetlana we got up around 7am. Breakfast was cornflakes, same as we had for dinner last night. Isabella also had a chat with Svetlana’s husband who has a deep knowledge in the fauna of the area. His main field of study is the snow leopard which is very rare to see and part of the endangered species list. He even published a book on this species which he proudly showed around.

Svetlana’s house is situated in a very scenic spot in the small village of Zhabagly. From there you have a nice view at the surrounding meadows and mountains. There is also a small river flowing through the garden which some of us used to clean our muddy shoes from yesterday’s hiking. Heating and cooking is done with gas delivered by yellow pipes which you can find in the whole village.

We started driving at 8am towards the Kyrgyzstan border. Svetlana joined us to support us with the border crossing procedures at the Kazakhstan side. We stopped around 12pm to prepare lunch from the truck. It always looks very funny when we set up our camping equipment right next to the road. It consists of tables, stools, grey boxes with cooking utensils and bowls for washing up. Everything has its place and it’s kind of a routine for us. One example is the bowls. Two of them are for hand-washing (one with soap and one with Dettol). The other three are for washing dishes (one with soap, one with Dettol and one with clear water). The usage of an antiseptic should avoid us from spreading germs and stay healthy.

While we preparing lunch our driver Sam spotted a crack on one of the tires. We probably damaged it during yesterday’s drive on the muddy road. So before it will flatten in a couple of miles, he and Jason quickly exchanged it. Our lunch and tire changing stop also attracted some visitors. For instance one of the big commercial trucks stopped, offered us help with the tire changing and had a curious look at our truck. He even asked us if we would mind posing with him for a photo.

Crossing the border into Kyrgyzstan was very painless and didn’t take much more than one hour. At the Kyrgyz side of the border we also met our new local guide named Radik. He will only be with us for the first few days of our journey in Kyrgyzstan since our actual guide is still busy with another group. Radik used to be a guide for heli-skiing on the Kamchatka Peninsula. He will spend the summer in Kyrgyzstan since his father moved here. Unfortunately Radik didn’t prove himself to be helpful. He didn’t even have an idea about the stuff guides are expected to know such as activities we can do in the area or how to extend a visa which I need to deal with during the next days.

After crossing the border I changed some money. I changed Euro for my personal spending money and also US Dollar for the kitty I’m taking care of during this leg of the trip. We arrived in Bishkek in the late afternoon where we stayed in an Asian style hotel named “Asia Mountains”. Just around the corner of the hotel was a German type of brewery named “Steinbräu” where most of us went for dinner. The items on the menu were pretty interesting especially because I haven’t seen them in Germany such as a Bavarian rice dish.

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