I was fearing the border crossing to Kazakhstan from Kyrgyzstan, just north of Bishkek and most of my fears came true*. I would like to call it the worst border crossing I've been to, though all in all, despite some confusion, we crossed in probably 2 hours, which is pretty remarkable. Still the fact that people in camouflaged balaclavas are milling around the Kazakh side armed to the teeth was a bit unnerving to say the least.
We filled up without issue and on we went to Almaty [Pronounced Al-Murray]. We then spotted a Mongol Rally ambulance in a scenic lay-by (above). We stopped, chatted and with the 3 girls and 2 boys of that team [They hadn't seem to have decided on a name] and they kindly made us some Earl Grey tea. Yes, they were English too. They had been in Kazakhstan for 3 days already, and were taking it slow.
We made it to Almaty, a place I actually visited 7 years ago, to be met with my old Russian Kazakh friend Ivan. I incorrectly remembered Almaty as being quite small and initially I felt confident I would find the centre. Second time around Almaty seems to have changed dramatically. Many more cars and buildings.
Ivan did find me and on we went together with the 3 Icelanders to find an apartment. The first lady swiftly excused herself from offering a flat after seeing us... 3 of us had long beards, all of us had tans, shorts and looked pretty ragged.
Eventually Jamie and I stayed at Ivan's and we found a place for the 3 Icelanders really close to city centre. Not without incident, since we had dinner before where we all had a glass of beer. Ivan then said, in no uncertain terms that we could not possibly drive, since Kazakhstan is zero tolerant on alcohol (which we didn't know, apparently enforced by police using just their noses). We tried to go out though a couple of us still had diarrhoea and the bar we initially went to had a private function. At 1am we were all glad to get some sleep. What a long day...
Speaking with Ivan the next day, he seemed incredulous that we have driven all this way. Through Kyrgyzstan which he regards as being very unsafe, and then onto Russia which is 3 days solid drive away. He also informed us there is a petrol crises in Kazakhstan, making it hard to find fuel. Not again I thought... most of central Asia and even Iran can have long queues for petrol. It was particularly bad in Uzbekistan. Though we have avoided most issues so far, I guess mainly due to friendly locals sharing private stock.
The days we spent recovering and catching up on the few days we were off the Internet. The Icelanders left for Astana yesterday (Sunday 28th), though I was too ill to leave. Also Ivan's mother was very kindly cleaning our laundry.
It's Monday morning now and we've packed up after enjoying a couple of poached eggs for breakfast. It's time for the 16-20hr drive north to Astana.
* False. Kai told me that the Kazakh border would be the most corrupt and dodgy border that we would encounter. I was asked for $10 in order to re-enter the border after accidentally leaving it, but I didn't pay and we didn't lose any money or possessions, unlike many other borders that we have crossed so far.