Sept. 12 (Camping)

We were going to start riding in the morning after breakfast. There was however one more thing, which I thought was a minor Todo item at best: At the border when we entered Kazakhstan, we were told that we needed to register with the immigration department within 5 days or we’d get in trouble. I asked about this at the hotel reception, and with the help of some other guests who could translate, we were told that the hotel could only register us for the duration of our stay there, and if we wanted to register more permanently, we would have to visit a government office that was close by. We started walking in the direction that she gestured, and eventually entered a bank. I asked a security guard there where to go, and he gestured in another direction. Walking that way down the street another few hundred meters, we reached a government building, where a friendly security guard directed us to a second floor office. There a lady looked at our papers, and then wrote an address on a piece of paper. This we gave to a taxi driver outside, who drove us to the indicated place. There was another smaller government office, where a dozen people were waiting in front of a dark window. We waited for a while, but as the queue did not seem to be making any progress, we left to do some grocery shopping. On our return, we were allowed to cut to the head of the queue due to being clueless tourists. (Being a tourist in Kazakhstan seems to grant celebrity-like status. We are constantly being stopped on the street as people ask where we come from, where we’re going, what brand our motorcycles are, etc. In traffic people honk and wave at us all the time. It is pretty cool in a way.) There a clerk spoke German, and she gave us a new address to go to. We took a second taxi ride to the new destination. There a police man motioned us to knock on a small dark window. We were given two forms to fill out, unfortunately it was in Russian (or Kazakh?) and contained about two dozen fields. I tried to use my amazing Russian skills but by the time I managed to decipher about three of the fields, Jerome has found a German speaking local named Andrei who kindly enough filled out the entire form for us. I then filled out the second form based on his example, and handed them in through the window.

We were eventually invited inside an office where four Russian domina style police women earned their living: All wore tight fitting police uniforms along with long hair, long painted nails, absurdly high heels, and masses of gold and diamond bling-bling. They were however very friendly, and one of them even spoke some English. Apparently they did not see tourists who needed to get registered very often, but eventually figured out the process, and within an hour we were out of there with a registration stamp until the 20th. They told us that we have to re-register after that date. Fortunately we have no intention of staying in this country beyond that date.

Unfortunately due to this delay it was around 2 PM when we finally rode out of the city, in the direction of Aktobe. We rode about 300 km through sunshine and beautiful landscapes. The countryside here is completely flat, with no trees. There are only grasslands and gigantic wheat fields, larger than one can see, continuous over dozens of kilometers, under an enormous sky.

The road was also perfect: Flawless tarmac alternated with completely deteriorated roads, destroyed to the point where many cars and trucks preferring to drive alongside the road in the dirt, which was at least free of craters. But these bad sections only lasted a few kilometers each, ending at the point where this off-road driving was changing from fun/challenging to tiring.

Around 8 PM (after 6 hours of riding, with just few minute stops to fill up gas and munch some cookies) we rode through the town of Zhailma, which looked like a war zone. Most buildings were in ruins, and livestock were grazing around a few inhabited shacks. We decided to ride back half a km where we saw some small hills (otherwise the landscape was still completely flat) behind which we could hide our bikes and tent from the road. We still had half an hour to pitch our tent (the new one we got in Ulan Bator after our own tents turned out to be inadequate). We unpacked it for the first time, and were surprised to see that it was indeed “The North Face” brand, rather than a cheap imitation that we assumed it was. Both of us and all our stuff fit comfortably, and it was clearly also water proof thanks to having two layers. We pitched the tent wearing full bike apparel, gloves, and closed helmets, because an incredible army of mosquitoes assaulted as as soon as we got off the bikes.

We were only able to disrobe after zipping the tent closed, and while inside we heard their buzzing until they eventually gave up in the cold night. We had some herring and tuna from cans with bread for dinner. The night was surprisingly chilly, we ended up wearing two layers of clothing inside the sleeping bags. My sleeping bag is rated as being good down to -4 degrees, but I am not sure what the assumptions are regarding attire within the bag under such conditions. I am pretty sure one would freeze without wearing a winter coat inside.

I had some pretty amazing nightmares, either due to the cold, or due to the benzene fumes — my sleeping bag was packaged in the same backpack as our reserve fuel canister. The first one started by me getting frustrated with all the mosquitoes in the night. I decided to drive my Cadillac home. Back home my dad got tickets for the two of us to go watch some erotic art-house cinema show, I however realized that I left all my luggage and belongings with Jerome in Kazakhstan, and neglected to help him with tearing down the tent. I felt really bad about this but could not bring myself to cancel the show with my dad, as I did not want to disappoint him. I woke up in the middle of the night, relieved to find that I am freezing in a tent in the dark in Kazakhstan in the middle of nowhere, and the uncomfortable social situation was just a dream.

I went to sleep again, at which point the dream continued, bizarrely enough. At this point I seem to have sorted matters regarding Jerome and my luggage, and was with my dad at a dinner reception after the show, which seemed to have had a strange lady-boy theme. At the reception they were serving meaty human skulls. I asked if this was not considered cannibalism, at which point the hostesses comforted me that the skulls did not actually contain human remains, they were merely very realistic imitations. They pointed out that there were also heads of dinosaurs, rhinoceros, and other fantasy creatures ready for eating, which were clearly not real either. I was quite excited to try some of these creations when it was announced that the kitchen has run out of servings, and I was merely offered a nutritious vitamin pill instead. I again woke up quite disconcerted and spent the rest of the night just dozing until 7 AM, when it started getting light. We had some salami with our remaining bread, tore down the tent, and were on the road by 9 AM.

Here are some camping pix. Jerome was so fast tearing down the tent that I neglected to take a picture of it in time:










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