One of the ships waiting outside the port finally docked and I worked out from the name on the side that it was my boat. I took my documents to the office and they told me there was a problem with customs because the bike had been in the country more than 3 days. I tried to explain that it had been parked in customs at the Old Port but it wouldn't wash and I was told I had to go to the main customs office to pay a fine.
We didn't have much time and I had to get a fast taxi into the city with a guy from the port who new the system and where to go. I paid a $25 dollar fine at the customs office and was given the necessary paperwork to show at the port and we headed back at break neck pace.
I finally boarded the ship at about 15.30 and was shown a pretty shabby cabin where I could get my head down. We left port for Aktau Kazakhstan at about 21.00 and I had a feeling my trip was really just beginning.
I cooked up some food in the cabin (noodles and sausage) using my gas stove and was worried that this was going to get me in trouble. I had the port hole open and was wafting the smells out in the hope I wouldn't get sussed. The cabin had 4 bunks and I had read about cramped conditions on these boatrs so I was counting myself lucky to get a cabin to myself.
My camera has gone on the blink and won't focus properly as you can see from the last picture. This is a real nuisance and I will probably have to buy another but not sure when I will get chance.
The toilet facilites are a real disgrace and I am hoping we don't get stuck outside Aktau port for 3 days in the same way the previous people had. I can’t find any showers on the ship but I have a sink in my capin so it is not too bad. On the plus side, the ship is incredibly quiet and smooth and I left the cabin window open to listen to the sea while I dozed off.
Woke about 4.30am so got up early, made some coffee, and went on deck to watch the sun rise. Unfortunately it was cloudy so no show but it was still nice to see the day emerging over the horizon. The top deck was deserted and really eerie, almost like a ghost ship. Later on I went for another stroll around the deck and had Chai with the skipper who told me he had worked on the ships in Newcastle England.
We arrived at Aktau about 19.00 but didn’t get off ship until 21.00. I was talking to the Turkish wagon drivers and they were also glad to have finally arrived. We went by bus to a port building and through passport control then it was back to the ship to unload vehicles. I was then told I had to leave bike in customs at the port until tomorrow.
I didn't want to pay for a taxi so started walking towards Aktau town with my rucksack. It was hot and dark and the walk turned into a nightmare hike. I had mis-calculated how far it was and was considering sleeping rough. I managed to get some Kazak cash from a randomly placed ATM and stopped at a petrol station to get a much needed drink. A local guy who was buying fuel heard me talking and helped me get served. He then came over and offered me a lift to a hotel. His name was Denis and he was a lawyer. He had his family with 2 kids in the car and they were really nice. He tried 2 hotels and I eventually got a room sorted at the 'Green Hotel' for $40.
The room was nice enough but I took a shower and as soon as I lay down I realised I had heat stroke and couldn't stop shivering. It passed eventually and I managed to re-hydrate and get some sleep.
Wednesday 13 June, Day 41 - Aktau - Beyneu, Kazakhstan
I had a great hotel breakfast with 2 sausages and 2 fried eggs. Yoghurt, jam, and pancakes and really good coffee. Then I took a taxi to the port. The driver was a swine and made it clear he was going to charge me extra for waiting outside the hotel. I was pissed off as I didn't think he had waited more than 30 seconds. I told him he could swivel and he carried on driving. When we got there he wrote down the pice and had added a quid on. It wasn't too bad so I paid it and grunted.
Getting through customs was a nightmare and the staff were less than helpful. I had to pay about $20 customs duty which I didn't understand but it didn't seem to bad. My first impressions of the Kazak people though was not good. I eventually cleared customs around 11am after having to ride and walk around the port to get the 4 stamps I needed on the documentation. It was bloody hot and I was sweating up again.
I rode into Aktau looking for somewhere to get a camera and noticed there were traffic Police everywhere. I had heard they could be awkward and dish out random fines. Sure enough, I was waved down by one and he asked where I was going etc. I showed him my docs and was waiting for him to find my damaged indicator when luckily another car drew his attention and I managed to sneak off.
I decided to get out of town asap and managed to find the road to Beyneu after first ending up at the airport. It was getting hotter and hotter and I was tempted to ride in my t-shirt but resisted. The road surface was pretty good so far and I stopped for a welcome cold drink. I spoke to a guy in the cafe and he warned me about Ali Babas and that I should keep an eye on my bike. There are masses of camels wandering all over the place and they are a constant hazard on the road.
The road turned bad from Shipte towards Beyneu and gradually got worse and worse. This was the worst road I have seen and the wagons kicking up dust and gravel made it even more unpleasant. I was beginning to regret the amount of luggage I was carrying and flt that the constant vibration and potholes must be taking a toll on the bike.
It was not helped by the surroundings and the barren steppe either side of the highway gave no chance of resting places. The road surface consisted of rocks, gravel, deep ruts filled with dust, and huge potholes. I came to grief going through a rut filled with deep dust and was lucky to get clear of the bike. I was annoyed more than anything and when I looked back at the rut there were 2 iron hoops buried in the dust that must have brought me down.
I quickly got the luggage off and stood the bike up. Luckily there seemed to be no real damage done and I loaded up and got moving again. The nightmare continued for mile after sweltering mile and I was so glad when finally the road turned to tarmac. I pulled off at a small town to look for a campsite but it was pretty grim and I wasn't sure about staying. I spoke to a boy on a bicycle called Lucas to ask if there was a store, he was wearing a Tevez Argentina shirt. He took me to a Café Bar and when I walked in I was so surprised to find a pristine bar with TV, air conditioning, and pretty barmaid. It was really surreal!
I couldn't resist it and asked for a draught beer. The barmaid produced a large frozen stein glass and served the best pint I think I have ever had. I just had to have another and it was tempting to stay and get slammed but I said my goodbyes and moved on. There was no benzine available in the town so I set off again hoping to see somewhere just outside town to sleep and get fuel.
Pretty soon the road turned bad again and it was just going dusk when I came off again in deep gravel on an incline. I had riding too fast and confident after my 2 beers and regretted the second pint. This was a worse crash and I scraped my leg a little and wrecked my right boot.
It was getting dark and I was very tired so I gave in and pulled off onto the steppe at the side of the road and was relieved to find the ground was firm. Slept on ground sheet for an hour then 2 kazak lads in a transit stopped and told me it wasn’t safe. I thought they looked like troouble but they were sound enough and made signs for snakes and spiders to explain their concern for me. I took the hint and packed up and moved off again.
At about 1.30am I finally spotted a small building with a light on at the side of the road and pulled over. It wasn't obvious that this was a cafe but I looked in through the door and found five men lying down drinking tea and eating. There was a window in the wall inside to order your food and drink from and I got a bottle of ice cold Aqua and sat down to drink. I was just glad of a safe place to rest for a while. After 20 mins or so the other men left and I went outside and slept on and next to the bike until daylight.
Thursday 14 June, Day 42 - Aktau - Bejneu, Kazakhstan
Up early and made some noodles and sardines for breakfast then got back onto the road from hell towards Beyneu. The road was still just as bad and I was running low on gas when I was extremely glad to reach a tarmac stretch. I was about 16km from the next gas station when I ran out. I must have ridden past a gas station during the night.
I pushed the bike off the road to a patch of trees and found there was a shack with a strange Kazak guy in it wearing a vest and flat cap. He was great and I offered him some cash for water. I got changed out of my bike gear to hitch into town with a can and the Kazak guy hung up my socks to dry. They were soaked in sweat not water.
I managed to thumb a lift in the slowest wagon on the road and when the road turned bad again I got a taste of what it was like travelling over the bumps on 4 wheels not 2. He dropped me at a gas station and they had run out of 95 but the attendant syphoned some out of his own tank for me and arrange a lift back to the bike. I said my goodbyes to the guy in the shack and he wished me luck.
When I got to Beyneu I filled up and was disappointed to find the fueling method is pre-payment which makes it difficult to fill up properly. I reached a place called Dosser and was told the road to Makat was similar to Beyneu and that I should go to Atyrau and then head north to Uralsk to avoid it. I was having more problems with the fuel and regretted filling up with cheap 92 Octane. The 92 is 1.10 Tenge and the 95 is 1.40 Tenge (about 70 pence a litre)
I also spotted a small oil leak which looks to have been caused by the rear brake lever hitting the engine casing when I crashed. Stopped just short of Atyrau at a roadside café and had some soup and meat. Asked if I could sleep there and was shown a dorm room which I had to myself for 1000 Tenge (about 5 quid). It was only 8.30 but I parked the bike round the back and went straight to bed and didn't move till morning.
Friday 15 June – Day 43
I got up early and went for a pee but was absolutely mobbed by mosquitoes. I saddled up quick smart and decided to head for Atyrau to try and register my visa. If no joy I will push on for Uralsk and try again. Depending what happens, I will then either cross straight into Russia or head for Aktjubinsk.
The landscape is gradually getting greener and more fertile looking. There are also less camels wandering around but more cattle, horses, and goats straying onto the road.
Reached Atyrau but it was huge and I just wasn't in the mood for battling through a town so I decided to push on for Uralsk. I arrived there about 16.30 so it was too late to look for the immigration office where I believe I can register my visa for free. Uralsk has a much more Russian than Asian feel and i found out it is actually closer to Vienna than the capital Almaty which explains it.Stopped for a couple of beers at a restaurant and was paying 1.90 Tenge for a large stein. I worked my way back to the edge of town where I had seen a truckers Motel and paid 5000 Qapek (about 25 pounds) for a nice big room with air conditioning and private bathroom. Got showered and went to the truckers café where I had meat and potatoes and a couple of beers before turning in for another early night.