Tuk to the Road

The trials and tukulations of Jo, Ants and Ting Tong the tuk tuk and our three-wheeled odyssey from Bangkok to Brighton...in aid of the mental health charity Mind. For more information please see www.tuktotheroad.com

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Welcome to Kazakhstan

Almaty, 11th July

We woke up at 6.45am yesterday morning and packed up TT before leaving Saryam Lake and heading to the border. Well, that was the plan anyway. It was about 5C and bloody freezing. Our fingers went numb and we had problems undoing TT's dressing gown (pink rain covers). Once everything was loaded Ants turned the key in the ignition. Can you guess what happened next? NOTHING! As I have previously said, TT is a tropical tuktuk and doesn't like the cold. We tried to start her on and off for about 20 minutes, pausing so we didn't flood the engine. She did start 3 times, but cut out straight away. Jack, Ants and myself tried to push her backwards up a slope, but she was too heavy for us to push her. Eventually, some locals turned up and we pushed her up the slope and onto the road, before bump starting her successfully. Drama over and it was only about 8am. Ants found the whole experience quite stressful, while I chose to laugh and use the opportunity to kickstart my nicotine fix. I would have started to get stressed if the the bump start hadn't worked, but in these situations you either laugh or cry and I chose the latter.

Finally we set off towards the border, all of us shivering violently against temperatures we were not dressed for and hadn't experienced in a few months. We stopped briefly for breakfast and then tukked the last 30km to the border. It was totally packed with Kazakh families who had just been visiting China for the weekend (I assume as it was monday morning). Unlike the other border crossings, this one was packed with people and vehicles and all of our luggage had to go through an airport scanner. The whole process of scurrying around to sort out passports, check vehicle documents etc took the best part of two hours, but thanks to Jack we were processed more quickly than many others. We were fretting about getting to the Kazakh side before their lunch break, because we still had nearly 400km of driving before reaching Almaty.

We hugged Jack and said goodbye. I burst into tears and felt incredibly sad to be leaving both him and China. The moment of truth arrived and we entered the Kazakh side. A soldier dressed in khaki and spitting sunflower husks onto the floor greeted us and hopped into TT with his rifle slung from his shoulder. So far so good. We drove past all of the other vehicles and went straight into the compound where we needed to get ourselves and TT processed. We smiled nervously at the border staff and Ants used her Russian skills to explore what we needed to do next. It seemed that we needed to get all of our luggage scanned again- what a pain. A man approached with a trolley and asked for $10 to take our luggage through. I got a bit stroppy with him and said no, took the trolley from his hands and loaded our luggage myself (with Ants helping).

Ants had handed the guards our Russina press release, which they read. Then, our guardian angel arrived. We both think that he was an important border official and he took us under his wing. After asking if we had any contraband (the answer was of course 'niet'), he told us not to bother getting our luggage scanned. We were then pushed to the front of the queue with our passports, which were quickly stamped. Then, we drove a few yards to get TT processed. The paperwork was all organised within quarter of an hour and we were told to get vehicle insurance in Almaty. Then, the kind officer (who was quite handsome and early middle aged) gave me a plastic bag. In this bag was litres of cold drink, a box of chocolates and two russian dolls. We asked about changing money, but they did not know what to do with our travellers cheques and so the border official then gave us about $40 of local money. Ants and I were both speechless at the generosity of this man we had never met.

I offered him a packet of Chinese cigarettes, which he accepted. He climbed into TT and then we drove out of the border area with all of the guards, officials and soldiers saluting him and opening all of the gates for us. Ants later said that she wondered if he wanted a lift all of the way to Almaty. He didn't and hopped out after less than one km. We screamed with delight and relief and were absolutely thrilled to be safely through the border. A couple of km later we were stopped at an army checkpoint, but all they wanted was to see our passports and to take photos of TT.

The drive to Almaty was over 350km and we had heard mixed reports about the state of the tarmac. Some people had said the drive would take us 6 hours, others 8 and one even posited 12 hours. The road had a few potholes, but we could still travel a good 40mph. The scenery was quite stunning. Initially flat with mountains on either side, then becoming grass covered sand dunes, then through some mountains and then flat again with mountains on either side. At one point it was so windy that we were reduced to about 30mph, with Ants gripping the handle bars with all her might so we didn't get blown back to China. We stopped by the side of the road and unloaded the roofrack of TT's spares to try and reduce the wind resistance a little. These were put in the back and I sat with my legs up on the boxes.

We stopped to fill up with petrol and I was pleased that I could fill TT up myself. However, the nozzle lever got jammed and I squirted petrol all over the petrol station and myself at a great velocity. A man then came and did the job for me, but he wouldn't listen to me about putting the nozel in to TT too far. I smugly watched as the petrol squirted out back at him- why will nobody listen to us about TT's anatomy? I guess they just like to learn the hard way.

The roads were fine and the potholes did not slow us down much. We drove into Almaty at just after 8pm and got a tiny bit lost trying to find the apartment we were renting. We finally located Ants's mum and the apartment and unloaded TT. Ants' mum (Fiona) and I put our stuff in the lift to take to the 8th floor, while Ants went to park TT in a secure compound- a kind mand offered us his underground parking space. Afetr nearly an hour Ants still wasn't back and Fiona and I had gone through rational reasons for Ants' delay before worrying that she had been raped and murdered. Just as we were considering calling the police Ants returned. Apparently, someone had taken the parking space and the kind man (Aziz, a Pakistani diplomat) had tried to clear the space for TT. Ants knew we would be worried but had no way of contacting us to explain why she hadn't come back sooner. After some anxious minutes everything was fine, Fiona made a salad, we all had a nice catch up and then hit the hay absolutely exhausted.

The fears have been banished and Kazazhstan looks to be a whole new and wonderful experience, although I desperately miss China still.

4 Comments:

Blogger Stan-Rhode Island said...

I must be getting old.. .When I don't hear any new postings of your adventures for a few days I start to worry.

I used to do that when my now married daughter went out on a date.

Will be looking for your next posting. Try not to make me worry so much (grin)

6:01 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

Glad to hear you got through the border so well. "The Boss" sounds like a complete hero...free drinks and saluting soldiers, fantastic.
I'm pleased to hear that giggling at the sight of a pink tuk tuk is such an international language!

6:34 AM  
Blogger bullyboys said...

dobre utro, Mama! We are so delighted you have reached Kazakhstan we are practicing putting Russian kicks into our wardance. Auntie has stopped Nee Haoing us in the mornings and instead is teaching us useful Russian phrases. By the way, if Auntie Ants doesn't know, We are called horyoki in Russian, singular horyok. we do not want to meet any eagles at all, be careful they don't carry you off to their nests like they do in fairy tales.Love and kisses mummy and hope you keep meeting lots or nice kazakh people to help you (we still don't understand this craze for tarmac)

8:54 AM  
Blogger kazimoto said...

I'm like Stan. I don't even know the two (three) of you and I start to worry when I don't see a post for a while. Glad you made it to Kazakhstan. Not long now...

6:45 AM  

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