Aktau

by achuggabug

10 August, 2012; 12:12

So today I found out that the WordPress app on my iPad isn’t working right; not only that, but I can’t copy and paste on the website (because the iPad doesn’t play friendly with scripts), so I’m at a loss as to how to update everyone from the blog. I suppose my posts are about to become short and sweet, and I’ll upload all of these once the app gets fixed or I get a chance to actually sit and type out some of these.

Since I last wrote, our engine (on the boat) was fixed, and we made it into port. Overall, the ferry ride took 33 hours, but we were on the boat for about 40. Add in the time it took us to get our car off the boat and through the border at the port, and it took us 48 hours to out of Baku and into Aktau. Chase and Michael, in reaction to the long day without proper hydration and next to no food, were irritable; I was in a state of resignation, without energy to be angry. Once we stopped for a bite to eat and some internet, though, everyone felt much better.

To describe our first impressions of Kazakhstan is to tell the story of our port experience. There was only about an hour’s wait once we got off the boat to get our passports cleared and through customs. To get our car, however, Chase had to wait for about two hours before the unloading process was completed; since Michael and I aren’t on the ownership papers, we were forced to sit in the waiting room of the customs building. Tired and hungry, none of us spoke much, despite the fact that we were 14 strong counting our Italian friends.

Once Chase returned, the real work of getting into the country began. Much like the Azerbaijan border, nobody was in a real hurry to tell a bunch of foreigners what the next step in the process was. Fortunately, with four separate vehicles to get out, our alliance with the Italians allowed us to take a scattershot approach to the situation, and we just pestered as many people as possible until one of the teams hit a sweet spot. Then, we’d flock to that window and repeat the process after we got the stamp.

We arrived in the port around ten in the morning; by the time we got out, it was a quarter to six in the afternoon. Tempers were flared and bellies were empty, and none of us were in a good mood.

Our original plan had been to get out of Aktau immediately and head for camping spots, so we bade farewell to the Italians who were staying in town and headed off. We stopped for groceries at a local market and had a small dinner at the Irish Pub that had free Wi-Fi. As our bellies filled, we realized we were in no shape to face the desert and decided to try and find a cheap hotel (Kazakhstan doesn’t have hostels). We did and left our pub for the cheaper part of town.

As has happened on many occasions, a local gave us a friendly yell from his window in traffic. This time, though, as we pulled alongside him at an intersection, he managed to convey to us a question; would we like to go swimming? I don’t know what it was that sparked our willingness, but we all decided a swim would be nice, and we followed him to the beach (where he paid for our parking). I can’t remember his name, or pretty much anyone else’s we’ve met on this trip, but he and his two brothers and mother were going to the beach for the evening, and we had the great privelege of joining them. We swam for the better part of an hour and then returned to the beach to have what limited conversation we could, as none of us really spoke the others’ language.

During this time, another group of locals came up and introduced themselves to us. Our initial hosts were around our age, but this new group was a few years younger. We got one of them to do the Beasty Walk with us, and they invited us to eat with them, as one of their mothers had made a big bowl of Plav for them. Even though we’d already eaten more than we had in the two days before, we couldn’t say no to their hospitality or the most famous dish in Kazakhstan. The dish of rice, carrots, grapes, and lamb was delicious, and while we were there, one of our new friends called his English speaking friend and handed the phone to me. She said that he wanted to know if we would hang out with their little group that evening and that she’d like to meet us.

Despite our want of sleep, we recognized a great opportunity to meet new and interesting people and agreed. We checked into our hotel, packed away the luggage on the top of the car (since we weren’t in the friendliest area of town), and our new hosts hailled a cab. For lack of a better place, I’ll include this here; I feel a bit bad because at no point did we lay down a dollar or tenge for anythin last night. Our hosts bought us parking, cabs, beer, water, and coke. They even paid for our cab ride back to the hotel when we left. The hospitality of the people we’ve met has only further astonished me as we get deeper into our journey.

Out of the cab at a beachside area full of restaurants and carnival rides, we met their friend who lived in South Carolina for a year and there learned English. With the aid of a translator, we managed to have actual conversations as we walked down the beach. At one point, we recognized two of our Italian friends, and they joined us for an hour, excited to meet our hosts and talk about Aktau. We learned that the city is incredibly young (only 25 years old), and it’s not the youngest in Kazakhstan. I had known before we left that Kazakhstan was one of the youngest countries in the world, but it took getting here for the reality of that fact to set in.

Eventually, we called it a night and got in to our hotel around 1am. Our plans of an early start were all but forgotten as we crawled into bed. As expected, we slept this morning until 9:30 instead of getting up at 6 like we’d hoped. Ultimately, we weren’t too disappointed since we’ll have a week of rising with the sun while we camp alongside the highway.

We stopped for coffee (so we could use their internet), and I made a brief post explaining the communication issues I’m facing with WordPress. My sincere apologies to everyone who’s getting left out of the loop because of the situation, but, as I’ve said, I a hopeful that I’ll find a resolution before too long. Our days of shirtless driving and nights spent outside in the desert are upon us, and it is good.

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