Beyneu to Aqtobe to Qarabataq
12 August, 2012; 16:28
Well, today we have indeed hit the lowest point of our trip, but I will come to that in due course. I will go ahead and say, however, that this may be the straw that breaks our camel’s back.
Yesterday, after our trek through the desert trails, we eventually wove our way back onto the main road to Aqtobe. While it wasn’t nearly the perfect highway we’d hoped for, it was significantly better than the roads we travelled two days ago. We made decent time, only occasionally having to use the paths alongside the road. After a while, we made it back up to highway speeds, and last night, we camped about 50km outside of Aqtobe.
This morning, our plan was to get gas and register our passports when we went through Aqtobe; also, we needed to restock some of our supplies, such as water and groceries. We got into town and found a market that had ATM’s outside. While we got out some travelling tenge, a local who spoke English approached us and struck up a conversation. We eventually got directions to the local police station for our passports and headed off behind another man who volunteered to show us the way. Again, I cannot overemphasize or overvalue the kindness of strangers.
When we arrived, we walked into the first open door we could find, which happened to be the guard station for the jail. We tappend on the glass, and the guard jumped as though he were under attack. I’ve honestly never seen a policeman so startled. We showed him what we needed, via our increasingly effective mime skills, and he pointed us around to the other side of the building. There was only one door, but when we knocked, nobody answered. We found another officer to ask for help and were pointed to the same door. Deciding that the office was either closed on Sundays or didn’t open until later, and wanting to make as good time as possible to Qostanay, we proceeded to make our way out of town. With excellent roads and a full stock of water and groceries, we headed East.
About two hours outside of Aqtobe, we stopped for lunch and to pee behind a bus stop. This was to be the beginning of our downfall. Chase took over as driver from Michael and we started again, only this time, our clutch, which has been slipping off and on the past two days, refused to engage fifth gear. Then we lost fourth; then third. Finally, even first and second would barely pull. Facing a twelve hour drive to Qostanay, we gritted our teeth and dug in to the task. Unfortunately, the task dug back, and after having to push our little Wiz up a particularly steep hill, we gave in to the inevitable.
We dug out our tow rope and waited for a passing truck to try and get a tow. The first truck that passed stopped and offered to take us on to the next town fifty kilometers away. We hopped in the car and rode along, silently letting the unfortunate reality of our situation sink in. There was no good side to this. Since we didn’t register our passports today, we have to tomorrow or face steep fines when leaving the country. Moreover, we’re all desperate to finish and return to our lives in America. Add to that the consideration that we’re stretching our budget already, and the situation seems more than a little bit overwhelming.
At the small town, our day went from bad to worse. The mechanic’s station was little more than a lean-to, and, being Sunday, he was nowhere to be found. Honestly, we hadn’t held much hope that he’d be able to do us much good within the next couple of days anyway.
With the dumb luck we’ve seemed to stumble upon this whole trip, we convinced our generous truck driver to press on with us in tow to Qostanay. He did warn us of rough roads ahead though, so we’ll have to see how this turns out. Right now, we’re making about 45kph on average and looking at what is likely to be a twelve hour ride to what we hope is a place we can regiter our passports and get our clutch fixed.