A ravenous, frustrated, but exuberant group of foreign overlanders rode off on a desert piste in the general direction of some city lights. The group was desperately searching for some sustenance after their horrendous bureaucratic ordeal.
Kazakhstan You Very Nice Place
I want tell you about the town of Kurik, Kazakhstan, where this happened here. They got three stop signs, two police officers, and one police car, but when we got to the “Scene of the Restaurant” there were five drunk Kazakhs and a third of the whole town being the biggest group of foreigners of the last fifty years, and everybody wanted to get in the newspaper story about it. We was orderin manti, plov, frites, and all kinds of Kazakh food that they was givin to us down at the restaurant, and we ordered fifteen pint glasses of beer with random Cyrillic characters explaining where each one was from. We drove back out the way we came, looking for the right patch of desert to set our camp and end an exhausting day.
The next morning the scorching sun made everyone exit their tents an hour or two before they were really ready to. Slowly the groups separated into subgroups depending on a mutual direction henceforth. The Ricks found themselves riding with two French BMW GS riders (Michael and Niko, from now on to be referred to as “the Frenchies”), also heading to Samarkand and from there the Pamir Highway. After taking a good look at the map, and finding some sort of lake that may provide some relief from the desert heat, the five headed off.
The roads in Kazakhstan leaving Kurik on the motorbikes felt like riding on the back of a horse. Imagine a country the size of America, but with significantly less money for road construction. Kazakh people quickly proved to be even more enthusiastic than the Azeris, but sometimes annoyingly handsy. Without any question you might find your helmet on top of a Kazakhs head, or someone straddling your motorcycle. There was never any concern of theft, just of accidental breakage of your precious goods.
Western Kazakhstan proved to be equally, if not more desolate than the area near Baku. A land with the flatness of Nebraska but with nothing growing taller than four inches, only the occasional string of power lines breaking the unceasingly flat horizon.
Eventually, a slightly more interesting landscape, including ten inch sagebrush and occasional sandstone cliffs reminded the Ricks of the deserts of the Western US. The smell of the sagebrush was overpowering, and the extreme lack of population density triggered memories of what seemed like a lifetime ago (but in fact was only approximately one year).
Suddenly the GPS indicated that it was in fact time to exit to the right of our two lane highway into nothingness towards the “lake” we intended to camp next to. Fifteen kilometers of rough sandy tracks provided the first off road challenge on the Asian continent. As the “lake” drew closer and closer we sensed there may be a surprise awaiting us, until suddenly we came to a cliffs edge.
It was obvious that at one point in time this was in fact a lake of some sorts, which was now a giant salt plateau, and there was no way we would be bathing in water that evening. Accepting this fact, we set up camp and watched the sunset on our surprise panorama.
Kazakhstan continued to be hot, desolate and dusty, and we made little effort to savor it. Crossing through Beneyu we approached the Uzbekistan border, riding eighty kilometers through what a mini version of the Dakar Rally must have been like. Dust clouds kicked up by massive trucks completely obscuring the oncoming traffic or other road hazards. Some very “bright” soviet engineer decided that it would be a good idea to put re-bar on the road surface. Perhaps if normal maintenance was completed this would work, but now twisted rods of metal stuck out at random places on the road surface.
We braced for an equally disastrous exit from Kazakhstan as our entrance had been, but we crossed both borders (leaving Kazakhstan entering Uzbekistan) in one and a half hours. Entering Uzbekistan proved to be a rather comical experience. Due to inflationary issues with the Uzbek Som, and the resistance of the government to accept this fact, one must carry around a massive stack of cash at all times. Approximately eight thousand Som is equal to one US Dollar, and the most common bill in circulation is either a one thousand or five thousand Som note.
Additionally, Uzbekistan is very strict with banning all pornographic materials. The guard tried to get Kyle to make a slip of the tongue and admit he had some in his possession. “Are you carrying any pornography” the guard asked. Kyle simply said “no”. “Any dutch pornography?” “No” “French pornography?” “No” “German pornography?” “No…” “German pornography very good” “Ok…. thanks for the information”. No one in the group was searched after this exchange.
Its always easy to immediately spot the overlander out of a group of people, and on our way out of town we met Mark, an Englishman traveling to Vladivostok, and decided to turn our group of five into a group of six for the time being.
While the road had improved significantly, the threat of serious potholes still persisted. Stretches of smooth tarmac, where you could accelerate up to fifty miles an hour, were occasionally punctuated with minefields of seven inch gaping holes in the road surface that could possibly damage your wheels significantly. In addition, oncoming traffic would swerve into your traveling lane to avoid these potholes whenever they felt like it. It proved to be quite taxing on the nerves, and combined with the returning flat nothingness, sandy scenery proved to be a very uninspiring part of the trip. Six hundred kilometers lay between us and the first silk road town of Khiva.