Along the Border

As I left Baikonur, I realised that the horse riders slowly were replaced by donkey riders the further South I got.
It's one of these signs where you know you enter a region where you will feel very comfortable.
At last I had a sign like that was in Georgia, a few hundred meters after the border crossing: A couple of cows blocked the main road.
You instinctively know that you are in an exotic place which brings also a lot of good memories from past travels up.
And one of the stronger triggers in my case are donkeys, or as my sister and I used to call it when we were young: "Esäliiii".

The first destination was Sauran, one of the last and "best" intact silk road fortresses.
It's not far off the main road to Turkestan, but is easily overseen as it rather looks like a huge sand hill.
I could barely manage myself to get a quick lunch before entering the fortress as excitement took me, realising that I was back on the silk road which I left in Armenia.
The stomach was quickly filled with food topped with sand from the slight sandstorm and I headed out to inspect the refurbished main gate.
Frankly speaking, I was disappointed by the reconstruction and had definitely seen better jobs before.
However, the inside of Sauran impressed me quite a bit. There was not much left of what once clearly must have been a bustling place in the middle of nowhere. But its size, probably 300m by 500m, some ruins and leftovers from ceramics made my head-cinema run.
Heavily loaded camels, busy merchants trying to sell their goods, people sitting around a fire and cooking tea, children playing in the shade of the palm trees and beautif...
The distant bry of a horny donkey interrupted my fantasy and took my back to the waste reality.
Those times simply must have been gorgeous!

Turkestan was just about 30km further on the way to Almaty and should not take too long. But as I mentioned in the post before, the corrupt police likes to stop you.
This bugger really annoyed me so much that I posted a picture of the officer on the Matatu Facebook site.
To expose him to the public gave me at least a bit satisfaction, well deserved of course.
I arrived in Turkestan at the mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi when the sun was already setting. The light was already poor and the weather not the best, so I decided to stay the night on the parking.
Unfortunately, they did not let me spend the night on the parking and so I drove out of the city in search of a nice camping spot.
This is usually an easy task, but Turkestan is surrounded by many villages and farms, the falling dark did not help either. In fact, looking for a camp spot is one of the most annoying and troubling things on the road. Everyone tries to avoid it, but not always successful

The next morning, I was so early at the mausoleum that I was nearly alone there. A perfect morning, with perfect weather and perfect light for taking pictures. It was kind of too perfect as I had problems to stop myself taking pictures and get on my way to Shimkent.
To be straight forward, I expected way more of the third largest city in Kazakhstan. There is not much to see or do, but my CouchSurfing host Vladimir and his family turned it into a great time.
Travelling, as I always say, is not just about seeing the famous buildings, parks, monuments or landscapes. No, it's actually more about the people who live there.
Who they are, how they live and what living is about there - that makes most out of your travel stories.

People you never seen before, complete strangers to you, turn out to be best hosts and friends, when you need them.
The road from Shimkent to Almaty was longer than expected. The search for a camp spot also was one of the hardest of the entire trip.
The problem was that the road was brand new and followed the border to Kyrgyzstan. So close to the border that you could nearly touch the fence with your hand while driving. On the right hand side the border fence, to the left a wall which separates from the oncoming lane - a trap.
Eventually, I approached a village and took the first dirt track out into the fields. It was late night already and the night totally dark without moon. I really struggled to find a small spot and it didn't take long, when I finally found one, that a flash light blinded me.
The man on the horse shouted at me angrily in Kazakh. Tired, I answered in Russian that I am a tourist and do not understand what he is saying.
He rode closer and ask in Russian again: What do you do here? Do you smuggle narcotics?
That question caught me totally off guard. Narcotics? Damn, I just want a spot to sleep.
The situation cleared itself quite quickly after a few sentences: The guy is a security who checks all night long the fields for smugglers. As the border is not far, this area is regularly used for drug trafficking.
It didn't take him long to persuade me to move to another place after he told me there is sometimes a shoot out.
He led me to the next farm house and spoke to the farmer.
Of course, it was no problem at all to camp next to their house. Even though I already had eaten, there was no way to refuse the invitation for dinner.
I took it as a kiwi style supper and the opportunity to get to know the people.
They were three guys, two Korean Russians (never heard that something like that exists), a Khyrgyz and one Kazakh.
Those of you who know the East will know what happened next. Yeah right, they produced a bottle of vodka from somewhere...
It was a long night.

After breakfast I left my new friends and continued to Almaty, the city everyone was praising.
I had a great time in Almaty, although it is not that cool a city as everyone told me.
For me it's the city where I had some great nights out, had the first encounter with the corrupt Tajik officials at the embassy and where I met Mille with his Oskar.