Day 31: Getting closer

After a month of traveling and a ton of impressions that will take months to digest, the dreams are getting weirder. Last night one team member – who shall remain anonymous – dreamt that Alpenblitz would be penalized upon arrival in Mongolia for having cheated along the way. The punishment: Our valued Eugen would be handcuffed by the organizers and publically decorated with a Mongol Rally tattoo on one of his most private parts!! Well, let’s not conduct any Freudian psycho-analysis on this, but conclude that the mind is an untamed animal sometimes.

Anyways, we changed the other two tires on the Berlin-car back to the no-tube summer tires, in anticipation of fairly good roads til dirt-track-Mongolistan. The practice paid off and our time was down to 5 minutes per tire, while the Swiss boys prepared one of their infamous “Zwipfs” (Zwischenverpflegung – an acronym used in the Swiss army to describe any kind of snack). This time on the menu: Pieces of dry sausage nestled in between two crackers, the vitamine balance turning red once again.

At 7:15 we left our subscale hotel. Sascha called it his worst hotel experience so far on the trip, since the terrible bunker in Kyrgystan came at least with a fascinating Soviet experience. Still, the author of this entry believes that not having had to set up the tent during the night was totally worth 10 USD.

Guess where we spent the next 6 hours! Right, on the road. And here’s the thing about Kazakh roads. They are certainly not the motorists’ Dante’s inferno as which other rallyistas have described them. Our brave Suzukis have had much worse tarmac under their rubber in Turkmenistan and Uzbeskistan. However, in Eastern Kazakhstan the roads are pothole-infested, spinebreakingly, pointlessly bumpy. So bumpy in fact, that your bladder turns into a whirlpool. To make matters worse, the driver can see far into the distance and would love to put the hammer down – only to be remainded of his naivity by a set of Hawaiian waves in the asphalt. Central Asian massage. Oh, and then there are the bridges…

But wait, before I go off on a serious rant about Roadistan, let me refocus your view away from the tiny, narrow string of asphalt which we need for our rally. Let’s look left and right, at the stunning Kazakh landscape. It’s obviously wide and empty, Kazakhstan being the 9th largest country. This means it’s still largely unspoilt, smooth, and simply natural. So, if you agree that land is increasingly unaffordable in your neighbourhood, consider Kazakhstan as an option. I am serious, organize a yard sale and purchase a plot of land, preferrably in the vicinity of civilized Almaty, where the sweet party girls suffer from a clothes allergy, and this is what you will get: An unblocked view on grassy plains with rolling hills and high, snow-capped mountains in the far distance, space for your mansion, more space for your private A320 in the backyard (you will need one), space for your own mine a bit behind your backyard (you will want one), and no wild animals apart from a mysteriously suicidal race of foxes (we counted 4 dead ones in one morning). Convinced?

We lunched on meat dumplings, meat rolls with ketchup rice, and borsh soup at Restaurant ‘Asia’, Gault Milleau’s certain choice in Kalbatay. Or not. The vitamin balance turned deeply red, yet again. Day dreams of a light salad with steamed fish, accompanied by a refreshing Beaujolais…

Reality check: We are in rural Kazakhstan and back on the road to Semey. Ten minutes later, Philipp scored a ‘fuckup-point’ for blowing a rear tire on his car. The fascinated locals where watching us while we changed both rear tires in only 11 minutes.

At 5:30pm we arrived in Semey, in Northern Kazakhstan. At the city gate we drove through the strangest cemetary I have ever seen: On both sides of the road were 2 rows of brick graves with the ‘inhabitants” portrait on them. No fence, no wall. Rest in piece!

Next stop, a garage where the worker – let us call him Dimitri – spoke pretty good German. He opened our two blown tires, and voila, turns out that we had the wrong tube size in there. One was a bike tube and the other one was too big. How hard can it be? Anyways, Dimi quickly replaced all the wrong-sized tubes while we had a first beer. Nearby, two couples and their babies were observing all our moves. The contrast could not have been sharper: Their decrepit car, a centuries old Lada, had been kept alive with parts from at least 20 other less fortunate cars, while the girls had invested in their upper body and were dressed up top to toe. Was muss, das muss!

An hour later we checked in at Semey’s nicest hotel, the Nomad, at 70 USD the night. Michel, Philipp, and Matthias went for a short run outside, much to the amusement of the locals. The advantage of Soviet-built neighbourhoods is that while the apartment buildings (the ‘Platte’) are hideous, they also condense the living space needed and leave a lot of room for parks where people like hanging out. The result is a very lively atmosphere in town.

After a good, meaty dinner not much happened anymore. Only our two ‘Master Mashinas’ (Philipp and Eugen) felt like throwing the dice and tasting some Vodka and Whiskey. Will they regret it tomorrow? Stay tuned…

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