Continuation blog 10. Azerbaijan / Georgia / Armenia + short part of Russia
A few km before the Russian border we had to cross a pontoon bridge. Car and trucks above 4t must make a detour of 2x30 km upstream. That fluctuated very badly, the plates moved, you have to be very careful because there are also sharp-edged parts up between the plates.
Welcome to Kazakhstan
when we had crossed the border in the evening, we had a really strong flash of happiness that we have already made it up to herer and Mongolia is not that far anymore. We didn't know what to expect the next day
Secretly photographed, Kazakhstan border, approx. 10 km after the Russian border. The first words of the border guards were a very warm and friendly "Welcome to Kazakhstan", then they asked us where we are from and had to think about where Germany is located for a certain time.. .where „Girmani“ is.
Day 273, April 23, 2019 130,682 km
Border crossing Kazakhstan, after 10 km in the no man's land we stood in front of the Kazakh border and were welcomed by a young soldier with a very warm "Welcome to Kazakhstan", handed out to both of us a small piece of paper and we were allowed to drive in. This border crossing is easy. But there was a small exception.
I have to get out and walk into the building, Thomas and Jerry drove to the first station, handed in the passport and driver's license, took 5 minutes, a quick look into the car and they were done. For me it was a little different. I was also the only one in the hall, handed over my passport. Now the very nice official asked for a visa. I tried to explain to him that I don't need a visa to enter Kazakhstan since 2017. In the meantime I could see through the window that Thomas was already has already completed all the formalities and was waiting. A carousel started in my head, why did he just come through and I don't and what to do now? I tried to explain in English that I don´t need a visa, at some point the officer picked up his colleague and, luckily, he nodded. Not many Germans seem to have come here yet. You can stay in Kazakhstan for 30 days, not just 15.
Ok, I made it, formalties done and completed, duration with me 20 min, with Thomas and Jerry 10 min.
Directly behind the border we were able to make a car insurance for 30 days, € 35. And there was also a cell phone card for free plus a charge of € 4. But the card didn't work, was that all fake? We don't know, but we have to cope with 4 €.
After 100m there was a small parking lot, on the left opposite a police building. We were allowed to spend the night there. We were really happy what we have now achieved and were already looking forward to it, because now we have the feeling that Mongolia is getting closer and closer.
Day 274, April 24, 2019 131,403 km
We are in Kazakhstan in horrible roads to Atyrau, following an endless pothole track for about 350km, the road conditions here are a disaster, 1000 times worse than in Armenia. We also start tot hink about, is that really worth to drive, should we really go on?
Full of anticipation, we jumped into our new Kazakhstan adventure. But the joy lasted only for a short time, because we realized quite quickly that it would not be fun. The next 300 km should become our absolute nightmare. The landscape is flat, very sandy, desert-like, many many animals, herds of horses, cows, sheep, goats, camels walk freely across the steppe / road. We really like the landscape, it is so wide open, if it weren't for the road conditions, it would be fantasitc. We hop at walking pace, trying to avoid all the potholes, which is of course not possible, the amount is too high. We are surprised about the high speed at which the locals fly over these holes in their cars, actually there should be a broken axle car every few hundred meters. But you only see someone change a tire every few kilometers. Most cars have 1 or 2 tires on their roof rack. We don´t need to aks why…..
We also quickly realized that we would make it today to Atyrau. But that's not a bad thing, you can just drive off the street and sleep there. Despite absolutely slow and careful driving, we were hit after 140 km, a shock absorber was torn off. Someone stopped immediately, a young man, also asessed the damage, said that there were still 60 km to drive to the next village and 140 km to the city, Atyrau, where we may find a Fiat dealer. He asked for the vehicle identification number, the year of manufacture, and passed this information on to the Fiath dealer. We assume he said that, we could only „talk“ with hands and feet.
At walking speed, we made our way to the next village 60 km ahead. We hope to find a workshop there to solve the problem. But we quickly realized that the problem cannot be solved in the conventional way, because there is actually nothing available here. WE trid to ask people if there is a workshop around, in deed we found a small garage and the damage was assessed by three locals, we were signaled that they could help and somehow we were only spectators because the communication was very bad. Very quickly the shock absorber was removed and they told us that the shock absorber is no longer repairable, they discussed 10 min. Then they signaled to us that they would be back soon, we waited alone in front of the workshop for about 15 minutes and each of the men started to drive in a different direction. After 15 minutes they came back with 3 different used shock absorbers, one of these was the same size as ours. In order to be able to screw it well, a part had to be welded on. After an hour, Rudi was functional again. These guys really understand exactly what they're doing. The shock absorber that they installed was really okay. When we wanted to pay for the service and the help, they didn´t want to discuss about that, but Thomas gave them 4,000 rubles (55 €) and insisted. T was really funny when we signaled that we don´t have kasach. currency, Tenge with us and asking for the next ATM a close by , there was a lot of laughter, they waved off and laughed very loudly. There's probably no one here around... And although they knew we didn't have tenge to pay, they got back to work.
The good thing is, because of this stupid occasion, we came to a village, 5 km off the main road, which we would never have attended otherwise. Time stands still here, we saw Kazakh village life, no streets, only paths, when it starts to rain here, I don't want to be here, this must be a bath of mud. Camels and cows walking freely through the village. Everything is reduced to the simplest. Relatively satisfied and happy that the situation has improved for us, we looked for a place to sleep in the steppe and we would like to recovere from this difficult day. While we were sitting in front of the car and let the day pass by, we had a fox right next to us, which even Jerry did not notice since he was already sleepinh, he is exhausted as well from the rough driving.
The bumpy roads also weren´t good for Thomas's back and we are wondering whether we will continue to drive these road conditions for more than 5000 km, or change the route and drive north from Atyrau back to Russia and via Russia to Mongolia. When we are in Atyrau we will inquire about the road conditions. The road up to here was 300 km of pure horror. The Dempster Highway in Canada really is much easier to drive.
47°03'46.3 "N 50°46'18.7 "E
a snake accidentally run over by us. It was not the only one we saw
A road is of this quality for 350 km, from the border crossing to Atyrau, the next largest city that we have to drive to, as we also have to register there. You have to register no later than 5 days after entry
I think these pictures don´t need any words, there is no other road, it took us all day for 200km, 9 hours drive. You can only really drive between 20 and 30 km/h. This is the A27, a main roa
After 200 km on this road to hell, we are really pondering at the moment whether it makes sense what we are doing here. As locals told us it would go on like this. This is normal for Kazakhstan. Do we really want to drive 5000 km on such roads?
After 140km Rudi broke his knee, the shock absorber was torn off. 60 km at walking speed to the next village. And saying !village“, we mean it in that way, at first it didn't look as if there was any help anywhere. With the simplest things, a shock absorber was assembled and the demolished one replaced. The whole action lasted approx. 1 hour, they immediately started their work to help us, although it had been a long time after work, they helped us, got a spare part and repaired the car
here the camels walk around the street like cows and are not frightened either. You can touch them.
this is how the village looks like where Rudi found a doctor. We don't want to experience this here in the rain.
Day 275, April 25,2019 131,403 km
Now there are still 110 km to drive to Atyrau. The first 60 km were just as bad as the day before, the last 40 km were a bit, but not much more comfortable to drive. We drive directly tothe registration office in Atyrau, which must be done within 5 days after the entry. This can take several days while the passport is withheld, but we hope it will be done the next day. Fortunately, the weather is very good, 21°C, sun, a few clouds.
47.109902, 51.857845 registration office
When we arrived at the registration office, we were informed that we already have 2 stamps on the immigration card and that another registration was not necessary. Now we also remembered that we had read reports online, if you manage to get 2 stamps on the card at the border, you don't need to register again. It is said that leaving the country unregistered costs a penalty of $100. Let's see.
There were 3 people in the registration office who spoke English so that we could ask them a lot of questions, e.g. whether there is a Laundromat or a hotel that does the laundry. At first nobody knew anything about that topic, but after we went back to our car when we were already at the car, a man came to us who had listened to this conversation and said that he knows a laundromat. He offered to show the way and take us there . Unfortunately, this turned out to be a cleaning with very high prices, they ask for 2€ per piece and they would need a total of 2 days to make the clothes available after washing. That would be far too expensive for the amount we collected and it would take us too long. It really looks like there are no laundromats here. So hand washing ist he only chance.
Afterwards we made our way to a workshop to ask them to check if the shock absorber is ok or if we would better get a new one. There was a lot going on at the workshop. Nevertheless, our problem was immediately taken care of, all mechanics interrupted their work and turned to our problem. It would take about 1 week to order a new shock absorber, but the installed one was found to be functional, in their view, an exchange would not be necessary.
Our next topic was the road conditions, we showed our road map and showed which border we crossed and which road we came across and they clasped their hands over their heads, it was such a bad road that it was only possible to drive with 4x4 cars. They showed us photos of broken cars that they towed. Now they asked where we wanted to go and began to mark the streets on our street map that were OK. Which also means detours of 200-400km, because we sometimes have to go against our original direction to have access to good roads. To give a short outlook: We followed the advice, detour 400km, there we found a brand new road, without any pothole, we could drive very well, it works. This road is marked in yellow on the map, and there is also a red street in parallel. We should take the yellow one because it is better. We would have done it the other way round without asking. Kazakhstan is 6x the size of Germany, but there aren't that many roads that cross the country, actually only 2-3. Now we were invited to dinner, but since we still want to get out of the city and don't want to drive at night, we refused.
Afterwards, Thomas asked the mechanics if the car could be jacked up in front to check the steering. It was found that it was worn out and we were advised to drive to Uralsk near the Russian border to a Bosch workshop, which can check this more closely and repair it if necessary. This is wear and tear that had to come at some point, since we don't always just drive the motorway.
Today we had another experience with our first corrupt cop. While Thomas on his own brought the car to the workshop, he drove 100m to the next roundabout to turn, I was already in the workshop with the mechanics at that time, he was stopped by an oncoming police car and this policeman made us really angry. Since we had definitely not done anything wrong, the policeman was literally looking for arguments for extorting mney. When he checked the car, he saw a packet of cigarettes. Pointed at it and said: protocol, punishment. He said that Thomas would have smoked in the car and that would be forbidden, which he never does. And what would not be an offense here. When the mechanics saw that the policeman had stopped Thomas, they started running, I followed and they shouted: Oh no. When they got to the car, they talked to the policeman and Thomas got the papers back and the whole thing was done for the time being. When we asked what was supposed to be wrong now, they said: corrupt.
This policeman had probably tried to claim money, but we would like to say very clearly that we have already met many policemen here who were not behaving in that way at all. We were also warned by the mechanics while parking to straighten the car tires, it would also be a popular trick to collect money when the tires are notstraight ahead but turned tot he left or right. Or throwing a cigarette on the floor. They are very very petty here. So: change of plan, road to north, towards Russia, as described by the locals, towards Uralsk.
Of these 500 km we managed 100 km by today, the road was perfect. When dawn came, we drove off the road into the steppes and sat in front of the car. The weather was perfect all day, always between 20 and 25°C. We diskussed what to do if the next policemen is behsbing in the same way, we decided to ask for a protocol, ask for his name and his supervisors name, and explain to him that there was a sign at the border with a phone number in case you get problems with corruption.
Overnight stay here: 47.96279 51.68244
Day 276, April 26, 2019 131,634 km
on the way to Uralsk
According to the advice we took the yellow road (P 103) to Inderbor, there we changed to the red (A 28) road, the entire route was easy to drive. The landscape remained flat, the weather was very pleasant, 25°C, blue sky. We arrived in Uralsk at around 4 p.m. and, despite the heavy traffic, they immediately took their time, Rudi was driven up on a lift. It was found that on the right side of the front wheel suspension is broken and needs to be replaced. The rest is ok. We decided to have the provisional rear shock absorber replaced at the same time, i.e. both rear shock absorbers, as they are supplied as a double pack, to have an oil change carried out and to replace the rear wheel brakes, which were now pretty low. All this is included, including working hours cost 209 € and we had an appointment the next day at 10 a.m. The shock absorbers are expected to be delivered from Samara, Russia later this morning. We parked the car in the back yard, from 8 p.m. there is nothing going on here, it became quiet. We are very happy and relieved that nothing more severe is broken.
What has to be mentioned, every single policeman who saw us on the road tried to catch us, from behind, from the right or the left, they speed up to stop us and tried to find something to pull money out of your pocket. We were stopped 9 times, 3 of them were only shaking hands and the rest was really corrupt. At one point the situation went on that bad that despite Thomas' persistence, the policeman continued to try to squeeze money out of us. The accusation was smoking in the car, which didn't happen at all. And by the way, it is also not prohibited. Only when hurrying passersby who noticed this, who gathered with us, became more and more, the policeman finally gave up and disappeared without another word.
Discussion which roads are in better condition, which also means we have a detour of 300 km.
Day 277, April 27,2019 132,056 km ---- back to Russia ----
Today we have half a day off because we are waiting for Rudi to be made fit again and used the time to think about our further route. The last few days have been very, very exhausting, related to the quality oft he roads and because of the police controls, and there is also the fact that we need a veterinarian for Jerry. A wart grows under his right eyelid, which has grown rapidly in the recent days, rubs and the eye is easily inflamed. Since there is a larger veterinary clinic in Omsk, we decided to go back to Russia at Ilek and continue through Russia, parallel to the Kazakh border towards Mongolia. If we come back from Mongolia, if we have the time and wish to go back through Kazakhstan, we have the option again. But yesterday's police hunt destroyed our desire to continue driving through Kazakhstan. Yes, there were many controls in Russia too, but we never had the feeling that people wanted to pull money out of our pockets and we were never treated so arrogantly and unkindly by police officers like in Kazakhstan.
At 2 p.m. we got Rudi back and we drove towards Ilek, a very small border, 130km from here. You won´t believe it, the road conditions were catastrophic again. It was pure hopping and slalom skiing. I asked the friendly, English-speaking Kazakh in the garage what the road to Ilek was like, and he grinned and said, Oh, it'll be fine after the border. It was like that.
Since we are leaving Kazakhstan, a little earlier than planned, a few words about Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world, but sparsely populated with only 18 million inhabitants (6.5 inhabitants / km2). Kazakhstan is 12,000 km long. The capital is Astana, a kind of artificial city that was built because the President thought that the former capital, in the far south-east of the country, Almaty, was too far to the east. The President has been in power since 1990, a lifetime rule (but something is changing there) ..
The route we drove in Kazakhstan was completely flat, you could always see in all directions the horizon. That made it possible to observe always beautiful sunsets, actually like at the seaside. The steppe was partly green, but mostly desert-like, sandy. We also had a slightly windier day, the wind was driving the sand and it stung our eyes. Scenic but something unusual and worth seeing for us Europeans.
The wildlife in Kazakhstan has left a great impression on us. We saw the first camel shortly after the border, and we saw so many in our time there that they could not be counted. It was the first time for us that we saw camels in the wild. In addition, there are always large herds of free-range horses, cows, sheep and goats. We also saw a desert fox visiting us right by the car. People live with and from the animals, in the evening the animals run, even the camels, home to their stables, you hear loud loud mooing and bleating until everyone has reached where they want to go.
The larger cities hardly differ from ours, but once you get out of them, the country looks like you have been set back 100 years, everything is simple, the people are very reserved and it takes time, but when they get used tot he new situation they were exceptionally helpful and talkative. The outward appearance of people is mostly Asian here.
Regarding the the overnight places, everything was very easy, either there were bushes in the steppe, behind which we could hide, or the other rest areas, which were very spartan, was also possible to stay overnight. Only the road condition and the corrupt police tke away fun and serenity. What should be mentioned when we entered Russia, we received a Russian customs document for Rudi with 2 stamps, which is also valid in Kazakhstan. Which means if you cross the border from Russia to Kazakhstan, no further action is necessary because the car is already in and Russia and Kazakhstan have an agreement. Important, this form is needed again when leaving the Russian Federation, you really have to make sure that it is not withheld at one of the border crossings (what almost happened to us), because we have found that with the small border crossings, which we chose, the processing was super fast, sometimes took no longer than 10 minutes (and this in Russia / Kazakhstan), but you were overwhelmed with Europeans and did not really know which formalities could be different
Important, this form is needed again when leaving the Russian Federation, you really have to make sure that it is not withheld at one of the border crossings (which almost happened to us), because we have found that with the small border crossings, which we chose, the processing was super fast, sometimes took no longer than 10 minutes (and this here in Russia / Kazakhstan), but you were overwhelmed with Europeans and didn't really know which formalities could be different. e.g. The vehicle inspection was just a border guard looking into the car when he was completely astonished at our television, the toilet, fetched his colleagues, showed them what he saw inside and the actual inspection was forgotten. We could hardly believe it, but it really gave the impression that they have never seen such cars here, which we can hardly imagine.
Kazakhstan is the first country where we hardly encountered any dogs, which gave Jerry a bit more freedom and we didn't have to be careful all the time.
Toilet disposal is difficult, we used our toilet without chemicals and disposed of it daily in nature.
Washing clothes, it is more difficult than we know it, there are no washing machines that can be used, but only laundrys from time to time, which are far too expensive and take too long (2 days).
In the big cities there are huge supermarkets, you can get everything, a lot of frozen things, but unwrapped, so you can e.g. pack the french fries, broccoli, shrimps, pies into a bag and let them weigh. But nevertheless, after the long time with often only small village shops and a completely limited selection, this is like paradise.
Every second petrol station had Euro 5 diesel, so make sure you fill up early enough, because we also found petrol stations that ran out of fuel. The liter costs approx. € 0.40.
As mentioned in the travelogue, the police is very focused on tourists and not all, but most have tried the slightest violation, such as that the tire is not straight when you park, throw cigarettes on the floor, or the line touches with the tires to use to lighten the wallet. We have managed to get out of it by being extremely persistent and pointing out that we want a protocol so that we can make it available to the embassy for review. But we have had that situations several times.
There is not the usual rubbish on the side of the road like in many other countries.
Internet: worked quite well, sometimes a bit weak. We had a card from Beeline, 5GB for 6 €.
Visa: no need, just drive in, stay of 30 days possible
The border crossing from Kazakhstan to Russia (near Ilek) was easy going, took less than 10 minutes and was also very polite. And we left Kazakhstan.
The rest of the day, the onward journey to Russia: see Russia Blog
Image 1: Byebye, Kazakhstan!
Image 2 and 3: Customs declaration for the car