We've embraced the 'Slow' philosophy as a way of life - what's the hurry?. Taking time to smell the roses (usually on a glass of Viognier) is more our style. Having spent more then 3 years on the road, slow travel has become a way of life. We have revised our plans completely and now focus on quality, not quantity, slowly.
After leaving our luxury hotel in Pyatigorsk we headed east
to Elista. This town has an odd feel to it, mostly Buddhist with a mainly
Mongol population. The Mongols have been in and out (forcibly) of this town
over the centuries but are firmly ensconced now. Tibetan style temples seem
very out of place in Russia.
Our low key guesthouse with hard beds was a come-down after
our luxury suite
Next town, Astrakhan at the top of the Volga Delta. With
it’s amazing Kremlin as the centre-piece, the city is worth exploring and has a relaxed, thriving feel
to it. We liked it and the weather was warm. We took a trip out to the Delta
where the Volga explodes into thousands of streams and waterways providing a
wetland haven for bird life. We saw loads of white-tailed sea eagles and
greater spotted eagles up really close and of course loads of water birds.
We found a favourite ‘pub’ for lunch each day with good
salads – quite a treat. Eating in this part of the world – Georgia, Russia,
Armenia etc is unlike ordering and eating at home (or UK, Europe etc). Often
all your food arrives at the same time. We usually order 2 bowls of soup and a
salad and main course to share. Salad will arrive first. Then after you’ve had
3 mouthfulls of soup, your shashlik will be plonked down. Or I’ll get my meal
and Lawrence’s will arrive half an hour later. I’ve seen people get their
cheesecake along with their salad before their ‘entrée’!
Leaving Russia, we crossed the border into Kazakhstan. The
road was dire, we couldn’t believe how bad it was. We camped the night in the
desert and were greeted by a sandstorm. Oh the grit!! It was in our wine, in
our food, our ears, our hair, EVERYWHERE. I’m still cleaning it out of Boris.
Fine grey grit.
Camping in Kazakhstan
Next day we finished the dreadful road and arrived in Atyrau
where we got internet sorted and met Bernard from Belgium. We also needed to
register (details below), a bit of a saga but OK. Why you need to register when
we have a valid visa and passport stamp I don’t know. A hangover from Soviet
days I expect.
Bactrin Camels are everywhere
Heading south (on good road) we camped in the desert again
with views across to a beautiful cemetery with a mausoleum. These lovely cemeteries
are always situated in the middle of nowhere. And there’s nowhere like ‘the
middle of nowhere’ in Kazakhstan. Jeez it’s bleak. Flat, hot and dry.
The road improved though, much to our joy. Our third night
of desert camping saw us near our destination of the Uzbek border. We’d heard
how difficult this border crossing can be so wanted to get there early.
We got our calculations a bit wrong and didn’t arrive until
7.30am, and it was already getting hot. Luckily we didn’t get ‘the full
treatment’ ie; unpacking everything for a search. As tourist you get priority
treatment in the passport and customs lines so the whole thing only took 3
½hours. Not too bad. We’ve heard horror
stories of 7 hours or more.
The road on the Uzbek side was just as bad as the Kazak
side. The Kazaks seem to specialise in bad border roads. So we had 160km of
really, really bad roads. We took to the side sand tracks quite often.
It’s so hot that we prefer to keep driving when there’s
nothing to see. Boris’s aircon keeps us cool. We stopped at truckie café for a
meal and shower about 6pm and met Bernard from Belgium again!.
We carried on towards Khiva until 8pm when things start to
cool down and camped somewhere or other – not really sure where!
So now we are in a hostel in Khiva. It’s really too hot here
to stay in Boris and far too hot to cook. I know I wanted hot weather, so ain’t
complainin’ but 40 degrees is hard to take when you aren’t acclimatised. Khiva
looks amazing and we’ll explore it at 6am tomorrow.
This is the start of the exotic Silk Road – watch this
Tips for Travellers
It’s hard to camp in Pyatigorsk, Elista and Astrakhan.
We stayed in a great hotel in Astrakhan. Good location,
friendly helpful owners and nice big room. Also good ensuite bathroooms.
There’s a kitchen to make a cuppa etc. Breakfast is included. Great value. If
you go there tell Anton that Slowcamper recommended them.
Name: Hotel Astra (no nameplate out the front but look for
Pegas Travel and FL Language school – it’s all the same building)
Address: Naberezhnaya 1 Maya, 55
Easy street parking right outside with security camera.
The border crossing is fairly easy but confusing. When you
arrive on Russian side you get a chit of paper, stating how many people you
are. Don’t lose it! Do your passport and vehicle importation stuff.
Drive on to the border proper (bridge over the river) and at
the guard house they’ll ask for your chit (and you’d better have it).
Drive over the bridge to the next guard house and make sure
they give you the next chit (they didn’t give us one and we had to drive back
Now you’re in Kazakhstan. When arrive at the building, park,
go inside to do passport control, then they’ll check the vehicle and as you
leave someone will ask you for the chit.
The first 50 kms of road is terrible. Really bad. Seriously.
Bad. All the way to Atyrau is awful but the first bit is the worst. It’s really
good road from Atyrau to Beyneu.
If you need to register in Atyrau (non-EU passports) here
are the co-ordinates or the office.
It’s up a side road and there’s nowhere to park. Make sure
you have 2 photocopies of the driver’s passport, visa, departure card, and the
vehicle registration (car passport). Of course they don’t have a photocopier at
From Beyneu to the Uzbek border is another of those roads.
It’s 92km of hell. Really, really bad. Possibly the worst yet. The other side
is bad for about 50km, then slowly improves.
The border crossing is tedious but we didn’t have any
hassle. You can speed it up a bit by having two photocopies of driver’s
passport and vehicle registration.
We wild camped all through Kazakhstan in the desert. No
hassle, just hot and dusty.