Here I am racing along on the main road from Almaty to Bishkek (Kazakhstan to Kyrgyzstan) in a taxi believe it or not. My good wife, Julia, bless her, had a minor fit a couple of years ago when I walked across the border into Tajikistan, quite justified actually. She made me promise not to walk across any more borders so I haven’t, but did sneak one from Israel to Jordan. I could have taken a mini bus, or marshrutka, for this trip but it would involve walking about a mile across no mans land and I would break my promise. I found a company called Kiwitaxi who for a very reasonable rate will take you from A to B, door to door, actually less than a taxi from Marin to the airport, or Winchester to Heathrow, for this ride. So I’ll live blog as I go.
I’m on the steppe which is kind of romantic though a bit featureless and way in the distance on my left, to the south, are the Lli Alatau mountains (part of the northern Tian Shan range) and they have snow on them. I had always thought of the steppe as covered in swishing long green grass, almost right, grass yes, but it has been over a hundred (38C) degrees here every day for five months so its rather brown or “golden’ like California before the rains start. (Quick aside: Here I am miles out in the Kazakh steppe and my phone rings! It’s Julia from California! She must be psychic.) We just stopped so that Mucheed, driver, can imbibe a shot of the national drink, fermented mare’s milk (Kumis) with bits in, no thanks, I’ll stick with the pink stuff!
The steppe is actually rather fabulous, it’s so vast and I can see it stretching away into the haze in the distance with the occasional village far, far away. Farming seems to be what they do here; there are sheep, the occasional cow, goats, horses (sorry about that) and much hay baling of the swishing grass. If you have passed the time with the Great Russian authors and poets you must agree they did a much better job of waxing lyrical about the steppes than me. Perhaps we should just leave it to them.
Of course sometimes things don’t actually work out as planned and today the border was closed to vehicle traffic. Sergei met us on the Kazakh side and then helped with my bags across the very short border crossing. Emigration took about a minute, immigration a little less and he had parked his car very close to the barrier which meant leaving one country and arriving in another took about five minutes, there was no sign of Customs. It was an almost pleasant experience.
The rolling steppe.