“Are the trucks going to Kazakhstan parked here?” Before we heard the answer, as always, group of truck drivers already gathered around us. They were going with another ferry, to Turkmenistan, trucks to Kazakhstan were parked in another place. No problem, it’s good to take a walk while waiting for the ferry which nobody really knows when will come (more about the sea route in another post).
We got lucky while asking third or maybe forth driver. He invited Marek to his cabin, opened the map and showed his road with hand holding a burning cigarette. At that time we did not know that the driver was Dungan from Kirgyztan. We did not know what it means also, later on quick wikipedia read and we learned that “Dungan are well known for their hospitality”. Spending 4 days with him on another shore of Caspian Sea, in Kazakhstan, we can happily confirm that it’s very true. He refused to take us both in one truck, saying that the police might have a problem with it. Instead he showed us another truck with his friend inside, and then we realised, that this ride we will have to take in seperate vehicles. “My name is Tolik” – The driver said. Next time we saw him, in the terminal of Aktau, in the night, getting ready for the road after few hours of customs process.
So it went. 4 days of ride which, after our travel through Caucasus countries, live on the map it looked like we’re barely moving. Going in a truck through half of nitnth biggest country in the world,of which most is a vast steppe, taught us a lot of things. We thought one of them would be patience, but honestly there was no time for boredom.
Mentioned steppe can be amazingly various From desert like, sparcely covered by vegetation, cut ocassionaly with white canyons and hills. Through central part with more “classic” steppe view – low grass in shades of yellow and green, stretching far over the horizon. To more green with ocassional small forests north. Bodies of water are rare. Life seemed to bloom around meandering rivers, unlike the Seas (lakes), of which one is vividly in the process of drying and the second one dried up almost completely.
In all of the areas we were looking out for rare saiga antelopes, but those we could only spot in the form of glided soviet monuments by the road. Much more common here seem to be camels and horses, roaming around as if they would be wild animals.
The experience we were most happy about though is the day-to-day truck life. The country itself is quite a truck land. Most of the vehicles are comming from all over Central Asia and many from Europe. On the roads going through any city or village one can be sure to see a few truck stops: sometimes it can be just toilet (4 roofed walls with a hole in the floor) or very kitchy looking bar with a mini shop in it. Oftentimes near those, parked trucks created quite a labirynth. Inside them, drivers talking, smoking, cleaning themselves, fixing their machines. Each of them with different time schedule, so trucks were comming and going all night. We could see those shifts well while laying on the bunk bed in the cabin – curtains were left open so that more air can get into a cabin during hot nights. Home-made wine from Georgia that drivers served to us made falling asleep a bit easier.
In the north, near Russian border at least in the evenings it got a little bit cooler. Down dusty south temperature did not seem to change much and was on average around 35C. In the land of scarce shadows, both people and cattle try to stay in shadow line of the electric poles. Head fully covered with scarf/t-shirt and sunglasses put on it – that was quite a surreal but practical fashion style to encounter.
Our weapon were wet wipes, which kept us somewhat fresh before and after one and the only one bath we had on the road. What a blessing dip it was though, in a cool cool water of the river by the road – not even cow dunks on the shore and swimming snake (!) could make us want to go out!
Then again, we had to keep on moving. From time to time hot gust of air came into the cabin out of nowhere, blowing from our hands most common snack out there – sunflower seeds. Eating them was great time killer and provided us with nutrition during severe diarrea period.
Tiia might be more lucky with the music playing in the cabin, in mine, pretty much in the beginning of the road Tolik explained “I prefer to hear the truck engine well”. Scretching of the cb radio and sound of cracking up sunflower seeds were enough for me for first days, later I was happy to enjoy some kazakh music which luckily I took with me.
Of all, with medium succes we tried to use our none skills of Russian and talk, learn from the drivers. Those guys are real long-distance, if not the longest distance drivers. Route from Bishkek to Vladivostok and back is nothing uncommon for them (15 500 km!). When we met in the port of Alat in Azerbaijan, they were already 2 months out of home. Starting from Kirgistan through Russia to Ukrainian Odessa, waiting there 1 month for medical gliceryne stock and then going back on Black Sea ferry through Caucasus countries, Caspian Sea ship and Kazakhstan. To learn that Tolik have done such roads for around 30 years, lifespan of our lifes, is something truly hard to imagine. We took time to try it though.
Watching the longest shadows of the trucks in the sunset with the otherworldly coloured great skies in the background, once again we were the happiest to experience moments of lifes of the other people.