Dec 2012 / Jan 2013


Why Kazakhstan?    There are two reasons. 1) Back in 1993 while Steve and I were being backpackers we were in Istanbul getting visas for Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan and across to Indonesia and Australia. We very nearly got a Kazakhstan visa - I even had the stamp in my passport but then some officious official noticed that we did not have a Letter of Invitation and threw us out of the embassy (we had to fly from Uzbekistan to Pakistan) so it was a place we still wanted to visit. Then  2) Steve with his wish to see most things wanted to see ships marooned in the desert which used to be the Aral Sea.

So after booking the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam we got ready. Steve checked the Landrover over and I bought a tent and food. Steve already has very warm -60C sleeping bags, coats and salopettes  from his Siberia trip so although they swamp me I knew I was going to be warm enough. The weather forecasts said dry, sunny and about -12C to -20C.

Date Country Event Temp Day / Night Milo(Km) Daily Km Photos
18/12/12 U.K Set off at 5pm to Hull, caught the ferry. Had a few beers and watched "t turn". All rather entertaining.. 7C 46550 70 No 92
19/12/12 Holland Off the ferry at 9.30am and drove through Belgium and Germany in thick fog. Crossed the border into Poland at 10pm and drove until Zary where we slept in the landrover in snow. Started doing the "Daily Updates" - an interview with Steve! Morning Update 5C / -1C 47477 927 No 93,97 & 98
20/12/12 Poland Up early and drove through Poland heading south through Wroclaw, Katowice and Krakow. The roads were good until Tarnow when they were very congested and slow. We reached the Ukraine border at 7pm but apart from being slow and very cold everything was in order and we passed through in 2 hours. We then camped. Morning Update -5C /-13C 48485 1008 Photos

No 101

21/12/12 Ukraine Another day of driving. Kiev passed easily as the roadsigns got us through simply. We then got a puncture on the outskirts so Steve changed the wheel while I took photos of the museum / memorial (as he said he didn't need any help). The temperature dropped all day from -10C to -15C and we put more and more clothes on. The heater inside was being temperamental (due to Steve ripping out the a/c in 2008) giving me a 40C blast and Steve a pathetic 5C so that was my job for the day! We had chosen a small town border to cross into Russia but it took us an hour to find the right road out of the Ukrainian town of Glukov and then we drove passed about 100 trucks queuing at the border. The border was a freezing cold exposed place (as they all seem to be). Steve went back and forth to the office bringing forms which we then tried to fill out correctly but had to have 3 goes before we understood what the Russian customs wanted. We were both very cold when we were finally allowed through! Drove through Russia until 3am then camped. Morning update -10 /-15C 49400 915 Photos

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22/12/12 Russia We decided to have a very long driving day as we wanted to make progress. The roads were good and we passed through the towns quickly. At 4pm we stopped for a short sleep then continued until midnight when we had an Expedition Meal to keep us going. We then drove round Samara, found the right road south to the Kazakhstan border and camped at 4am. Morning Update and an Evening Update! -15C / -20C 50435 1035 Photos

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23/12/12 Kazakhstan We reached the border at midday. It was even colder than the Russian border and we had to queue outside porter cabins for an hour. There was no problem though it just took time on the computer to input all the details and there were about 20 people in front of us. We knew the system now - you first get a ticket that says the vehicle number and how many people. Then you open up the vehicle for Customs and get one stamp on your ticket, then queue at Passport Control and get another stamp on your ticket. Then drive to the Exit gate where your ticket is checked - two stamps and you're allowed out!!. It was hard to tell what cabin does what as both Entry and Exits are in the same area and people seem to crisscross from one to another. So into Kazakhstan at 1pm but then got a puncture and had to change the wheel by moneychange cabins in the freezing cold. We then drove down to Oral and Steve promised me a luxury hotel but I was very sceptical. We just stopped at the first one we drove passed (Rahat_Hotel) and Steve went in.  He came out and said it was nice, hmmn but I was very impressed and happy when I was shown our room. It was great. Huge, warm, clean with en-suite bathroom. Just what we needed to thaw out and clean ourselves up!  Morning update -20C / -26C 50875 440 Photos

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24/12/12   We decided to stay two nights and thought that to check the Landrover would start it would be a good idea to leave the Wabasto heater running all night and switch the engine off. The Wabasto heater runs on diesel and heats the engine when the engine is switched off - it had been temperamental on the way down and we needed to check it. It wasn't working in the morning and the Landrover wouldn't start. Everything had frozen up inside - batteries, gas bottles, food, water, washing stuff, anything plastic was really brittle and the canvas cover soon split. So we hauled it all upto the room and thawed it out on the "too hot to touch" radiators. I did some clothes washing and they were completely dry in hours. The staff were brilliant about us tramping up and down, looking scruffy and carrying as much as we could. It was so cold that we could only do 30 minutes outside at a time then you had to thaw your fingers out. At least the locals thought it was cold though. The worse job was doing up the canvas back. We sorted everything out so that we knew where it all was - at home I had just packed food inside and outside but now had a rotary system where I moved the food I needed for that evening's meal inside next to the radiator to thaw out before I tried to cook it. I also knew where all tins and packets were so I didn't have to get all the boxes / bags out everytime. We decided that camping with the tent wasn't practical so packed away the inflatable bed, folding chairs etc in the back and sorted bags out so that we could pad the inside of the landrover out and sleep inside on top of them all. 

While everything was thawing out we went in search of a bank. This was found quickly but the ATM wouldn't work. A very kind women asked to see our card and then pointed us in the direction of a bank that would accept it. We were soon realising how very friendly and inquisitive all the people were. We need to find a tyre repair place too having used both our spares and everyone was very helpful pointing us in the right direction. As it was so cold it was hard to tell what was open and not as all the shop / garage doors were closed with the heaters on inside!

We got a very warm welcome everywhere especially when people learnt that we were there to visit Kazakhstan and not just passing through to Mongolia. We ate in the cafe next door and in the hotel restaurant and opened up our Christmas Hamper in the evening.

-18C / -26C 50875 0 Photos

130 & 131

25/12/12   We had forgotten that we needed to register and so had to do that after breakfast which was fine but would have been impossible had it not been for an english speaking lady that happened to be there as we didn't understand the questions they were asking. We then set off south / east towards Aktobe taking our time and stopping for photos. About 30km before Aktobe the road suddenly ended with no warning and we were supposed to turn right onto a dirt track round some road construction. We swung right then left and I thought we were going to go through the barrier but Steve managed to stop the Landrover in time. It was all a bit scary though in complete darkness. From then on the road was a dirt track and a lot slower. We navigated Aqtobe which was a huge city and camped the other side at 10pm. We were now leaving the Landrover running constantly overnight. It was -6C inside in the morning. -20C / -26C 51440 565 Photos

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26/12/12   Up at 6am, breakfast (porridge), packed away and warmed up. We set off planning to fill up at a town on the T-junction but after a few hours realised that the map must be wrong and somehow we had bypassed the town. We actually found this a lot - they are building new roads which bypass all the towns whereas the old roads used to go straight through towns. All 3 of our maps agreed that we should have just hit the town we needed. So onwards we continued but as the road got progressively quieter and no towns were in sight we got worried about our lack of diesel. Asking a lorry driver at a "truck layby" he said we could buy diesel at a cafe on the next junction. So we pulled in there, had something to eat and asked. Initially the answer was "No" but then another woman came in and "Oh Yes she has diesel". So we bought 20 litres of rather milky looking diesel that came out of a can. Some lads fixing a lorry looked on and were very impressed at the Landrover; they also motioned that the diesel would be ok. What choice did we have now!? We passed a broken down truck with camels in the back and after stopping to help (but none needed) we offered the guys some Christmas cake which they wolfed down cheerfully!. On we drove to Ural but on reaching the town we were disappointed as it was covered in a smog of coal fumes and looked rather scruffy. We bought some water and headed out deciding to stay in the Landrover rather than try and find a hotel. This was the coldest night we experienced - when we woke it was..... -16C inside and -30C outside but it had dropped to -32C overnight. Morning Update -25C / -32C 52000 560 Photos

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27/12/12   We big problem we were now having was that after getting up we were very cold and so it was either make breakfast and warm up using gas which created more inside ice meaning that Steve couldn't see out when driving OR get up and drive to warm us up and while driving work on scraping the ice off the inside screen. Then when warm, stop and make breakfast which made more ice. Today - we drove first. I was working on blocking up holes in the heating system and eventually I did it and diverted enough air onto the windscreen to allow us to drive and cook at the same time - whoopee !

We headed back into Ural and bought water, bread and found an ATM. Then did a few "sunshine jobs" and drove to Selsi and tried to find the road out to Aiseppe. Eventually we asked at a petrol garage who laughed and said follow the pylons! Obvious really!! So off we went - following the electricity poles out into the steppes. There were loads of lorries out to our right going much faster than us but we imagined they were heading off somewhere remote so didn't follow just stuck to our line. They disappeared off eventually, We came to Aiseppe on the north of the Aral Sea and decided to camp nearby and then explore in daylight. We had a nice relaxed evening in the landrover as we thought about running / walking but being outside at -30C is painful and then washing afterwards was out of the question. But we had bought a bottle of vodka ("when in Rome") and enjoyed that with some Christmas cake!

-24C / -30C 52270 270 Photos

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28/12/12   We wanted to find the remaining Aral Sea and on the map it looked like there was a route around to towns on the north. Heading through Aiseppe we set off on a track on a bearing. It seemed very good but got progressively less and less used but was heading the right way. After a couple of hours it stopped at a fishermans den which was from the outside a door that lead underground. But outside were 3 fishermen about to go ice fishing. They invited us to follow them out onto the ice. It was very strange driving down the sand dunes and onto completely flat ice. When we arrived at their "ice holes" we saw that the ice wasn't even that thick - about 15cm / 6". They had a fishing net strung between a line of holes and used string to locate and pull it out. They caught a huge number of fish and weren't bothered by the cold at all. We had to get back in the landrover after 30 minutes as were in danger of freezing to the spot.

We had a rethink (we had a lot of them) - it obviously wasn't possible to continue - we hadn't found the road round and were going further and further out from civilisation. So we planned a route north on bigger roads and headed back through Aiseppe past a brilliant geyser that was too hot to bathe in and onto Selsi. Video of Geyser  On the way back we headed out to where the trucks were driving. They were transporting pipes for a new gas line - there were thousands of them and all modes of transport were used. We followed the trucks back to Selsi and when we stopped they stopped - for a chat and to examine the landrover which they were impressed at. (Steve has lots more photos of them which I'll sort out and out up). At Selsi we tried to find the road out to Shalquar which was marked on two maps that followed the railway line - a big red road not a single track or anything. After finding the railway we still couldn't make out a road so back to the friendly petrol station where the guy said "Neit" - No! You have to go back to Aral and up to a junction then across. So that's what we did. We drove to 10pm and camped on the road to Shalquar off the main road.

-18C / -25C 52645 375 Photos

 226 - 258

29/12/12   The road to Shalquar varied - some was very good and then 200km was bone shaking, potholed and rutted. Where roads are like this everyone drives on the fields alongside the road. In photo 276 & 277 we are actually alongside the road which is built on the ridge on our right. It was much faster and smoother but the danger was the deep snow and ruts below which we couldn't see. The other danger was that under the snow the soil was very sticky and sometimes we got worse traction on that than on the dry ice. We did a lot of dipping and diving, on and off the road, one track then another, back on the road on and on for hours. We were quite battered and bruised and I couldn't believe bits weren't going to start falling off the landrover. We got to Shalquar which was a large busy town, bought some diesel, water and bread (which is called "kleb" in Russian but "nan" in Kazak. Spelt HAH - and sold from kiosks - obvious and easy once we had twigged!).

Drove upto Embi on a good road which we couldn't fathom until we got there - the town was one huge coal mine! Strangely during the day the temperature had been steadily creeping up from -16C to -10C then as we crossed the highest point on our route at 450m it even got to -4C and it started to rain. The wind picked up and Steve wanted "landrover pictures" (he wanted them a lot) and so got out to take some. I think mine of him trying to get back to the landrover are better! Got back to Quobda and camped to the West of it on the main road back to Oral.

-16C to -4C / -12C 53188 543 Photos

259 - 308

30/12/12   We were now heading back to Oral basically but spotted a lake that would make a nice detour so took the road the that. When we got there it was a touristy spot with beach huts (old railway carriages), playground and toilets. We drove round the town which was very interesting as we (as farmers) had been trying to figure out what and how they made into the stuff they were feeding to their camels and cattle. We decided that it was basically steppe grass, cut and raked up into piles which were then collected up, brought back to the farms and stacked in traditional stacks. It looked quite unpalatable and I think most animals lived on the piles of household rubbish that we saw everywhere. Daily update

We then drove back to Oral in snow - Video of road and found the hotel but to our dismay the lights were out and it was closed. Sitting in the landrover wondering what / where to go now a taxi driver came up and started talking to us about the landrover. Steve mentioned the hotel being closed and he said "No not closed, Open". Steve went to see and yes !!! it was open but having a 15 minute power cut! Wow. We were giddy with relief. Checked in, had a shower and decided to eat in the cafe and save the restaurant for New Year's Eve.

-8C / -12C 53803 615 Photos

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31/12/12   Sorting out day again. Did some shopping and went to see the nice garage man that had helped us find a tyre place. It was very busy everywhere and there were big queues for nan! It was a lot different in -10C and it was good to get out and about walking a lot. We waited till 8pm for dinner and trotted down to the restaurant only to find it shut!! So next door to the cafe we went. The girls in there were tolerant of us but I think a little wary. It was a very busy cafe used by taxi drivers, young groups of people but also posh looking couples. It sold ploff (rice dish), borsch (cabbage stew), fried meat / cheese things, soup by the gallon, tea, coffee and beer. No cakes at all.

It was a bit lonely in the cafe and we thought lets buy some champagne and chocolate and go back to our room. There was a shop next door we had been in. It was shut! But wait there is a man knocking on the window, a little hatch opened, he gave his order, the lady disappeared and came back with his stuff. So we tried it. With no Russian we had to keep it simple and she nearly rolled her eyes when she saw who it was. Steve requested "champagne and Snickers", the calculator came out first with the cost, Steve duly paid her and the hatch closed, hmmn, and reopened with ... da! da! champagne and snickers (extra large bar).  Back to our room to celebrate the New Year in style!"!!!!

-8C / -12C 53803 0 Photos

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01/01/13 Russia Got up in time for breakfast and guess what - the restaurant isn't opening until 10am. So back to the cafe! We then set off north towards the Russian border. We arrived at 9am and it was very quiet and very quick! In Samara we got stopped by the police and couldn't find Steve's photolicense. While he went off to be breathalysed I searched the landrover and found the card. I went over to the office and all was ok then. We continued on. We stopped and had an Expedition Food meal for lunch which was our favourite - Vegetable Tikka.  In Penza we drove round and round only escaping with the use of the Garmin GPS. We were soon finding that on entering a big city you follow the "main road" signs but of course if you miss one then you're stuffed as the next one you see isn't necessarily the main road you want. Plus with all the building some main road signs ended in housing estates. It was frustrating though - all road signs say "Moscow" on them. Once out of Penza at 10pm we camped. -8C / -10C 54596 793 Photos

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02/01/13 Russia


Up early and off. Through Tambov and Varonesh which were easy then got lost in Kirsk. Got to the Ukraine border at 10pm and extremely annoyingly the Ukrainians wanted a Green Card insurance certificate. Extremely annoying as we had asked our Insurance Broker for one in the UK and he reassured us that the Ukrainians recognise a UK certificate. Er No They Don't! Also annoying as we had already been through their border from Poland and were not asked for it then. But no way out - off to little kiosks and paid 30e for two weeks insurance (the minimum they do). Fuming we got into Ukraine drove and hour and camped in a very windy spot. Daily Update 0C / -5C 55500 904 Photos

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03/01/13 Ukraine


We were finding driving back that the road signs got progressively better and so driving through Ukraine was blissfully easy even the capital Kiev. We chose to go a different way through Poland and so headed north west to cross near Chelm. Another strange thing that all these countries do is instead of listing the largest town near the border on road signs they pick the smallest insignificant place ever and list that. They never say - "Russian border" or Ukraine or Poland. So look at your map at even if the town is 500km away that is the one to look for.

Crossed the border into Poland at 9pm. The Ukraine Exit side was bonkers - with the Red Channel being faster by an hour than the Green channel but once we had opened up the landrover 10 times and sat watching other cars boots being opened up ten times and got our ticket duly stamped we were allowed out. We then (as EU passport holders) drove passed about 100 Ukrainian etc cars and straight through into Poland. We're bored Daily Update

4C/ 0C  56510 1010 Photos

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04/01/13 Poland Germany We set off on the A12 with the plan of heading to Lodz but the road was so good and called itself an International road (going to a tinsy town on the German border) that we stayed on it and it was very pleasant. There were towns and countryside but it made for nice driving especially as the Polish seem to have taken to putting up huge barriers down the sides of their autobarns which mean you can't see out. They are horrid. Went though Pulawy, Radom and Kalisz easily with even more improved signage! We crossed into Germany on an non existant border and camped south of Berlin. Bit less bored Daily Update 6C / 0C 57315 805 Photos

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05/01/13 Germany


The weather was better than on our initial journey and we could admire some views while driving through. In Holland we decided it was just too tidy. All the farms were so well kept that we started to look for the renegade farmer with piles of scrap outside but none to be found. The landrover by this time was so filthy that it brought to our attention a Samoobsluga but we drove on! The rain soon washed a lot of the muck off. Arriving at the ferry we had a wait then were allowed on and into our cabin for a shower! We missed the "meal deal" on dinner and breakfast (should read the small print) but consoled ourselves with beer and cake. 6C / 3C 58007 692 Photos

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06/01/13 U.K A good but very hot crossing overnight - I woke up trying to turn the smoke alarm thinking it was the sunroof on the landrover. I'm surprised I didn't fall out of my bunk or break the thing! Driving across from Hull in sunshine we noticed all the things you do on your return - but most noticeable were trees and road signs!! 10C 58085 78