It's said the first impression is the lasting one. And with that in mind, I could've hardly had a better start in Kazakhstan

  • The Roads are in pristine condition
  • There's camels and wild horses everywhere!
  • People friendly and approachable
  • Less traffic and the drivers even yield to pedestrians!
  • Most importantly I meet Galym the first night in Aktau, a kind guy who really wants to show me the best side of his country

But before I learn any of this, I have to formally enter Kazakhstan first:

Getting in

Kazakhstan, the largest landlocked (no access to an ocean) country in the world is also one of the richest countries in Central Asia. This is very much in line with my impression upon leaving the ferry in Kuryk: Everything is shiny and new (well, it is a brand new port after all): the dock, the asphalt, the buildings, the roads.

After the ferry docking I immediately start saddling up my bicycle, getting ready to leave.

"Not so quick. Passport control", one of the dock agents explains, and points Matt and I to the upper deck. It probably takes another 30 minutes until we find the border agents who conduct the immigration procedures onboard the ship. A photo is taken, my immigration card and passport are stamped and 2 minutes later I'm good to go. One benefit of the German (EU) passport: I do not need a visa for Kazakhstan (nor Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan) for stays under 30 days.

Back down at the cargo area of the ship, we are still not allowed to leave. Another 30 minutes pass until the dock agent waves us on. We quickly pedal to the customs gate which is... closed! After waiting another 20 minutes or so, the officer finally shows up and peeks into our handlebar bags: "Any dangerous items?" "No". He helps himself to one of my chewing gums (I suppose just to test if they pose any threat) and we're allowed to proceed.

The exit gate, we're pedaling quickly onwards, but: "Come here", a voice yells from the side. Another officer has spotted us and we're now asked to put all our bags through an Xray machine in the customs building, while a very chatty (and not very attentive) customs agent jokes around in German ("Schneller, schneller"), not paying the least attention to the computer screens in front of him.

20 minutes later we withdraw some money at the ATM in the port building (don't use Fortebank, they charge a fee of 1000 KZT!), get a quick snack at the cafeteria and then pedal to the last checkpoint, which we clear surprisingly quickly: we've made it to Kazakhstan eventually.

A night near Kuryk

It is too late now to make significant progress and we set up camp merely a few km from the port.

The night passes quickly and in the morning we reach Kuryk, a sleepy town where we have to ask 3 people to finally find a market, in which we can get supplies for the next 70 km: there will be no village, gas station or super market until the next city, Aktau.

Among others, this will be a common pattern during my cycling time in Kazakhstan in the next days:

  • The land is not densely populated and the distances to the next settlement or even the next house can be enormous (for cyclists anyways)
  • The overland roads are quiet and flat
  • It is sunny
  • It is windy. Unfortunately for me, mostly blowing straight up my face: headwinds 😡

After 6 hours of cycling time we have clocked up 97 km and finally arrive in Aktau. My left ankle really needs a rest now. Pedalling in sandals in Azerbaijan hasn't done it any good and I'm happy to chill in Aktau for a few days, whilst Matt has booked a train to Nukus from here on.

Friendly locals

While the hostel "Eliem T" which I have located today is not in the touristy part of the city, it does costs only 1500 Tenge (~3.5 EUR) and offers air conditioned rooms and Wifi. The toilets and showers are terrible though: soap and toilet paper not included--quite unusual by Western standards.

In the hostel I meet Galym, a local who is delighted at the presence of foreigners in his city. He introduces me to his family, local beer, shows me around Aktau and the beaches of the city.

The sea however is a bit cold for my liking: allegedly 15 C, but some of the spots feel much, much colder.

Peculiar also the attire of some of the swimmers: a full head mask is worn as protection against the sun--something I will see more often later when encountering motorcyclists, workers or other people spending lots of time outdoors.

Okay now, gotta make this quick

This post is getting out of hand, and I kind of want to wrap it up before I continue cycling to Uzbekistan tomorrow. So, what else happened?

  • A group of 6 cyclists arrives with the next ferry, but I don't get to cycle with them because they all want to take the train to Uzbekistan (big disappointment)
  • I continue cycling alone and meet Ian (UK) on the second day (who, turns out, did not take the train)
  • We continue together through 4 rather strenuous days with lots of headwind
  • In Beyneu I meet a local, Akniyet, who is on the road in the morning training for his half Ironman. He promptly invites me to stay at his family's place
  • The family owns a public swimming pool, a quarry and a camel+horse farm which we are happy to explore
  • Unfortunately I get food poisoning during my stay which is why I'm still in Beyneu 6 nights later. But tomorrow I'm fit... I feel it!