Kazakhstan #2 – “Eight Minutes of a Hard Bit”

17 Jul

This is the next (favorite) post about our adventures in Kazakhstan.
A guest blog by Patrick.

 

We awoke the next morning without a plan; we had meant to make a plan the night before, but we were tired and the great thing about traveling with a resourceful travel partner is you can afford to wing it. Alex had let slip that hitchhiking in Kazakhstan was pretty easy, and we both knew that hitching was in our future. We surveyed the map and found a remote alpine border crossing into Kyrgyzstan. Yes, please.

We said goodbye to the incredibly generous Alex (THANK YOU SO MUCH!), and made our way back to our favorite subway ever for the ride to the regional bus and taxi stand. We had to walk a bit from the station, and had quite an adventure along the way: Sammi found an artificial turf couch to relax on, we decided to be daredevils and cross a major road without a crosswalk, and Sammi was asked in a language we don’t know to watch a baby while the mother bought a kebab. Sammi just smiled and nodded; the baby survived.

Ok, so it’s not the WHITE COUCH from the Dream Flat, but…

 

Our new Kazakh friend/savior.

 

We had planned on taking a taxi out of the city and then hitching a ride up to Saty (a mountain village with homestays and access to gorgeous alpine lakes). We casually walked up to the taxi stand and quickly realized that we knew no Russian, had no idea what we should be paying, and were totally unprepared to negotiate our safe passage. Whoops! We had been lulled into a false sense of confidence! Maybe this wasn’t going to be as easy as it seemed while being led around by a CouchSurfer. Luckily, this wasn’t our first rodeo. We walked away, regrouped, and made a plan. The SIM card we had received from Alex wasn’t working for data, so we started asking around for help. Before we knew it we had located an incredibly nice gentleman (pictured above) who got some boys to help set up our internet. Voila – we had google translate! After posing for photos with several locals, we had a great exchange with our new friend who agreed to take us to the taxi and negotiate a good fare. We paid half as much as the other tourists in our car. 😉

“We had eight minutes of a hard bit” -Patrick

Topics of conversation during the taxi ride from Almaty: how great traveling together is, how great we are at traveling, and how great traveling is. Our newly ingrained trifecta!

 

We had negotiated to hop out at the crossroads to Saty with the plan to hitch from there. No matter how confident you feel, hitchhiking always takes a little bit of a self pep talk. Luckily there were two of us, so we were able calmly collect each other and prepare for the arduous struggle of being turned down repeatedly. We readied ourselves and stuck out our thumbs. Ten minutes and three cars later, we had a luxurious ride in an SUV all of the way to Saty. #hard

Hitchhiking: Minute 1 of 10.

 

Our wonderful hitchhiking hosts were three lovely Germans: Harry, Anna, and Anika. They were on virtually the same itinerary for the next couple of days as we were, and in no time ‘Team Find the Lake’ was formed. We arrived in Saty and introduced our new friends to one of our favorite past times: surveying every accommodation option in a village and then deciding which one is the best. SO. MUCH. FUN. We quickly found our dream yurt, owned by a nice family and surrounded by apple trees. Sammi and I were sold, and so were our German friends after they visited four other places. We could barely contain our excitement when Anika translated “Your yurt is ready.”

Our first successful hitch of the trip – on our way to Saty!

 

We settled in, had a delicious tea break, and then set off to Kolsai Lake. We ran into some serious obstacles along the way, namely a grumpy National Park employee who grilled Harry and an intense construction crew who were paving the road. After some Harry/hairy maneuvering, we found the gorgeous lake just in time to sit down and watch the sun go down. It was beautiful until a Kazakh guy walked right in front of us, got out his soap, and started bathing in the middle of our view. We returned home for a delicious family-style dinner of lamb and potatoes before crowding around the television to watch the World Cup Final.

The surreal drive to Kolsai Lake.

 

Team Find the Lake becomes Team Found the Lake.

Following a great night’s yurt-sleep, we awoke to find ominous weather bearing down on us. After hours of deliberation over breakfast, we finally decided to try to drive to Kaindy Lake and leave the epic hike we had planned for another day. “Who wants to hike in the rain?!?” We set off for the closest magazine (that’s Russian for shop) to stock up on provisions. When the first magazine didn’t have everything we needed, we moved onto the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, before we had scoured every shop in Saty. “You like to try everything, don’t you?” Harry asked us. He nailed it. We felt like The Very Hungry Caterpillar as we worked our way through Kazakh chocolate in beautiful packaging, Coke that wasn’t quite cold enough, round bread, nectarines, sausage, orange donuts, and mystery dessert sticks.

“If I had asked you yesterday how many times we would drive up and down this main road, what would you have guessed?” I asked as we finally made our way out of town. We missed our turn to the lake which allowed us to participate in Patrick’s favorite activity (Backtracking), then had a gorgeous drive through a river and into the mountains.

The drive to Kaindy Lake.

 

Pit stop!

 

We arrived a Kaindy Lake, famous for its upright Spruce Trees that are still standing from the day the lake was formed by a landslide about 100 years ago. We were greeted by some amazingly generous locals, who shared freshly picked apples and boursaki with us before sending us down to the lake. We spent a lovely morning chatting with a Kazakh-American couple we met, picnicking along the banks of the lake, and, of course, swimming. “If we’re going to swim somewhere on this trip, this should be the place.”

The hospitality of the Kazakh people was amazing.

 

“I know my way sucks but it’s what I’m doing.”

 

“The hard bit.”

 

“Who’s excited to talk about credit cards?”

 

Bingo!

 

#hard

 

“Did you see that yellow duck?”

 

#lakelife

 

We hiked around to the other side of the lake before returning home for dinner and an explanation of the exclusive nature of Bavaria. Our homestead was bustling with a long-haired greyhound (“Does that count as a unique animal?”), frolicking children (“Do you think I can just pick him up?”, and a deformed sheep. We had fun flossing and brushing our teeth, bathing in the Russian banya, and admiring the beautiful scenery.

“Sorry about the (w)hole situation.”

 

“Down low, too slow!”

 

The next morning involved another round of intense deliberations about what to do and whether it was worth hiking to Kolsai Lake 2 given the weather. Team Find the Lake eventually settled on the hike, so we immediately traveled to the closest magazine(s) to buy more supplies. Sammi and I were elated; the cream-filled shortbread sandwiches we found were delicious. We found our way back to Kolsai Lake and set off on our hike in the pouring rain. A local guide looked us up and down, advised that the hike was long and hard, and identified Sammi as the only one of us who was properly prepared. Way to pack that poncho, Sammi!

Tromping through the mud!

 

Team SnackAttack.

 

#worthit

 

The hike was long, muddy, and beautiful. We passed through rolling hills of wildflowers, under dense forest, and along rushing waterfalls. There were lots of snack breaks and photo opportunities in between hours of deep conversation and soaking in nature (literally, because it was pouring). Team Find the Lake faced some serious adversity, but we lifted each other’s spirits and made it to Kolsai Lake 2! As we arrived, we were confronted by heavily armed Kazakh soldiers who asked to see our passports. We were less than a kilometer from the Kyrgyzstan border, and they take crossing international boundaries seriously. We paused for a little picnic in the sun(!) before making our way back through the mud to the car. It was a long but rewarding day, and everyone was exhausted.

“I’m running ahead so I can take your picture!!!”

 

Oh my god, she spelled it correctly.

 

Team Found the Lake (#2)

 

So. Happy.

 

Sammi and I had started to formulate potential plans for our next step in the morning, and were considering catching a ride with our German friends back down to the crossroads where they first picked us up. From there it would be about a 45 kilometer hitch to the town of Kegen, located near the Kyrgyz border. However, as our hike wore on and the day grew later, we started to question whether it was a good idea. Do we dare attempt hitchhiking at dark?

Team Found the Lake (Twice!), Fell in the Mud, Ate a Lot of Snacks, Took a Lot of Photos, and Survived Three Days Crammed Into the Duster

 

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