Tuesday, August 22, 2006

All terrain Lada

Or how we got just a little lost and went off-roading in Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a really big country. Kazakhstan is a really big country with some of the consistently worst stretches of road we've seen anywhere along the way so far. Kazakhstan is a really big country, with terrible roads, that I lost our map for somewhere in Uzbekistan (have I mentioned we didn't enjoy Uzbekistan?). So, all of this being the case, Theo and I were actually making pretty good progress through the country - driving with few stops for things like taking somebody to a hospital, and on the morning of the 20th we had arrived at Lake Balqash, which is a vast, beautiful body of water on the way up North from Almaty. We had hoped to actually camp out there during the night, but getting out of Almaty took longer than we might have hoped.

After this brief interlude (which was also the closest thing I got to a shower during the three days in Kazakhstan), we were faced with a choice: our map said that we needed to get Norht to the town of Aktogai, we could take the direct route there, but the locals had warned that the road was bad, or we could take a roughly 250 km detour. In the stupid spirit of the rally, we obviously went straight. Over the next three hours, we were driving along the singularily worst stretch of road I had seen so far on the trip.

It wasn't really that the were a lot of pot holes (of course there were), the real problem was that the road had turned itself into a giant washboard, that was threatening to completely shake the car loose. Eventually, I realized that the washboard was actually the worst in places that were more heavily trafficed, so I first started trying to pick parts of the road that had received less traffic. This shortly turned to simply trying to drive next to the road surface as opposed to on it whenever I could see the surface well enough. As if to underscore just how screwed we would be if the car had broken down or anything else had gone wrong, over the course of the three hour drive, I did not see a single other car on the "road" and I saw something resembling a settlement once.

Theo, however, slept comfortably (we had been on the road for approaching 36 hours straight at that point):

Eventually, we reached another settlement, roughly where I thought Aktogai should have been, and I thought our off-roading days were done. This was once again proven thoroughly incorrect - Aktogai was still 18km away, and getting there now involved following tracks through open fields and meadows. Conveniently enough, there were actually people to give us directions in some of the most obscure places in these fields.

And then, we hit pavement again, and there was much rejoicing!

The final slap in the face came when we realized that our map had been copmletely wrong and we didn't need to go to Aktogai at all, and the paved route, that we thought was a detour would have actually been shorter... oh well, by then I felt being lost for 4 hours on unpaved roads in the empty middle of Kazakhstan was well within the spirit of the rally! The rest of the drive to the Russian border was fairly unremarkable, except for plenty more stretches of terrible roads, of course. And the Lada, for the record, came through the gravel washboard none the worse for it - these cars were built for this!

Can You Say Lucky? It'll be great to hear from Theo when he hits civilization again... The Lada was the best decision you all made...Hang in there Theo... Hio Silver... Away.
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