The road to Atyrau was pretty bad and rough in places…..a foretaste of things to come? However gas has come down in price and is now cheaper than in America finally!
We saw in the Lonely Planet guide that there was an Irish pub in Atyrau where the ex-pat oil workers hang out called O’Neals. We wanted to check in regarding local road conditions, so we would be able to make informed decisions about our routing from here.
When we got to O’Neals it felt like home. It really was a great little Irish pub with stained glass, dark wood, very close to authentic. Although it was very weird being in an Irish pub in Kazakhstan, especially since 5 minutes earlier we had just crossed from the continent of Europe into the continent of Asia…..and had taken pictures of the huge statue of Genghis Khan in the city square. Atyrau seemed much wealthier than the surrounding area….influx of oil money. The streets were freshly paved and new gas stations were under construction everywhere….it was actually difficult to find an open one! While in O’Neill’s we chatted with a Dutch oil worker who told us the road was much improved down to Beynau all due to money poured in to the area for transportation to and from the oil fields near Beynau…. which buoyed our hopes. We also found out through our conversation that he used to have a job driving across the Sahara. So he would know the difference between good roads and bad… I would hope… Well, he was right! As we left Atyrau and got back on the road and it was silken smooth!! We took advantage of this and pushed the bus all the way to Beynau, where we arrived while it was getting dark. We also put the spare tires and fuel on the roof to create space in the bus so we could sleep in it. This plan worked very well and we pulled in to a parking area in Beynau which seemed to act as a defacto bus station and overnight parking area.
We started to make dinner and instantly became the hit of the area, as we were constantly surrounded by very curious but very friendly people who were mostly in transit through the area. We actually didn’t eat dinner until much later… and even after that people still kept coming over and talking to us. A couple of them spoke pretty decent English, enough so we could have a basic conservation. One of the bus drivers, made us promise to look him up when we get to Bukhara, Uzbekistan. A young lady named Zofia seemed the most interested in us of everyone. She spoke enough English to be able to translate for the people around her. She told us that she is from Uzbekistan, specifically Kakakarlpakstan (where we were about to drive into tomorrow) which is the northern region of Uzbekistan who consider themselves distinct from the rest of the country. They are not totally secessionists but we had several Karakalpaks correct us when we called the north “Uzbekistan”. She also told us that she was on her way home after working nine months in a fishery in Russia.
We are so lucky not to have to live away from home for most of a year just to be able to make enough money to support a family.
Finally we bunked down for the night in the BBB. It was windy so we left the back doors open a little to catch a breeze throughout the night. Hope not too much sand blows in!
Sleep well and as always… Viva Mongolia!