We had 55 miles from Beynau to the border and it was pretty bad nearly the entire way….obviously the road was nice asphalt at some point, but basically the desert has taken it over, so there are asphalt bumps amongst the sand and crushed stone. So other traffic throws up dust clouds and vision is impaired. When it did become all crushed stone they were washboard beyond all comprehension. We tried to find the magic speed to cancel out the washboards but it wasn’t happening. It became very frustrating…..but finally the border came into view…..then we got a flat tire, probably from broken glass in the border area. We changed it efficiently under the curious watch of some older gentlemen who owned the shop just before the border. One of them helped us find when the tire had been punctured by blowing it up with a hose he attached to a broken down old bus and pouring water over the treads. Thankfully it was only a puncture and not a whole blow out like we have had before. Maybe we will get it fixed/plugged in another city? The whole border area was a dust cloud filled with filthy cars and people (both of which described us at the time). Bruce got a tiny bit of glass in his heal and it was very hard to clean it up properly with the wind kicking up so much dust it obscured your vision. Andrea cleaned up his heal with bottled water, alcohol wipes, Neosporin, and clean band-aids. Hope that will heal up quick!
The border itself was a little chaotic but not too bad time wise. It took 2 hours total for both sides. On the Kazakh side we were ushered to the front by a group of people waiting in no-mans land. They had heard of the Mongol Rally, as had some of the border guards. Apparently 3 cars from the rally had passed through recently, perhaps the same crowd that we met in Astrakhan….although we keep being asked if we are a French team for some reason….no real idea why.
Before they let us through, the border guards checked to make sure that we had water and provisions for traversing the desert. When the Uzbek border guard opened the big gates at the end of the border area, it really looked like he was opening the gates to Hell, as a sandstorm had just kicked up and the hot sun was pouring through the sand and dust. It was actually both moving and a little terrifying. We looked at each other and said “Hey, it’s an adventure. Right?” and pressed on into our next country.
We drove about 20km and came to a checkpoint at about high noon. They wanted to make sure that everyone knew what they were getting themselves into, so they strongly advised us to go get something to eat; some water to drink; and take a siesta and let it cool down before traversing the 200 miles of barren nothingness between here and Kungrad. So we did… We were directed over to a little cement block house, painted white and looked deserted (pun not intended). It was apparently a local restaurant. We had to take our shoes off at the door and inside there were two rooms, each with one long, low table in the middle. Surrounding each table were fabric covered pads and cushions, so people would eat, drink and then nap until it was time to leave and get back on the road. We had wonderful soup (lagman) and bread with lots of water and tea. We also managed to change some money. The local rate is 2000 som to the dollar, however the largest denomination bill is 1000som ($0.50). Therefore you get massive wodges of cash…..very strange….don’t know why they don’t issue larger bills… Took pictures with the owner in front of the bus and headed off back to where we had been stopped a couple of hours before.
The check point guard asked if we ate, drank, and slept. We assured him that we did, so he let us pass with a wave and went back into his own little cement shack to cool down as well.
We started off again around 3pm and headed out into the extreme heat (50C) of the desert. This is like nothing you have experienced before. It is a heat that you can hold. The sun burns as is streams in through the window, so most people put a cloth or towel in the window facing the sun.
We kept an eagle eye on the gauges, but the BBB performed very well today across the desert. Road conditions were much better on the Uzbek side of the border….probably as they don’t want people to die as it would take them so long to cross the 200 miles of desert if the roads were bad!
We saw the coast of what would have been the Aral Sea, pre 1960, as we approached Kungrad. Also were very close to the Turkmen border. So we waved at Turkmenistan and pressed on.
The road deteriorated for a while, but then like a vision, a sparkling brand new stretch of asphalt lay in front of us! We enjoyed this very much, especially as it must have been very newly opened as all the traffic initially seemed to be 3 wheeled tractors, herds of goats, bicycles with bundles of freshly cut hay on the back…..very bizarre. Imagine I-95 with a shepherd and his flock in the slow lane. That is what it looked like.
Then it got really strange…..cars from the opposite direction started coming down the fast lane of the divided highway THE WRONG WAY toward us! it turned out that road-works were still going on and the road wasn’t fully complete yet, but there was no signage and no cones or barriers…..just cars coming at you the wrong way on the highway!
Then (as they seem to do a lot here) the highway ended and the road turned to real shit (sorry for the poor choice in language but there is no other way to describe it). It took us so long to get through the awful roads that it got dark before we reached Nukis (our destination city). Then, of course, we got pulled over by the police… twice… in half a mile….both curiosity stops and both more and more frustrating. We had promised each other that we would never drive at night since we have no way of knowing these roads or the driving habits of the locals. Driving at night is dangerous. Especially in this area , as we found out, since there people don’t seem to like to use their headlights until it is pitch black. Oh, and there weren’t street lights or signage on any of the streets… at all.
Finally, we stopped on a corner to re-group and tried to ask some people passing by for directions. We actually found a kid who knew the hotel we were going to, so Andrea hoped in the back, he got in the passenger seat and 5 minutes later we were at the hotel….we would have NEVER found it ourselves…
As we pulled up, we saw a tour bus right in front, and we just knew that they were fully booked. With a little begging they gave us padded mats on the floor of the conference room and use of the shower….so we liberally indulged in the later as we were COVERED in dust from the desert and the sandstorms… The conference room was air conditioned and the sleeping mats were thick and quite comfy. Especially since it was much more spacious than the bus was the night before. So sleep was upon us and it felt good to stretch out in the cool room that we got for $10 with breakfast!
Hey, it’s an adventure. Right?