Cycling the Stans, part 1 of 3: A snowy summer in Kazakhstan / by Rachel Banfield

When I got back from cycling across China I made a little vow that the next time I set out on a similar adventure I would definitely: 

  1. be really fit before I started
  2. do a bike mechanics course so that I wasn't so helpless when the smallest thing went wrong
  3. get my bike properly fixed with all the things the bike shop needs doing 
  4. take less stuff. 

So naturally, when preparing for a cycling adventure over a huge mountain range I did all these things, right? 

Wrong. 

Instead: 

  1. I was not only unfit after a pretty lazy winter, but also, as I discovered the week before I left, seriously anaemic.

Which, as you can see by my photo below, is nothing a triple whammy of prescription iron pills, silver beet stir fry and spinach juice can't fix.  

20150803_184740.jpg

And well, then there was the ankle injury from a soccer game a few days before I flew out... 

2. I also failed on the bike mechanics course front. Which was further brought home when my vigorous attempts to remove one of my tyres resulted in the snapping of whatever these things are called...

But I did discover you can hula hoop with tyres. That is surely worth a few points? 

3. I ran out of money before getting my bike properly fixed. Or rather, I chose to spend my money on a beautiful new tripod and exciting remote timer (yep, I bet you wish you could be my flatmates and get long winded show and tell on how amazing both these items are) instead of boring old part replacements. Safety smafety. The fact that at the very moment that the guy at the bike shop asked "Did you end up getting all the recommended things done?" my bike crashed down the stairs (note to self: do not lean bikes on stair handrails) seemed to be a sufficient answer...

4. On the taking of less stuff... well, see above for tripod. Then there was the 15 inch laptop, you know, for backing up and editing photos. And the was the nice selection of lenses. In fact, despite being able to share quite a few things, I actually took more than last time. But the four blocks of chocolate were clearly essential. Plus, I found this wonderful 'charm of Africa' bag to put it all in. And obviously style is what really matters. 

But, none of that was really a problem, because it was that time.

Adventure time. 

So off I went.

With an important stopover in Auckland to hang out with this little guy,

(photo by Sarah) 

(photo by Sarah) 

before flying over China where even from the plane I could see both its pollution, 

as well as its amazing landscape.

Finally it was TOUCH DOWN in in KAZAKHSTAN! 

Something about seeing it on the map, so enormous and so mysterious, has meant Kazakhstan has always had a strong pull. 

Then I met Aika while doing my masters in Scotland and it became a little less mysterious. I think our first conversation went something like this: 

"Hi. I'm Aika. I'm from Kazakhstan."

"Really?! Awesome! Ahh! Wow! Cool! I've always wanted to visit Kazakhstan!" 

"Really? Well, you're always very welcome to come and stay."  

"Oooo, thanks. I definitely will take you up on that offer!" 

And I did. 

So, we went from dancing outside the Scottish parliament in 2012 to raise awareness of domestic violence as part of 1 Billion Rising

(photo by friend) 

(photo by friend) 

To flying from the islands of New Zealand at the bottom of the world to the a country smack bang in the middle of a huge continent,

where I was greeted at the airport in Almaty by this wonderful lady! 

After over 2 days of travel to get there, plus jet lag, the next 50 or so hours were a bit of a blur.

But what I do remember is:

In Kazakhstan you put jam in your tea,

(Which, by the way, is DELICIOUS! Hellooooo new Kiwi tradition!)

In Kazakhstan 'summer' has a slightly different meaning, 

But it's still beautiful. 

In Kazakhstan the monuments are huge, 

The water fountains plentiful, 

And newlyweds all seem to congregate in one park. 

In Kazakhstan it completely normal to flag down a random car and hitch a ride, 

and you can pay to pose with a stuffed wolf, 

Or admire buildings which look a bit like ice cream. 

In Kazakhstan, you can find views so amazing,

That it makes you want to pose in front of them in a giant frame. 

Like so... 

(the test is to count how many people are actually within the frame. You may be fooled by a certain someone's impressive stealthiness)

(the test is to count how many people are actually within the frame. You may be fooled by a certain someone's impressive stealthiness)

But mainly, in Kazakhstan, people are awesome. 

Like these two lovely ladies who showed me around the city, including some very important cultural activities such as ice cream eating... 

Or Aika's wonderful family who not only hosted me during my visit but cooked up an amazing feast the night before I left. 

And mainly Aika herself, who put up with a scruffy cycling-atire clad Kiwi who, well, isn't the most elegant at the best of times! 

I still have about 2,724,899km2 to go to properly explore this country. But for now I'll say, Kazakhstan, 'rakhmet' for everything!