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22.04.09 16:42 Age: 9 yrs

Astana....no Karagandy here we come!

By: Roger and Megan

Last minute changes to plans, a whirlwind tour, and where are we again?

These past two days have been crazy for us. We woke up in a flat somewhere (we're not sure where) in Almaty yesterday morning, and after a brief discussion it was arranged that we'd fly to Astana, Vitaliy would send our extra 10 kg of excess baggage via train (unattended) and it would be picked up in Karaganda by a friend of his. After arriving in Astana, we'd be picked up, taken to a garage to dump our boxes, then taken to the train station and sent on a train to Karaganda. There, we'd meet some other people (we had the name of one of them) at the train station, they'd take us to an apartment of another friend who was away on a business trip, give us the keys and let us in, and there we would stay for the next 4 days, at which point Vitaliy would arrive back in Karaganda and we'd travel back to Astana together.

OK.

So, after a quick and relatively painless flight, we touched down in Astana, to be met by a guy called Arsene, who neither of us had met yet, but who was very keen on helping us on our expedition. As we stepped out into the arrival lounge, Arsene recognised us from our Australan Geographic T-shirts (the second time they have come in handy), and we were then joined by another of his friends, and another person whom neither of us nor Arsene and his friend had met, but who wanted to help us on our trip.

We'd already organised in advance to be able to use Arsene's garage to setup our quike over the course of a week, so we travelled in convoy to his house. This was the first real experience of Kazakhstan driving and it was hair-raising to say the least. All compounded by the fact that we couldn't use the seat belts - it's just not the done thing in Kazakhstan. This introoduction to Astana was quite apt - House music, fast BMW... Astana is a very young city and thus very sleek and shiny, and dynamic, because if you go away for a week you'll come back to find 10 new apartment blocks on every street.

After dropping the boxes in the garage, we made a quick stopover at the post office to see whether the parcels that we had sent Post Restante a week earlier had arrived yet. After a bit of deliberation it was confirmed that they hadn't yet arrived, so we moved along to the train station. But instead of taking the train, Arsene arranged for a taxi van (with 6 other passengers) to take us on the 2.5 hour journey to Karaganda. After finding out that it would cost us 2400 Tenge, we gave the Taxi Service operator a 5000 Tenge note, only to have him Quickly pocket it and jump in the car. As we pursued him with our protestations of wanting our change, he just proceeded to laugh, as did the other passengers in the taxi (all who had been given change for the 2400 Tenge fare). It was only after we actually grabbed the note we gave him out of his hand that he finally agreed to give us our change! So that was our half hour whirlwind tour of Astana, and we were on our way through the steppe to Karaganda.

After our arrival at Karaganda train station some 3 hours later, we were then collected by Oxana from the Ecological Museum (our partners over there) and brought to an empty flat of her friend (we were given the keys by another friend of a friend in Almaty), which we would be staying in for the next 4 days. We were on the 9th floor, and the lift didn't work. Allegedly the lock on the door (one of about 8 locks) was extremely difficult to master to open, so she had brought one of her friends who knew how to operate this lock. They turned on the water, hot water and showed us how to operate the gas, and then were looking as though they were about to leave. So we quickly grabbed them back again and got them to point out the city layout from the window, just so we might be able to tell were in the world we were! The supermarket and city centre were not too far away, so we seemed to have a quite good location.

After they had left we decided that we should go shopping, both for dinner, and for the next few days. As we left the apartment we closed the front door of the apartment block (of which there are some 20 apartments inside) only to have a second thought....perhaps we should see if we can open it again...we couldn't. It had a metal combination keypad on the front, but we hadn't been told the combination to the front door to the building, we had only been given keys to the inside apartment. It seemed we were locked out of the building!! Just as we were discusing what to do, we saw a man shoot straight past us, type in a code in enter the building. Fortunately we managed to stop the door closing in time.

Thus we were now inside the building, and stranded. If we left to get food, we stood the risk of being locked out for the night, if we didnt leave to get food, we would not have any dinner, or breakfast, or anything.....what to do? The building (and door) being a leftover relic of the soviet era, Megan came up with the idea, of trying to see which of the numbers on the metal keypad had been pressed the most (there was only one code which all of the residents used). Well it paid off, in less than 20 seconds we were in! Yet another obstacle overcome!

After a good night's sleep, this morning we decided to pay a visit to the Karaganda Ecological Museum, to have a look at the work of the people we were partnered with. Upon entry to the museum were were met by a kind lady by the name of Zuhra, who advised us that our parcels had arrived over a week ago and thus were ready to be collected by us. She asked us to follow her as we went upstairs to collect the parcels....but they weren't there! She then told us that this was very strange as they had arrived a week ago and had been placed here, so was quite confused.

She then ducked out the back to speak to another employee at the museum and came back with some very bad news. Our parcels had been stolen. Only last night, the museum had been broken into, and some precious stone had been stolen, so perhaps they had also taken our parcel. This was a huge shock to us and it really got the heart racing and sweat beading on the forehead! After some frantic calling around we finally worked out what had happened. Unbeknownst to Zuhra, some one had come and collected our parcels the day before and was actually on the road to Astana to drop them off for us. A BIG relief!!!

Zuhra also told us that there were English conversation classes running that night, so we decided that it would a good experience to meet with people that we could help each other with Russian and English. We went along and a one of the girls there offered to help us find some Plov (common traditional Central Asian dish made of rice, meat, carrots) aftter the class. We went with her and over dinner she told us some horror stories of safety issues for foreigners in Karaganda, which made us a bit concerned and gave us more insight as to why there were 8 locks on the doors to the apartment!

Tomorrow, we'll go on a bit of a tour of Karaganda to the Bazaar, where we'll try some of the local delights. Looking forward to it!