News Single

30.04.09 12:02 Age: 9 yrs

Reconstructing Quikey

By: Roger and Megan

The quike had gone from Melbourne, then dispersed to 6 different sites around Astana and Karaganda, and now finally all the pieces meet back in one garage, ready to be put back together

In the Northern cities of Kazakhstan (such as Karaganda), there is one feature that stood out to us. There were these huge pipes running alongside the footpath on just about every street, and they detour up and over the road where there is an intersection. These pipes are for hot water, which is pumped around the city to heat apartments and provide hot water service to homes (unlike in Australia where we have the water heated at the houses by gas or electricity). The reason why they are above ground is for easy access, to perform the reguular repairs necessary, especially in the below freezing conditions of winter. They are quite prominent and make you feel like you're in a biosphere or spaceship, when you're not used to it.

During our stay in Karaganda, the hot water broke down to our block on the first night, so we feel like we got a bit of a taste of Karaganda life. This wasn't too much of a problem since we had warm clothes to wear, and the days were a pleasant temperature. However, on Saturday morning we awoke to a strong cold wind and the pressure dropping rapidly and just when Megan said "do you reckon it'll snow?", Roger saw the first few snowflakes falling. It then continued to snow for a few hours before become just a cold rain.

Despite this, we headed out for the walk in the general direction of where we believed the Bazaar to be. After a while we found it and had a great time wandering around tasting all the dried fruits and nuts, cheeses, and strange looking foods. A man at the fruit stall chatted to us for a while and Roger's Russian held up well enough to exchange information about our names and where we're from and where we're going, and the man gave us some bananas to wish us a safe journey. After gobbling some samsas for lunch we heading back to the apartment to find out what was to be of our next few days. We had yet to see any of the parcels that we had posted ahead from Melbourne so we were quite anxious that everything was OK. After chatting to Vitaliy and Arsen and numerous others, we arranged for a key exchange, minibus taxi, and a place to stay in Astana for our return there the next day, so that we could reconnect with our precious parcels.

The trip back to Astana went smoothly and was quite pleasant apart from the Kazakh pop music videos playing loudly over the in-bus video service... on repeat with a tracklist of about 3 songs... We met up with Arsen at the train station and he and Kot drove us (quickly) back to his house. Here, we found 3 of our posted parcels plus the boxes that came on the plane with us. The opening ceremony was like Christmas morning, only better. Only one of the packages had been opened by customs, and it appeared that there had been only minor damages during transportation. One of the Rohloff hubs looked to have a little bit too much play on the bearings, but since we use it as a mid-drive we hardly put any force on the bearings anyway, so that seems like it is not too bad (touch wood).

We'd brought along a few Buffs that had very kindly been printed up for us by Edward (with our logo) and our hosts were very happy with those as gifts. They also had a bit of fun seeing and trying out all of our strange gear. While we continued (for hours) unpacking and rifling through the parcels, Arsen and Kot started cooking a pot of Sorpa (traditional Central Asian dish, a soup) on a fire in the backyard. This consisted of lamb (or mutton or beef) boiled over a low heat for a few hours, with the broth skimmed off the top every once in a while. Then, when the meat is cooked, you add in some whole vegetables (potatoes, onion and tomatoes) and maybe some salt and spices, and serve it up. The meal that night was unbelievable. There was not only the Sorpa, but also the lamb bones & meat, plus the best Plov in Central Asia (made by Arsen's mum), and then some Siberian honeycomb to chew on for dessert. After that, our tummies were rather full, and we slept well that night.

The past few days we've had some important tasks to complete, including finding jerrycans to carry fuel (Jerry cans are near impossible to find in Astana, the only jerry cans sold in the markets here are plastic, but it is illegal to refill plastic bottles at petrol stations here, quite confusing really!), buying some nuts and staples to take on our first leg, assembling the Quike, updating the website, checking all our electronics again (incase of damage in transit), and locating where our Post Restante parcels had ended up (they had some critical Quike pieces within them). Locating and buying these various items was more complicated and time-consuming than we had expected. But it has been made SO much easier and comfortable by the hospitality of Arsen and his family. His mother is an extraordinary cook, providing us with flavours from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and quite a bit of Uyghur food too, plus the bonus of the cultural explanation of the food and traditions along the way. Arsen and his father have put together a survival word table, giving us the translation for all the basic foods and staple dishes that we might encounter in each region. And for all the snowsports enthusiasts out there - we'd like to just take this opportunity to plug Arsen's snowboarding tour that he is planning for January to March next year. They will be driving from Astana, down to the Ski resorts of the Tien Shan mountain in Kyrgyzstan and a bit of the Pamirs, then through Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran. Then, the crew will head up the West coast of the Caspian sea through Armenia and up to Mt Elbrus in Russia. This will be a cultural plus snowboarding tour, so a great opportunity as Arsen is fluent in Russian, English, and the Turkic languages (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, Uyghur). He is looking for more crazy Aussies or Kiwis to join him, so if you're interested, contact him at arsenislamov@gmail.com.

On top of reassembling the pieces of the Quike which we had posted from Australia, we also had many other things to buy in Astana for our trip, most importantly food! The markets here are amazing (though not quite on the same scale as in Karaganda, where you have some 50 stalls all selling dried apricots all next to each other, each trying to compete with other for your custom), with a huge plethora of foods to colour your palet with, lots of which we had never seen before! We planned to carry a month's worth of food, as we had estimated that we would be out on the Steppe for the next 30 days, so it was time to stock up! With so much competition between all the stall holders, we managed to do alot of bargaining, tasting, and just general chit chat, meeting people from all around Central Asia. By the days end, we had loaded up our mountain hardwear packs with 3 kilos of peanuts, 3 kilos of almonds, 1 kilo of dried apricots, 1 kilo of dried apples, 2 kilos of dried sultanas, 5 kilos of raw oats, and 5 kilos vermishelli(not vermicelli, imagine very very fine spaghetti, about 15mm long). It was a feast!

So for these past few days we've been doing a bit of walking/running/wandering around Astana, but mostly it was all focussed on retrieving the last few parcels. We had been informed by Australia Post that the parcels had been delivered to the Post office in Astana on the 22nd of April, and had been scanned there on the 24th of April. This was strange, as we had last enquired at the post office on the 23rd, and they had told us that the parcels had not yet arrived. It was here that we wished we had learnt (or that megan had remember her high school classes) french, ironic being we were smack bang in the middle of central asia. One of the forms they asked us to fill out for our "lost" parcels was in French, of which neither we, nor the post office staff could read...what to do? We ended up having to leave to think of a better plan of attack before we came back. So then we went back to the post office, with tracking numbers, and they again said they didn't have them. Uh-oh. They even asked us to call them back after midnight, as that was when the next plane was due in! But they called up DHL (who had handled the parcels in Kazakhstan) and find out what they had done with them. And this was a strange explanation. DHL said that they had "tried" to contact us (how? we don't know. Perhaps standing on the street corner calling our names??) but couldn't, and had the parcels at Astana airport now, where they might be sent back to Melbourne in a few days. So the service lady convinced them to bring the parcels back to the city by this afternoon, and we'd go retrieve them from the DHL office. This was very confusing, but also a relief because at least the parcels were still in Astana somewhere.

Then this afternoon, Bakhutjan helped us retrieve the parcels, and together with the delivery of the remaining 2 parcels from Karaganda by Vitaliy, we had all parcels accounted for and back in our possession. So now we have 12 hours to get this Quike pieced together and in working order for the ride around the city starting 9.30 am tomorrow, where we'll visit different festivities around the city where they are celebrating Kazakhstan National Unity Day holiday. With the Quike still in 6 pieces (and no brakes yet installed), will we make it in time??