News Single

17.06.09 18:28 Age: 9 yrs

Our (tent) pole position

By: Roger and Megan

Meeting the big wigs of Cental Kazakhstan... per chance!

Last news update we left off at the point where we had lost a fairly critical piece of equipment - tent poles - somewhere in the 20 km south of Shubarkol.  It was about 10 pm and already dark when we'd actually given up for the night and were about to try set up our tent using the quike and some walking poles, rope and some sticks to prop up the tent.  But then when Roger popped around the corner to relieve himself he came across a small green satchel hidden in the grass, just 100 m from our campsite.  Hoorah!!  We had a tent again!!


After a good night's sleep (and still feeling high from the elation of finding our tent poles) we set off.....this time with a tail wind, something which had not had for a month now! This meant that on the flat, we managed to make about 17 km/h, a speed which we normally struggled to reach when going downhill!  Thus we were hoping to make some good distance that day, unless otherwise waylaid.  Along the way, as per usual, we had many people pulling over, (including one shephard who road out of the steppe to see us on his horse)  to talk to us and take photos, and many of them told us about a house at the 42 km mark from Shubarkol where we could drop in for chai and a meal.  So all morning, and into the afternoon, we kept pushing on, hoping to reach this house for some lunch.  But by about 3 pm, and after passing the 42 km, 52 km and 62 km marks we gave up out to starvation, and so had to settle for a roadside lunch of bread, oil, salt and lollies.  Yum.


Then, just a few km's down the road at the 68 km mark (which was 42 km from Kyzyl-Zhar, NOT Shubarkol!) we found a big train and mine worker's dorm with a man outside awaiting our arrival. He promptly ushered our quike into the ready-cleared garage, and then filled us up with a big chai and khleb.  Then, a few of the men fired up the banya for us to wash ourselves and our clothes, and as soon as we were finished there he took us back into the kitchen and served us up a big sorpa for dinner.  Over dinner, when the other workers came back from the mine, we gathered a few phone numbers of friends and police officers in Zhezkazgan who could help us when we arrived there.  Then it was off to sleep to get ready for an early start in the morning, where we again caught the tailwind and made swift progress along the 40 km to the turnoff to Zhez.


Upon reaching the turnoff for the road to Zhez, we passed a small farm, with a sign offering Kumus (which we had now grown to like), and thought we may as well pop in for a drink.  The lady of the house met us outside and when we asked about the price she told us to not worry about it, as we were travellers.  Then, we went inside and made ourselves very comfortable in the lounge, and she proceeded to feed us with not only Kumus, but also Baursacs, calbasa, smetana, chai, hleb, and salat until we were rather full.  And then, in return, in place of money we filmed her milking the horses for the next day's kumus batch, and we got some very nice footage to show back in Australia.  This made her and her family very happy.


Then it was onward further down the road.  As we passed the neighbour's house the whole family streamed outside to come see what we were, and then about 150 m further down the road, the father passed us on his motorbike and stopped ahead of us to check on his sheep via binoculars.  We pulled up next to him for a chat and pretty soon, as per usual, we were sitting in his kitchen drinking chai and kumus with him and his wife.  After this, we found it was getting quite late and asked to set up camp on their property.  They said would have none of this, and instead took us back to their other house in Kyzyl-Zhar township, where we had a banya, a big meal with the family and some other friends. 


Throughout the evening, however, it became apparent that Roger's belly had taken one too many kumuses that day, and he took many a trip to the long drop.  Then later, it was Megan's belly that interrupted long sleep.  We're not sure what time it was, but she woke up feeling rather queazy, and we had hardly enough time to grab a torch and shoes before running out the front gate and hurling numerous times into the sand.  Kumus tastes the same going down or up.  But we were all better by the morning and were packed and back on the road to Zhezkazgan by 9 am.  The next two days we were back into the usual riding routine -  two hours riding, 30 minutes of eating, and repeat until you're too tired to continue.  Then find a good site to camp, unload, set up tent, cook dinner, and sleeeep.


As we were approaching Terekty we realised we were running a bit low on water (due to the heat) and khleb to make it to Zhezkazgan.  So we decided to stop in at Terekty to see if we could buy some from a magazin or even just from a local house.  We took a shortcut across the steppe and as we were approaching the road again we saw a group of people waiting for us, to take photos with us.  We asked where to find a magazin and the woman told us to follow them across the bridge, and they'd show us where it is.  But then they sped off up the bridge (they greatly overestimated the speed of a VERY heavily laden quike, up a long steep hill) and we lost them straight away!  But we continued on, with some local boys on push bikes following along too, to try find them again through the farms and back streets of town.  We soon decided to give up, and just ask another person where the magazin was. The lady asked some of the kids to ride with us to the magazine, so we followed them and soon arrived outside the magazin on the outskirts of town.


Just as we were about to open the door to the magazin a man on the roadside around the corner called out to us.  It was one of the men we were supposed to be following originally!  They told us to not buy our food there, but to instead follow them 100 m round the corner to their house.  And so we obliged.  There at the house, we walked straight into a big party of 40 or so people, with two huge pots on open fires boiling outside.  We were then told that all these people were from the same family, and had gathered to celebrate their ancestory - the passing of their grandfather, great grandfather, great great grandfather, and great great great grandfather. The two big pots were two big pots of bisbarmac, which looked delicious, especially to our hungry muscles.


We soon found ourselves to be the guests of honour at the celebration (we don't know how this happened, since it was supposed to be about remembering and praying for/to their ancestors), and thus were given the best parts of the sheep in the bisbarmac....We were excited by this until we saw what these delicacies were....a whole sheep's head (ears, and eyes and tongue and all), sheeps foot, and goat's bum fat....the shock was not in the taste (it tasted really nice), but in how to eat it, and in which parts to eat (when handed a whole head, you dont really know which bits you are supposed to eat, and which bits you are not supposed to eat), but it was soon all under control.  During the course of the meal, our conversations with the family were aided greatly by a professional translator, who just happened to be there.  And it was revealed that at that party was Mayor of Satbayev (a big town just near Zhezkazgan), one of Zhezkazgan's most famous poet/songwriters, and the director of police in Zhezkezgan.  We again swapped names and contact details of all these people before they went back on their way home. 


After the lunch, there was a long prayer by the imam who asked us to record it on film for him (which we glady did), he had a beautiful voice when he sang the prayer. Next we were then asked by two grandmothers to record them on video praying (they prayed non-stop for about 40 min), which seemed like a great honour for them.  When it was approaching 6 pm, the homeowner (Kanat) insisted that it was too late to continue on the road, and that we should stay at his house that night.  And so we obliged.  After talking to Kanat we soon found out that there was a secret area out in the middle of the steppe, that was very sacred to people in village.  It was some ancient carvings of horses on rocks, hidden away in the middle of the steppe, but that he really wanted us to visit.  After a few call arounds, he had swiftly organised someone to show us the way to these carvings the next day.  The remaining part of our day was spent working with the animals on the farm again, interspersed with Kanat playing the dombra for us, and by numerous chai sessions (as usual).


The next day was extremely hot, but we were very much looking forward to visiting the rock carvings, as we had also been told there was a little underground spring near by. After a loooong drive out (it was so bumpy we hit our heads on the car roof, car windows and spent more time airborne than in our seats over the course of the long drive) and  through the steppe to the carvings we finally arrived at some rocky outcrops, invisible from the road or anywhere else. Getting out of the ex-Russian jeep, we hurriedly collected our video and film cameras before making our way up to the base of the outcrop. At the base it was time for a short prayer as this was an extremely sacred site to them and their ancestors. After a short scramble to the top we spotted a large cluster of faded engravings on the summit of one of the small tors. Again before approaching them we had to stop for a short prayer, touching our foreheads to the rock to pray to/for the ancestors. We were very excited about seeing these engravings as very few people outside of the town itself know of their existence. After taking numerous photos and  videos, we then moved onto another another site 500 m away, this time with some more engravings of horses, and some other symbols (concentric circles....prehaps showing water points?), again another few (well many many) photos and filming ensued, before returning back to Terekty.


That afternoon the wind again gathered momentum and was the fiercest we had seen yet (~120 km/h gusts!), and a headwind!  So yet again, we decided it would be a futile effort to head off into that, and hung around the Terekty farm helping Kanat out with the sheep and horses again that night.  The next day we awoke to find that it was still a stiff, chilly headwind with rain, but we were too far behind schedule to stay in again (besides, there is no such thing as a still day on the Kazakh steppe!).  That day we also took a bit of a sidetrip out to some ruins we spotted far away out on the steppe(we could just make them out), with no roads or anything leading out to them.  On our way out there we encountered a sheep herder who accompanied us on our little wander through the trackless steppe.  He said that his family (and ancestors) had always lived there, and the ruins had been there as long as they could remember, but no one knew whose they were. They were Mausoleums, build of mud, falling apart, but still very beautiful, especially in the light of the stormclouds.  After a few photos of the ruins, it was then time to backtrack across the steppe, and continue on our way for the day on the road to Zhezkazgan. That night we stayed with another herding family out on the steppe, again watching them milk the horses and pull worms out of sheeps bums with their bare hands... The next day, it was off to Zhezkazgan!