DAY 64 Huocheng-the border city is how I would imagine Las Vegas to look in the 1920’s, dusty, half built with a renegade feel to it. It’s streets were lined with seedy little, dimly lit gambling arcades with Chinese folk hanging around outside doors. I could see the Chinese border towering above the street’s a […]
Huocheng-the border city is how I would imagine Las Vegas to look in the 1920's, dusty, half built with a renegade feel to it. It's streets were lined with seedy little, dimly lit gambling arcades with Chinese folk hanging around outside doors.
I could see the Chinese border towering above the street's a few block's away. I was on foot and 2 days late. After a retina scan under the watchful eye of 4 cameras and a quick squiz through the passport she noticed my plight. 40 minutes later the passport got stamped without any fine and off I went...very reasonable behavior , thank you China.
2 buses on rotation take care of pedestrian border crossings... you have to wait till one gets full and pay 7 quid for the privilege. The Kazakh peeps go nuts for the opportunity to bring stuff back on the cheap from China, this trend made getting on and off this short bus trip through no-mans land horrendous. An elderly lady head butted me in the 'captain privates' due to the sardine like nature of the bus contorting my body where it was impossible not to have the 'Captain privates' right in her face. She got a shock when people started getting off the bus and my white face peered down at her... we giggled, she put her hand over her mouth and whispered something in her mates ear.
2 enormous armed, masked soldiers stood either side of the doorway to Kazakhstan. Now these boys looked intimidating, they stopped me only for a chat... friendly lads who were only interested in what I was up to...."enjoy Kazakhstan" they shouted as the doors swung shut. I later found out they pulled their guns on 'Crowley' of 4guysinacar the previous day. I had to walk over and beyond a bridge into another desolate, arid no-mans land leading to a gate, where another man mountain put me in a taxi costing a fiver through another patch of baron no-mans land leading to the final gate. I expected a town, shops, stalls... their was nothing but a few parked cars, bus and a petrol station.
Kazakhstan... what to expect, I hadn't a clue. Almaty the Old Capital City is 360km away. The only place to make an attempt on my final visa of the trip, allowing me through a small patch of Russia some 3000km away leading me into the back of Europe via the Ukraine. No sign of 4guysinacar, only some folk sitting under a tree next to a couple of cars.
Everything had changed, I hadn't the opportunity to change currencies nor a clue what anyone was on about, neither could I fathom any signs, writing or general patterns of behavior/ I am now an English man in Kazakhstan.
I walked past the folk under the tree and onto the petrol station... a white Audi pulled up 5 mins later, it was the guy's from under the tree plus a young couple. The back seat was full, the front seat was empty, with the window down he shouted "Almaty" as the door flung open... the Thumb was off.
The road to Almaty was a flat, basic, wide stretch of reasonably well maintained tarmac with no trimmings, leaving only the stunning scenery to engage your attentions. 'Trevor' floored it a 120km most of the way, a welcomed contrast to yesterday.
The twitcher in me has always yearned to catch a glimpse of the Golden Eagle in our own 'Lake District'...today I saw 10 without realising it. I thought I was gawping at just any old, enormous, brilliant, impressive Eagle. Tom of 4guysinacar later informed me that the Golden Eagle is Kazakhstan's national emblem and he saw a bunch on the road to Almaty also. 'Trevor' dropped me off at the main bus station an impressive 4 hours on from the border, turned out it wasn't a lift... luckily the bankcard worked and I handed over the 4000/20quid fee. Looks like this form of travel is the norm in Kazakhstan.
You would expect a hive of Hostels and Hotels at any main Cities bus station anywhere in the world... not here though. 3 hours I stomped the streets... the closest thing resembling a Hotel was a hospital...it was only the paper face masks which gave the game away. Whenever I asked passers by for directions they mostly giggled and walked off- very frustrating when your tired.
I eventually found a place with a nest of hardened woman in their 50's hanging around a reception, it looked more like the front desk of a lunatic asylum to be honest. The women vetted me closely then escorted me to my hovel of a room. No shower,sink, bedding, or TV, just 4 anemic mattresses placed around a small rectangular room. It was 7 quid to sleep in squalor.