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Made it to Taraz

Posted May 1st, 2008

Ferris wheel ride in ShymkentJust a quick note to let everyone know we made it to Taraz and we’re continuing east to Almaty today. We’d love to bring you photos of some of the beautiful sights from the last few days but unfortunately the internet cafe isn’t helping…. there’s no way we can attach our USB stick so the pictures and journals are stuck firmly offline for the moment. The photo of the ferris wheel came from Shymkent. Today is Kazakh International Day. Instead of celebrating May 1st as Labour Day as in Britain, here Kazakhstan’s 100 nationalities dress up in traditional costumes and hold a parade. It’s a colourful start to our day! When we do get a chance to upload photos we’ll have some beautiful outfits to show you. It could be a few days though. From here we head through an arid part of the country without too many big cities en route.

Welcome to Kazakhstan

Posted April 27th, 2008

125km Tashkent-Shymkent

Evening chatter around the campfireWhat a fantastic view to cycle alongsideKazakhstan greeted us with the sound of the Beatles playing from a speaker outside a slick new shopping centre. Inside its air conditioned walls were all the big clothing names, an Apple computer store and a thoroughly modern supermarket. We were back in the land of vegetables wrapped in plastic and whole rows devoted to olive oil. Returning outside, it took us a moment to recover from the shock of seeing our first real supermarket since Turkey. As we rested in the shade we watched brand new SUVs roll down the streets of Shymkent and young women parading in high heels down the newly cobbled and tree-lined sidewalks.

Was this really Kazakhstan? It felt more like a middle-class London suburb. Up the road from the shopping centre was a restaurant with wireless internet access where Kazakhs were surfing the net on their laptops. Around the corner, a night club had just opened charging 3,000 Tenge for admission – about $25 U.S. – for admission, no drinks included.

By now we’d realised that Kazakhstan was the most prosperous country in the region by a long way and the prices reflected its riches. Everywhere in Shymkent, one of Kazakhstan’s largest cities, people seemed to be pursuing Western standards of wealth and for the first time in quite a while we felt like the poor cousins.

It was different in the countryside, of course. There we found people still in traditional dress, the women with their colourful headscarves, the men in felt hats. To the east we were treated to a stunning view of blue skies and snow-capped mountains and all around horses grazed in green fields, newly born foals at their sides. But even far from Shymkent, the new cars rolled by us regularly. There were far fewer Ladas here than in Uzbekistan and many more people wearing dark glasses and dressed impeccably in tailored suits. (more…)