15 Aug, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
The change we noticed after crossing the Kazakh border (and even at the border itself) was pretty drastic. All of a sudden we had people waving at us, kids saying hello, and an all-around general friendliness that was somewhat lacking prior to that point. It was a nice change. We headed off towards Atyrau, Kazakhstan and stopped at a truck stop on the side of the road for food. As we couldn’t read the menu each of us picked a different number on the menu and hoped for the best. Collin and I got fried eggs, spam, and a bowl of hot grits mixed with meat–not too bad! After we finished eating another team pulled up at the truck top, one from Italy. They were making a documentary on the rally and had left a week later than everyone else and had already come this far. The five teams took off towards the east and were soon left in the dust of the Italian team–they had to keep up their crazy pace I suppose.
Another interesting tidbit is right after we crossed the border we started seeing camels roaming around. I’ve seen them in the zoo before, but when they’re walking out in the middle of the road in front of your car they are huge! Definitely not something that you’d want to crash into. It took about four hours before we reached Atyrau. One of the teams needed to get a hole in their exhaust welded up so we stopped at a garage on the outskirts of town to see what could be done. We woke up the sleeping mechanics and one of them put the car on a lift and checked out the damage. He grabbed a welding machine and in about ten minutes the problem was fixed. Cost: $7. We decided that now would be a good time to fix our little problem as well (the gas tank hose that had rusted out), and the same guy set out finding a solution for us as well. It took a while longer, and was a bit more expensive (we had to buy a whole new replacement hose from a neighboring garage for $50), but he worked his magic and everything looked great in the end. While we were doing our repairs and yet another team was having their roof rack welded back up there was an endless stream of people coming out to us, curious about where we were from and what we were doing.
Atyrau was an interesting city to drive through. Because of the recent oil money flooding into the city, it had a very nouveau-riche feel to it, with plenty of new building, construction, fancy cars, and showy clothes. It still has a way to go, but it’s definitely being transformed into very much a modern city by the new-found wealth.
We headed off in search of a hotel and found a decent one for about $35/night. A couple of other rally teams were already lodged there, one of them with a broken vehicle waiting for repairs. They said they had gone out to a nearby club/bar the night before and had had an amazing time. We set off in search of food and found a nearby kebab-type place. Again, nobody could read the menus and none of the staff could speak English, so we just had to point and hope for the best. They had Efes Pilsner on tap, which is what drew me to recommend the place, but they were out after serving the first round to our group. Oh well. We all ended up full at the end, and that’s what counts! After the restaurant I was pretty tired but was persuaded by Mark, a rallier from the London area, to check out the local nightclub. It was Saturday night after all! Collin and I and a few others went inside and found out that the entrance fee was 5000 tenge (150/dollar). We decided to go to the bar instead. Inside we met with the other teams that we had seen at the hotel previously and sat down for a drink. The owner of the establishment came over and offered us all free entrance to upstairs, so we proceeded to the club. Techno music blaring, it was just like any other club you would find around the world. The girls were dressed the same, the music was the same, they had (pretty amazing) break-dancing and hip-hop dance performances and everything. We stayed there until around 3:00AM and wandered wearily back to the hotel.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.