Kazakhstan 1

The borderguard refuses to give me the temporary import declaration T4, which I need so urgently for the export again by plane to India. He says that it is not needed. But I think he doesnt understand what is needed to bring the bike out of the countryif it is NOT to a befriended neighbour country as they call it. I see already trouble coming in Almaty trying to ship it out, until I realize I have another chance since I will exit Kazakhstan, going through Uzbekistan and Kirgistan, and entering Kazakhstan again, where I can insist to get it.

Beside this confusion, it was the smoothest border I took so far. The guys are more intersted in the bike then checking the luggage and they are even helpful with all the rest, except form T4.

First time in a country I dont know, I tend to be a bit suspicious. Also to the traveller who offers me help in Atyrau, my next station. Maybe it was the way he talked to me at the border post, maybe his very tired face, but when he asked me as the first thing if I travel alone, I lied that more riders are coming behind me and that we have a hotel already, which he probably didnt believe, but it gave me some necessary clarification between us. Missed chance? Maybe, but I learned to trust my instinct more then anything else, which worked out so far.

While riding the very first kilometers in Kazakhstan, just two elements catch my interst. Right after the border there are camels and graveyards.

Beside that you are too occupied with the road. Partly ok, partly a complete mess. Three times I dump into big potholes which didnt look like some. The suspensions are on the limit when it happens at the tempo 80.  I pray for the them ... .

Each stop, people get curious for the rider and the expensive looking bike. By now I know how to answer thier third quesion how much it costs. I point to a fairly new little car and tell them it would be less then half of it. That calmes them usually down. first and second questions are: where from and whoere to. The next thing which is important to make them understand that I dont have much money and I am not rich. The bike is all I have, and that I usually say while looking into the eyes of the others, meaning I wouldnt give it away and there would be trouble if one would go too far.

When comes Atyrau? The roadsigns show different kilometers distance, my calculation with the odometer is better but even better is the orientation at the map and the crossings with the trainline.

There it comes, to the center, two rounds, first hotel no room, damn, it has a closed yard, good for the bike to park. While looking for the next one I pass a few friendly folks on the street, almost stopping to ask them, but the next hotel should be around the corner which is not so. One more round and getting back, passing the same folks again, but this time I stop. That was good instinct, they know the hotel, but after a little conversation I am invited to stay in the house of Samat, the biggest with the loudest voice. The english speaking Oskar encourages me: -Yes, you can go, it is Kasakh tradition to invite foreigners.-  The bike is parked safly in the garage, the rider gets a shower and steam-sauna in the hightech unit and feels better. The young children around and the many shoes at the entrance show me that a whole family lives here, good.

The house seems to be in a constant building state. The yard is full with heavy building machines, tools and scrap. The last is hard to tell, because the owner obviously doesnt throw anything away, everything could be used one day.

Samat worked in Germany and speaks highly about it. He is fascinated by big machines and everything what moves with a motor. He owns a crane and several cars, some in reconstruction. He earns well now, since he is setteled in the building business of Artyrau, the upcoming oil-city where lots of sites are in construction. I know from Germany that each hour of a crane with man costs increadible sums. No doubt he is doing very well.

Of cause he is the chef of the family, never lowering his voice, except when he cuddles his one and a half year old daughter. All his big heart turns to her while she enjoys sitting on big daddy. His voice is changing also in one other occation, when he gets exited about something. Then it is becoming thin and high. But usually he is speaking with the tone of voice everybody understands as orders.

Samat gives out the plan of the evening: tea with snacks, then a tour through the city, then dinner. Its already late and I dont want them to change their rhythm just because I am a guest, but there is no chance.

During the tea, where other members of the family appear, I tell my story, the work, the tour, the idea of presents, my family. My age surprises Samat. 50! He is ten years younger and a bit confused how to speak to me. I guess age means something here. He apreciates that I am doing something crazy like this in my age. I understand him with the help of his 16 year old son Atazhan who translates Kazakh-english, since he wasa couple of months in London. He studies programming and doesnt share his fathers interest for big machines, cars and hunting.

We drive in Samats Mercedes through the city, selfspeaking me in the front, and take many shots in the dark of several monuments. And here it pays out not to read travel instruction books beforehand: we cross several times from Europe to Asia and forth and back on all the bridges of the river Ural in Atyrau. Because I did not know that it seperates Europe from Asia, like the Ural mountain chain further north in Russia does, my surprise and enjoyment couldnt be higher to do this over and over again, as if this crossing is amplified to prepare me for the meaning of this station.


In the evening, the folks I met first on the street are back and curious, while we hang out in the yard. If I would have my own family, - No. - But a girlfriend? - Yes! -   This is the usual question to find out if I am gay or not. Important to know ... .

Of cause Samat built the house by himself in 10 years and it is not ready jet, but close. It would be Kasakh tradition that a man has to fulfill three tasks (they say rules, and mean probably a mixture of these two): build a house, plant a tree and get a son, then you made it and you are free. My reply is, that luckily that rule doesnt exist in Germany.

I also get the explanation for the wood which was used during the building so far, which lays around in several piles. When the house is ready, all the wood gets burned. Also without that tradition, Samat would keep it, I m sure.

When we talk about maps, GPS, etc., the possibility to meet people when you have to ask someone, Oskar has the very fitting description about the incident that I passed first, didnt find the hotel because the map was wrong and returned and met them again. -You have the perfect map, Thomas. You found new friends!-

- Yes, you have to be lost, that your heart is leading you.- Everybody understands my english with the supporting gesture of one hand at the chest and one towards the sky.

Dinnner is served, Kasakh speciallity, eaten with the hands, and with the healthy broth of the meat a few fine vodkas are served and drunk in one go. Each time Samat has a toast with wishes for a good travel, strength, all I need for my trip, that I should write in my book that people are welcome in Samats house, etc.. I reply those with good luck for the family, that everybody stays healthy, that I will tell everybody how welcome I was in their house and that all bad and mean things stays away from the house and everybody who lives in there and goes in and out. When Samat sees me being fascinatet by the little daughter, he has a special one for me: -You dont need to build a house, or plant a tree, but you should get a child, boy or girl!-

It is late, almost 1 at night. When everybody would need to get up is the question. I do usually early, but not after the vodkas and the rich late night dinner. The wife at 7, Samat at 9! Before I can go to bed, images on our computers are shown. Samat with all his huge machines, me in Arizona and elsewhere. I also have to check wheather I have replies from my friends in Zaschkent and Almaty. I see already that I need to stay another day for writing and preparing the bike, since it has no protection for the lamp and radiator jet, also I need canisters for additional gazoline. But how to do this without making them feel that they have to host me longer, since Samat wants to guide me the right way out of the city next morning. Without that I could just go into the hotel which I know now where it is. I delay my decision to the next morning, when I am a little dull but no headache. -What my plan would be now.- Working on my writings and getting canisters, so I take a hotel fort a night.-  I dont want to stress their hospitality too much and probably they have to do their work. No way, I have to stay!

Breakfats, Lunch, Dinner. Inbetween pictures of all with the motorcycle and me. And I get a canister, a haircut which I refuse to be payed by Samat, schaslik, and the selfmade protection for lamp and radiator.

Next day hanging out with friends at the river Ural outside the city, we swim and eat all day, drink best Kazakh Vodka you can find, I am put on a hores which needs hard kicks to get going, so I let the poor skinny horse, and I fall asleep at 10pm full dressed on the couch after we return.

Next day again I am captured to another site like a park where you can eat, jump into a pool and play games. It happens that this is a party of a health products company with all employers and a few other guests. A musician plays accordeon in between the 4 meals, people dance and sing deep russian songs with wonderful voices that my tears are not far. Silly but funny competition games are played and of cause my team wins all of them. In the end of the party I become the star and entetain all the ladys. They make jokes about the Kazakh traditions, e.g. the guest, me, has to pour the tea, which everybody enjoys, so they keep ordering, and the tradition that he can choose a woman to go with her in the jurte. It stays a joke, but everybody is interested how I deal with the situation. I am totally open and top the jokes, but no kiss in the jurte is happening. Hmm, did I do everything right or something wrong?


Hoping to be free in the evening to work a little bit and prepare a present for my hosts, we go instead to the family of the wifes brothers to have dinner. Endless food again and all adults give toasts with good wishes to the families, the house, my tour, and a few more things I cant remember, but it was a lot and took a third of the whole time. The toasts came close to prayers, and if you ask me, I think it works. The trick just is, that it has to be honest true what one is saying.

Next to those wishes they teach me one of the many reasons why it is important to drink vodka. One bottle shared with a friend dissolves 1000 problems.

It is time to thank them for the three days.

I make them understand, that they know how to treat a lonely traveller. To put him up in a family and sharing live for a couple of days means a lot for me.

We translate a german song in to russian for everybody through an online translator and I sing in german. Here the very free translation to english.


Above the clouds

freedom must be endless

all fears and all worries, they say

stay underneath, and then

what seems so important and big

turns meaningless and small.


(if you are interested in the melody, check Reinhard Mey: Über den Wolken)

Applaus. One more round of vodka, the last one, the bottle is emptied now.

-Thomas, you should come back after your travel. You are always welcome. To have you as a guest is enriching our live. You are a guest who is send by god!- They mean it, I take it, and I understand it as the highest honour one can give to someone else.

I didnt do much, but taking all their presents and giving attention to every detail they showed and told me. My little song was appreciated and it was enough. No need to be offensive with my art, what I am doing nd who I am. Like very often on my tour I realize, that the biggest present you can give someone, is the attention to what is important for that person.

The Kazakhs are crazy, they say about themselves. - Thomas, Do you know why the Dragons disappeared from earth? The Kazakhs ate them!-

It was a good school in atyrau about the Kazakhs and Kazakhstan. I feel prepared to go south through the heat to Beyneu where I make a stop in a cheap hotel. Fortunately the road was excellent.

Again the guys are very interested in the bike. Fine with me, but not if the first question is, how expensive it is. Even someone gets called to translate to me that one guy wants to know so urgently the price.  -Please tell your friend that I also dont ask how much he has on his bank account. And by the way, it is less expensive then the half of each car you see here.- He got the message and said thank you.

The hotel is frequented by the police a lot, they go in and out. It must be because of the close border to Uzbekistan. I think that the bike is safe at least, but one of them, the one with most stripes and stars, tries to convince me to sell it to him. I laugh and make him understand that I dont make jokes about my bike and keep an eye on it day and night. A serious look into his eyes convinces him and the police officer. Police or not, you never know, they might need some extra income and they are the uncontroled authority in the region. One trick might be to sell it to him and he signs a letter that officially it is stolen and I get the refund from the insurance. I heard about this procedure before. But whta does he mant to do with this high tech bike here? And it is the only nike like this in whole Kazakhstan probably and therefor too well known. He only could sell it further.

Also I didnt like the guys who thought they have to shake the bike testing the alarm function. Twice -NJET!- was not enough for them, so I screamed 30 centimetrs between our noses in german, wether they want to fool me and other more nasty things. Touching the bike is fine, even sit on it if you ask and make photos, but dont just come and shake it. Sometimes I have to make a clear statement which they get.

Beside these little inconveiniences I never had any problem in Kazakhstan. Indeed I found new friends as Oscar said about my map which leeds me to the good people.

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Contact: thomaslehmen@thomaslehmen.de                                                                              © Thomas Lehmen 2013