Of course there was a plague of locusts…

We’ve jumped another time zone, kids and we just braved about 200km of Kazakh supposed “good” roads. And by “good” roads, we mean dodging craters that could swallow our car and dust storms that have given us a form of black lung.

After our first night of camping outside of Uralsk, we made it to Aktobe for a brief water refill and trip around the “Hypermarket” which would have been heaven if it had had a bathroom. We stocked up on water and dish soap, but left the “Respect Yourself” vodka on the shelf (see photo in the Lots of Pictures post).

We opted for a picnic lunch just off the highway and when left with 5 hard boiled eggs from the day before that were smelling less than fresh, someone challenged Paul to the first 2009 Mongol Rally Food Wars. Can he really eat 5 hard boiled eggs in less than a minute? Stay tuned for the video to see his splendid finish (repeated later that night with a mystery fish salad made with the best of intentions).

Little did we know that after the lovely stretch of highway directly in front of us that allowed us to travel at 60mph, it would take us more than 3 hours to drive about 35 miles. We met another rally team at a crossroads who had been stuck for a few days due to a clogged fan motor and while we gave our cars a little rest, they joined us for some of the tastiest lunch we’ve had so far. Two other teams also poked their heads in for a bite and spoke of caravaning, but we realized that as one was a 4×4 and the other was a driver of a sedan who didn’t care about bottoming out at every bump, our caravan would only last a few minutes.

We’ve spent the better part of yesterday and today navigating giant potholes and figuring out how to bridge ditches. The Micra army is now covered in a layer of silty dust, perfect for drawing various amusing pictures on the back windows of our cars. Racing at a breakneck speed of 20mph, the Micra army conquered the dirt roads, stopped for camel and horse crossings, and definitely shouted a few “Woohoo!”s when we made it thru some of the more treacherous stretches. We killed several birds in our cars’ grills, a couple of desert rodents, and when the swarms of locusts (yes, plural swarms) were flying around, we claimed a number of locust lives as well. Emerging from the dirt and back onto semi-paved roads, Annie also scored a cow skull just outside of the city limits, complete with horns, which will soon decorate the hood of one of our cars!

The gates of Aralsk finally greeted us around 8pm and most of us agreed that the Bradt Kazakhstan guide does not describe this town appropriately. Rather than “grim…dim…pale…” as Paul Brummell describes, we choose to describe Aral as “rustic…quaint…even charming, with a touch of authenticity and realness.” The Pied Piper-esque gaggle of kid bandits running after our cars shouting “Hello!” brought smiles to all of our faces after a long day of driving. The team inhaled some meat and chicken at a little restaurant with a terrace and then descended upon Aral Hotel’s finest deluxe rooms for AC, showers and an impromptu dance party. Nevermind that the hot water didn’t actually work, there was no water pressure, and when we inquired at the front desk about it, the sign language conversation mostly resulted in the understanding that someone, far away, did not do their job of putting water in the water tank that feeds the pipes that go to the town that then go to the hotel which go to our shower. We mobilized in the morning to get ready to find a dry seabed with washed up ships in it and found another team roaming the steets of Aralsk about to do the same (you can check them out at wwww.thegoodthebadthemongol.com) but they soon learned of our turtle herd mentality and decided to continue on their way. Turns out the ship graveyard is pretty far away and the roads are not driveable at speeds higher than 10-15mph so we turned around after an hr or so and made our way back to Aralsk for gas where we bumped into a couple of other rally teams (www.themongoliamachine.co.uk).

We leave you now to head to Kyzylorda in southern central Kazakhstan and dodge a few more animal traffic jams. The Micra army has narrowly escaped death by grazing cows and successfully emerged from the herd of goats who chose to cross a highway bridge with us.


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