Day 82. 7th August. From Taldy-Korgan north

The herdsman who’s animals had surrounded us last night, returned this morning. What a life. Traipsing the countryside trying to find enough greenery to feed your animals. He had a blanket and a small pouch, but no other possessions. I think he came back for some conversation and human company!

Taldy-Korgan was very close. We drove through without stopping, but it looked very modern and had some impressive buildings, including a large stadium. A short time later our luck ran out. The smooth duel carriageway came to a sudden end and the further North we went the road went from poor to atrociously, bone shakingly awful. Khazakstan is a huge country. The world’s 9th largest. It seems the roads in the centre are good but when it gets to the extremities it all falls apart. Dennis spent a large part of the afternoon making reasonable progress along the gravel verge. Not so good for the poor people behind who had to eat our dust! All was going well until a policeman waived us down. He looked very officious and came over and asked Dennis what he was doing driving along the gravel. He spoke reasonable English. Dennis told him the roads were a disgrace and too bumpy to drive on. The policeman said we were throwing up stones, which was dangerous. The fine for this was 46,000 Tenge (£100 or NZ$200). We laughed and said we didn’t have any money. So, compromise. Did we have something from New Zealand we could give him. He mentioned he was a Lord of the Rings fan, so he seemed to know a bit about New Zealand. I rummaged around and found a $2 Kiwi key ring. He was more than happy with this and so were we!

The scenery today had been uninspiring. Flat and arid. Miles of scrubby, dry grasslands. Very little stock or cultivation, except in the few river valleys, which are lush and green in comparison. Some scruffy villages. The difference between Almaty, which is affluent and very Western European in outlook, is immense.

We have found sanctuary for the night driving across scrubland and up into the hills with some shelter from the road and sun. It is peaceful and smells of herbs. Wild thyme particularly. The sky is darkening, though, and black clouds are coming over. I hope it doesn’t mean a storm is brewing.

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