Day 84. North and back to Russia

On the road early this morning, after a cooler and undisturbed night. By 9am we had covered 60 miles. What a difference it makes having a good road. For the last couple of days we have achieved just over 200 miles all day.

Panic over, my phone has recovered and is now charging. Must have enjoyed being put in the fridge yesterday evening and a cooler night.

The countryside is dire. Nothing but nothing. Dead flat and just scrub. The road is also boringly straight. My impression of Khazakstan is not the best, you will probably have gathered. This is no doubt unfair, as in the scale of things, we have seen little of it and have just driven through it. This particular part of the country, sadly, has little to offer scenically or culturally. The further north and away from Almaty we get, the poorer the villages become. The last town before the Russian border is Semey, or Semipalatinsk, as it was known in Soviet times. Passing old, rotting soviet factories, there are also chimneys of newer industries belching fumes into the atmosphere. It is a sad and depressing place. Between 1949 and 1989 the Soviet military used an area west of the city as a nuclear testing zone and exploded some 460 nuclear bombs here. No one locally was given any information about or protection against the dangers. Tragically the affects are still being felt. Cancers, genetic mutations, weakened immune systems and mental illness continue to destroy lives . We passed a huge modern hospital. Apparently the UN calculate that 1.3 million lives have been affected by the tests. Despite these problems, according to Lonely Planet, the area, the heartland of the Khazak Middle Horde, is noted for its eloquence and intellect. Several notable writers and teachers came from here and it was a home in exile to the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Outside of Semey on hillsides on both sides of the road were huge cemeteries. Testament to the horrors, no doubt. Khazak cemeteries are pretty amazing. They always seem to be built in the middle of nowhere and often on a hill. From a distance it looks as if you are approaching an imperial city. Domes, spires, crenellations – every type of architectural feature imaginable. Yesterday we passed a tomb under construction which must have been modelled on the Taj Mahal! Totally over the top.

Retirement village.

Once beyond Semey the scenery changed and there were forests of pine. They looked very odd though. In most cases multi trunks sprouting from one root, or were deformed and twisted. Worrying to think what the radiation might still be doing. Crops and farming were well established again here though. They looked healthy enough.

We reached the border at 1130. It was slow. Only 8 vehicles ahead of us but it took two and a half hours to get through both Khazak and Russian formalities. Very slow at the Russian passport control, with only one person on duty. Obviously lunch time.

The horse is looking for directions…

Once we were through our main objective was to top up our WiFi with more funds. We pulled in to a garage and Dennis chatted to a young guy to ask where we could get topped up. He came over to the Land Rover and we managed to top up online, with his assistance in translation. We parked in the shade and read our emails and managed to publish 2 blogs, we had typed previously, but had been unable to publish.

Now we are parked for the night in another field, some distance off the road. We were watching a herder on his horse rounding up cattle. Between us is a small area of trees. The cows seemed to be heading our way and I thought we may be surrounded by them, but they have headed off another way. Hopefully it will prove a peaceful resting place and a good night’s sleep will ensue.

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