Three days awake – Hitchhiking through Kazakhstan (1)

Strasse Kasachstan

It was a sunny day in beautiful Almaty, when I was going to start my next route. I would go 3700 km through Kazakhstan. Before I had to leave my original plan to cross Central Asia and hitchhike the Pamyr Highway. The visas for Turkmenistan, Tadschikistan and Uzbekistan would have cost me some hundred Euros and the bureaucratic effort to get them was a bit to much for me. I just don’t have the energy anymore to deal with shit like that after 20 months traveling. Another time. And so my B-Plan took place. Hitchhiking all across Kazakhstan and crossing the Caspian Sea with a cargo boat. It would mean I have another paid transportation, but It is still cheaper than doing all the visas and much less effort. So fuck it.

When I started in Almaty I caught a transporter relatively fast which took me almost 500 km to Tazar. First lift of the first day and a wonderful opening for one of the fastest hitchhiking passages I ever did. Already at the beginning I had a very good feeling about this route and I wouldn’t face disappointment. In Tazar I had to do a little detour off my track, because I needed to enter Kyrgyzstan to renew my Kazakh visa. Border hop. I had only 10 days left and did not know how long it would take me, to get on the mysterious container ship to Azerbaijan. So better to take fresh 15 days visa with me.

It was close to sunset and I was a bit annoyed by doing this detour, which would cost me in total three hours of my precious time. The last 15 km to the border I had a ride with some Muslim, who got me into the car in front of a fish market. It was Ramadan, which means: No food or drinks as long as the sun is up. My driver was about to buy food for dinner at the fish market. It was an extremely hot day and I could hardly imagine how he can stand not to drink all the time. Amazing. But Ramadan also means, that every guest is seen as a gift of god. I knew from Syria and Turkey already, that Muslim people are very hospitable. This time as well. My driver drove me 15 km to the border, although he wasn’t supposed to go there. He seemed so happy to help me and I don’t want to offend anyone. In the end he gave me 5000 Tenghe (around 18$) and said I should buy some food for myself. I really don’t like if people give me money. So I decline usually, but if the drivers insists I will take it. Anyway I think people who give benefit much more from that process than you do as a taker. So taking money is kind of doing a favour to someone else in my eyes.

At the border I only wanted to exit and entrance Kazakhstan as fast as possible. First time in my life that I did a border hop. While leaving Kazakhstan they asked me at the immigration where I want to go? I was honest. Renew my visa. The officer was just shaking her head, whereupon I meant: „Well, maybe not renew my visa but visit Kyrgyzstan?“. Sunshine smile, so that we both could save face. In Kyrgyzstan I had a rigorous check-up. Weapons? Terrorist? All those questions. Or did they just need a reason to watch pictures on my camera for about 15 minutes? The shitting-on-the-street-boy of my China article was indeed a good laugher for everyone.

After entering Kyrgyzstan I walked ones around the building and queued again in direction Kazakhstan. Leaving Kyrgyzstan was without any big problems. Just the immigration officer fucked up the stamp and had to do a second one in my passport. On the Kazakh side I was welcomed by a very friendly and over motivated person. First I thought it would be a hustle to get back into the country but it was not at all like that. When I gave my passport he was so happy to see someone from Germany. He asked me a lot of questions and the border of excitement and obligation once again became indistinct. The whole process took a little bit longer than expected. Behind me gathered already around 15 people. Kind of this situation, when you watch a soccer match with all your friends, have a nice booze, and finally is half time and everyone I looking forward to void their bladders before finding out, that there is only one toilet. Unisex. And you saw this foreigner with the bright yellow suit entering the room and obviously he is taking a huge and long shit there, while everyone else gets more and more impatient. Unseen from the rest, is sitting this immigration officer, totally intrigued, asking thousands of questions and being very happy. I think he also wanted to practice his English. “Very nice to see you! Hope we meet again! Have a nice trip! Enjoy Kazakhstan!”, he wasn’t stopping the farewell. Finally at some point I was out and did a runner before the mob would lynch me.

Sonnenuntergang Kasachstan

It was already dark when I got out of this detour. City crossing. Annoying, but I had to do that somehow to get back on the track. Again someone gave me money. Finally bought my first food during that day and took a little break after all day hitchhiking and border trouble. In front of the shop I found a transporter. He had no chance to not take me, as the driver was cleaning the windows when I showed up. He drove 200 km into the night. Next city. On the run. And then my way was free. No border, no detour. I started rolling.

In general hitchhiking in Kazakhstan is very comfortable. You immediately feel that you are in a former Soviet Union country. Hitchhiking is a common thing, everywhere people stand at the side of the road and try to catch a ride. Cars stop super easily and people know the difference between „Avtostop“ and the normal ride sharing, where you give a small amount of money. Of course I am foreigner and it is different for me, but I am very clear to the drivers, that I do not give money for Avtostop, when they stop. Most of the time they wave me in anyway. Hitchhiking in the night is another glorious quality on Kazakhstan. There is basically no difference. Cars stop as fast and reliable as during the day. I experienced that in no other country before and it made Kazakhstan become my favorite country for hitchhiking in the night.

At some point during this night I ended up at a police control, which works very well for catching rides. This should give me an important advantage during that night. At the checkpoint were a lot of trucks waiting, mostly from Kyrgyzstan. Beside that was a bunch of Taxi drivers, ready to bring the truckers to the next hotel, in case they get pulled out of the traffic for longer. Taxi drivers and policemen seemed to know each other well and life in an oddish symbioses of parasite living forms. No need to tell, that I run into a photo session. The selfie culture in Kazakhstan is a bit different from the one in China. In Kazakhstan people push me to take a photo with THEM and not the other way around. Because they think it is important for me to have their face in my photo album. Very funny.

The night went really well and till dawn I did already more than 1000 km. The street started to get more and more empty and I slowly understood, that I am entering the Kazakh steppes. It remembered me of Argentina, with the slight difference that there was really NOTHING in Kazakhstan, whereas in Argentina you could find civilization almost everywhere. However, this morning I was lucky. First car that came stopped and took me 400 km north. Same in my next position. First car stopped. Where they go? „Aktau.“ „Aktau?“ I was totally confused. That was my destination. But it was 2200 km to go. And so I was sitting in my direct ride!

I hitchhiked a lot and experienced enough to know, that you can never be sure, when having those kind of “super rides”. My both drivers had neat skinheads, buffalo humps, sunglasses and did not talk at all but drove with 130 km/h through the countryside. I did not know, if I would really stay in this car. First stop at a gas station. Short conversation, then we had lunch together. The atmosphere was really good, both very friendly and I felt safe with the ride afterwards. Then I felt asleep. We took different route from the one Google maps showed me. It is okay, I thought. Maybe the other road is just shitty. Around 200 km detour. No problem. At 18:00 what I expected became true. They ask me to leave the car. Without any reason. We were somewhere in the middle of the detour road, where I did not wanted to hitchhike through anyway. There was no time to discuss, so I took my bag and observed my drivers taking off in my direction. Usually I would get really angry after situations like that but since I experienced that before and I set my mind for it, it was okay. Restart. Behaving professional and trying to get the next ride ASAP. The near police control forced me once again to take a photo. The policemen was full of cocaine. Jesus! Totally hyperactive and constantly snuffling.

Polizei Kasachstan