Sunday, July 11, 2010

Semey Charmed Life

From Semey

Firstly and foremost, go Cadel! Yellow jersey at stage 8.

The border crossing from Mother Russia to the ‘eldest son that now has a well-paying job with disposable income’ Kazakhstan was delightfully uneventful. A few stamps here, a bypassing of bag inspection due to our heavily laden bikes there and we were through. Kilometres later, outside a road-side shop a friendly “Hello guys, welcome to Kazakhstan!” was being accompanied by two large complimentary bottles of iced-tea. We could grow to like this respect for the cyclists hydration needs.

To our surprise, we were soon enjoying a mosquito free evening amongst the remains of deserted mud brick houses (maybe the result of 1990s border decisions). The surprises were to keep coming, as the next day we would meet our first long-haul cycle tourists.

From Semey

Carsten, Amelie and Muz were on their way into Russia before tackling the Mongolian roads. Maps, information, Dostoevsky and blog addresses were swapped on our tarp under the welcomed shade of trees. In our excitement, 1.5hours slipped by before we set off with some lighter panniers bidding the others farewell as we jealously watched them cruise along with their tailwind.

Our home for the last 3 nights has been Hotel Semey, in Semey. By chance we have been flanked by some very interesting travelers. Brent, a kiwi living in Australia to our right and Melanie and Gaetan, two French documentary makers to our left. Between wandering the city, eating shashlik, watching World Cup and drinking some cool brews we’ve filled in the last few days with relative ease alongside our fresh traveling friends.

Semey, or Semipalatinsk (Russian) is a fascinating town of over 200 000. It combines European Russian architecture with Soviet block apartments, espresso machine wielding wifi cafes with shashlik stalls, the post-modern ‘CCCP bar’ with WWII parkland memorials, and a Medical University. All this on the backdrop of being a mere 200km from the groundzero of numerous Russian nuclear tests in the 1980s that have left their mark on the health of surrounding villages.

Said post-modern CCCP bar served us up some small 2nd World trouble a few nights ago. But that’s for another time. Blogspot is blocked in almost all of the places we can connect, but surprisingly facebook, google, gmail, hotmail are all fine.

In a bid to avoid the hot dry 1000km of Kazakh steppe, we will be attempting to catch a train down to Almaty to briefly soak up this cosmopolitan city shaped by a fast flow of oil money. We’re hoping we might find some bike fever here as Astana (the Tour de France team) and Contador (Astana rider) continue to be a force in the race.

Cycling Summary:
Around Rubtsovsk - 25km
To border - 45km
To stealth camp from border - 31km
To Semey - 101km



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