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Going home

An epic journey from Australia to Germany by car
Currently traveling
  • Day161

    Sunday animal market

    August 18 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    About 25km from Osh towards the East, close to a small village, a flat ground turns into a lively livestock marketplace every Sunday morning. Hundreds of sheep, goats, cattle and horses exchange their owners here. As it is a part of the local culture, we definitely wanted to go to have a look.
    Hence we all get up early and jump into a small cab, arranged by the owner of our stay. The initial confusion about where we want to go and the distance to the place is quickly overcome and all six of us find space in Ella's tiny car. Our driver is a 40year old women with a liking for loud Russian pop music. It seems like she is quite fond of the lot in her cab as shortly after we leave the city, she offers to guide us through the market and then take us back again. Another example of just how friendly the people are. And of course an offer we can't decline.
    Having Ella with us works out to be a treat. She makes sure we stay safe and together and translates whenever needed in the busy aisles of the market.
    Exchanging livestock is definitely men's business. Hands are held and strongly shaken until the right price has been negotiated. Sometimes up to six parties are involved. While this is fun to watch, sadly the conditions for the animals look quite harsh. It's not unusual for sheep and goats to be put into a trunk for example and not all the owners have the patience to kindly ask their livestock to move ahead. I guess my sweet whispers and gently pets were mostly laughed about. Maybe that's one of the reasons for there being so few women around? I'd still like to believe that setting a good example might help somehow...
    After a good hour of people and animal watching, we make our way back, head filled with another lot of busy citylife impressions before we take off to the mountains.
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  • Day160

    Osh Tourism Festival

    August 17 in Kyrgyzstan ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    When we arrived in Osh two days ago, we had every intention to simply get the car in good shape, stock up and straight away leave for the Pamir Highway again.
    Well, as usual, plans change. We staid at Sunny hostel (where we were allowed to only use facilities and sleep in the car in the carpark) and I saw a flyer for the Osh tourism festival immediately. A chance to see local culture and customs up close couldn't be missed.
    So Tom, I and the Kudliks (who had caught up with us at this stage) decided to stay for a few more days.
    And we weren't disappointed. After another day of getting things organised, we meet back at the hostel ("Visit Osh" for the last night in the city as part of the festival organisers had prebooked "Sunny") around 5pm and walk towards the festival ground. Police cars blocking the road and a few more scattered people than usual are the first sign of reaching the event.
    Amazingly, we've made it just in time: the silk road caravan, consisting of a few horsemen, a camel, two yaks and different groups displaying the various ethnicities of the region, is passing right in front of us. Music, smiles and waves and lots of pictures follow.
    Once the caravan and we reach the actual festival site, we get to watch crafts, performances and even a fashion show - whose stars were the grandmas displaying gorgeous, ethnic dresses and funny smirks. However, the real attraction seems to be, well, us. Foreigners. The tourists visiting Osh. We're being interviewed, photos are taken, videos shot. We hardly walk another two metres before someone else is excited to practice their English and in some cases their German with us. Suddenly, we're on the other side of the fence. We talk to locals, the volunteers at the festival (Osh's youth), the police commander and the Kudliks even get to meet the mayor. It's interesting to see how important tourism appears to be for this region and to which extent everyone wants to make us feel welcome.
    It culminates in two girls quickly approaching me in order to gift us some honey. Just like that. How sweet!
    All in all, I'd say the festival was not only a display of regional costumes and customs, but of the heartfelt hospitality that runs through the local people' veins. Definitely worth staying for a little longer in the city.
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  • Day150

    Border crossing Kazakhstan to Kyrgistan

    August 7 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Wow. What a smooth border crossing.
    Tom and I decided yesterday to spend the afternoon at the beginning of the Charyn canyon instead of crossing the border in the heat. We simply loved the place at the river, that felt like a little oasis. And maybe, just maybe, we hadn't been ready to leave Kazakhstan just yet.
    But this morning, it is time to go. We pack up, drive for another 1.5hrs and are actually quite surprised when the border post in the Kargara valley shows up. After Kegen, there were no signs or stalls or gas stations at all, so the post feels a bit sudden. We're here by approx. 10.30am. During the summer months (May-October), the border is open ever day from 8-18 o'clock. There is only one car in front of us and everything happens rather quickly.
    1. Our passports and the car registration are checked.
    2. We're allowed in and proceed to the customs control.
    3. The guards send me to the passport officer, he stamps me out of Kazakhstan and then I'm immediately pointed through to the Kyrgis passport office. No chance to return to the car to help Tom. Within 10min I'm done and am waiting in Kyrgistan for Tom and Hans to join me.
    4. The Kazakh officers play some jokes on Tom (like "fishing rods are not allowed here"), but they're friendly and let Tom and Hans pass quickly. Tom's passport is checked again and he, too, is proceeding to our new destination.
    5. The Kyrgiz side is no problem either, and within another 10min, I rejoin Tom in the car and off we go.
    As I mentioned earlier: super smooth and easy. The only problem is: no ATM, nor car insurance seller, nor SIM card provider on either side of the border. And the next two villages don't look like they'd provide those services either. Hence we simply postpone all of it and drive to Jyrgalan, our first stop. As everything moved so quickly, we arrive at lunch time and have enough time to go on a mountain bike tour in this fabulous scenery. The steep ascend is (luckily) interrupted by an invitation to join a family party for a few snacks and horse milk (kyzmyz). What a lovely bunch of people. Afterwards we continue our way up, pushing our bikes through steep mountain sides, cursing ourselves for having brought them up here. But once we finally get the chance to ride down, the strenuous part is all forgotten.
    First impression of Kyrgistan: amazing landscapes, super friendly people and lots of signage guiding tourists. We can't wait to explore more of this country (and we already have the impression so can't lots of other tourists 😉).
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  • Day149

    Kazakhstan random facts

    August 6 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ☀️ 35 °C

    In line with our previous country wrap ups here are our random facts about Kazakhstan:

    First of all: People are extreme friendly and welcoming. Some experiences we had:
    -> Right after the border we stopped at a river. We hadn’t even parked yet and a very excited man waved at us to stop. We met his whole family and got invited to a barbecue.
    -> People frequently waved at us friendly on the road, talked to us from their car and wished us best of luck on our journey.
    -> I was looking for a part for the car. The Toyota dealer in Astana didn’t have it but one of the staff asked for my phone number. An hour later I was contacted by someone in Almaty who could organise the part. Three days later the same guy delivered said part to our hotel and even only charged a reduced price!!
    -> We spent our last night in Kazakhstan in a beautiful canyon on the way to the Kyrgis border. In the evening a family of four parked next to us to have a picknick. They not only walked over to us to say hello, they also brought bread and apples and invited us to sit with them!
    => If only everybody was as welcoming towards foreigners as the people here are (yes, I’m also looking at you Germany. Including myself)

    Other things we noticed:

    Horse meat is a national dish.

    We saw a few graveyards next to the road. They're clearly depicting the Muslim heritage of this country with many graves looking like tiny mosques or at least carrying the moon symbol on top.

    There are a lot of trucks with German signage around.

    We met a lot of people that spoke great English and some even spoke German.

    Watermelon seems to be the national fruit. It was sold along the road almost everywhere.

    Around Almaty there are a few 3000m high mountains that can be climbed fairly easily.

    And last but not least: lots of supermarkets sell German products! Flour, pasta you name it.

    P.s.: nature especially in the South is much more beautiful than we expected!
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  • Day148

    Almaty city impressions

    August 5 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    While Nur-Sultan impresses by its modern look and notable architecture, Almaty wins you over due to its location. Don't get me wrong, the city features beautiful buildings and sights as well, but the snowcapped peaks in the background automatically draw all the attention to them.
    We we're lucky enough to be able to explore both a bit, but I'd happily return.
    The local food and drink scene seems to be thriving, too, and I'd like to delve into it again. I thoroughly enjoyed a place called "Chef" where we went to for Zuzka's birthday dinner. It featured lots of local and housemade products and everything I tasted was really delicious. Tom and I also discovered a tiny little bakery selling snacks out of a nook in an apartment block. And there were lots of fruit and veggie vendors around. Small and local food businesses, just the way I like it.
    Last but not least, I discovered that the city can be explored by bike nicely (if you don't mind a bit of incline). There are bike paths and traffic reduced roads, but it might require a bit of an effort to find them. Unfortunately I got lost while trying to do so and hence had to pass on the Beatles statue in the Kok Tobe park. But the ascension cathedral and the windig roads I took to make my way back made up for it. Almaty (meaning "Father of the Apple") won my heart.
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  • Day147

    Hiking around Almaty

    August 4 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Today is Zuzka's birthday! We all (the Kudliks, Margit & Daniel and Tom & I) arrived in Almaty yesterday. As we wanted to celebrate together, Zuzka had booked us two nights at the Mika Hotel in the South of town. A mere 16km away from Medeo, a beautiful skiing destination in winter and a hiking paradise in summer, Tom and I can't resist. With the promise to be back for the birthday dinner, we head off to the mountains. As we haven't done much research, initially we intend to simply walk along a river into the valley as far as we want. But the Sunday crowds (yes, it seems the locals like hiking, too!) make us choose an alternative route, leading up to Mt. Furmanova. Our simple stroll turns into a beautiful hike up to the 3000m+ peak. Or at least almost. Shortly before we reach the pass on approx. 2800m we can hear thunder rolling in. Never underestimate the weather in high altitude mountains! While we were sweating massively down in the city, it has cooled down notably already and we're not too eager on getting caught in a snowstorm (which aren't unusual this high up, even in summer). For once, we make the responsible call and finish our tour at the pass. We quickly descend the mountain along the river and with a bit of jogging at the end, we even make it back without getting wet. Yayie! Being out and about again felt so great and the scenery was just amazing. I guess, we're hooked again!Read more

  • Day144

    Holiday at the lake

    August 1 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 32 °C

    It's funny. No matter who you talk to, if people are travelling in their car for a while, they welcome a break every now and then.
    It doesn't have to be a stay in a hotel or hostel (though showers, a proper bed and maybe a kitchen can be very tempting), but it can also just mean to stay at one place for more than a night, not worrying about where to go next.
    It sounds weird, but taking a break while travelling is important. You need to give your brain time to catch up with all your experiences, the different landscapes and cultures.
    And so we decide to simply do it. Stay a day at the lake. Kazakhstan's steppe had been harshly hot and we still have at least another day of driving through it. Lake Balkash wins.
    We spend the day swimming, playing frisbee with Lenny, making crackers with Sara, Tom mends the car and bakes bread and much faster than we know it, it has passed. In the evening we're joined by Margit and Daniel as well, a couple from Zurich, travelling in a VW T5. Tom and I had met them in Nur-Sultan for the first time, but they knew the Kudliks from before.
    All of us enjoy a movie night under the stars and plan to spend the next few days driving together. Same destination (Almaty) and Zuzka's birthday is coming up.
    Suddenly the day driving through the steppe is just another leg of the journey and doesn't seem so dreadful anymore. Friends make everything better!
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  • Day141

    Nur-Sultan - "Dubai of the Steppe"

    July 29 in Kazakhstan ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    I might be repeating myself, but still. Tom and I are not really city people. Yet, we find ourselves travelling through Nur-Sultan, previously Astana renamed this spring in order to honour the resigning president.
    Reason being: fellow travellers had repeated horrible road conditions on the eastern road through Kazakhstan and our by now dear friends from Australia, the Kudlik family, are here as well.
    Once we've made it through the traffic and into the yard of the hostel where we will park and sleep in Hans (Nomads 4x4, a perfect place for Overlanders), the city gains in popularity already. We quickly chat with other overlanders, take a shower (always welcome while travelling in a car) and head out to meet the Kudliks for dinner.
    Astana is quite modern and has some astonishing architecture to offer. We only see a small part of it, but as we walk through the city by night, everything is lit up and looks all the more impressive. Dinner is fabulous, too, and we really enjoy catching up with our friends.
    And even though we leave early on the next day to sort a car issue in a Toyota garage, I'm glad we stopped here in this very different part of Kazakhstan.
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  • Day140

    Russia to Kazakhstan

    July 28 in Russia ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Another border crossing. It seems like we got into something like a routine by now. The day before the crossing, we camp somewhere nearby with Internet reception and read on various blogs about what to expect and how to prepare. (Of course we usually have a general idea as it might be a bit late to apply for a visa the day before 😉 but it helps to refresh our memories).
    In case of this border we had friends crossing it just two days ago, so we even had a personal experience report.
    As we don't need a visa for Kazakhstan and the temporary import document for Hans is also still valid (Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgistan and Armenia form the Eurasian Custom Union), there is little to prepare. Thankfully!
    Hence, we get up, have breakfast, pack up and head to the border. We still have to drive for about 2 hours, but the beautiful landscape with so so so many sunflower fields makes time fly by. Just before the border, we fill our tank with precious Russian diesel and head to a small booth selling car insurances for KZ and KGZ. We chose the first one, which might not have been the cheapest (2400Rubel for 15days) but the friendly lady was too nice to say no to. We get a simcard, too (Beeline this time as we heard it's good for KZ), but as I'm not sure about reception in Kazachstan, I quickly give my mum a call. Tom is having lunch, while I'm happily chatting about all things back home. So close and yet still so far away... It's hard to hang up today (I really enjoyed talking to my Mum as if we've seen each other just yesterday), but it's time to go. The border is waiting.
    We rock up just shortly after 1pm and stand in line with two other cars. Passport control and customs on the Russian side are smooth and take less than half an hour. The Kazakh side is similarly efficient (with the passport officer trying to learn some English with me) and so we're out and on our way to Semey a mere 1.5hrs later. Wow!
    Notably, there is no settlement directly after the Kazakh border, so be prepared or else drive to Semey. We would be prepared but want to cover some ground, so we opt for the later in order to take a break at the city's river. By pure chance we discover a locals' favourite, or it least it seems like it due to the many families swimming, picnicking and camping here. Turns out we're even more lucky: the family right next to us immediately invites us over and shares their stories as well as their amazing food with us. The father is an enthusiastic hunter and so we get to try venison shashlik. And the son is on summer vacation from studying in Korea so there is pork belly with kimchi, too! Our planned coffee break thus turns into a second lunch/early dinner, filled with pictures and stories that the son and daughter-in-law translate for us. So cool!
    Passing by horses that surround Hans for a while add to the picture-perfect experience just before we continue our journey. How lovely! Thank you so much again, our start in Kazakhstan couldn't have been better!
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  • Day139

    Random Russia - Part 2

    July 27 in Russia ⋅ ⛅ 21 °C

    Russia is such a vast and diverse country that you actually can't talk about "things I've seen in Russia". Our experiences in the Far East of Russia and in Southern Siberia were sometimes quite different. Especially in terms of the landscape. So I'm dividing this post according to regions.

    In general:
    You can't buy alcohol before 11am.

    Churches are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. Women can borrow scarfs to cover their hair and sometimes wrap around skirts. It stood out to me that there are hardly any possibilities to sit down. Seems like the Russians worship standing up.

    Far East:
    I've seen more cowboys (men herding cows on horses) in Russia than in Australia.

    Cows and at times horses mostly roam around freely, no fences at all. Often they are unaccompanied. Free-range at its best.

    We've also seen herds of wild horses. Mongolia is close!

    Southern Siberia:
    If you want to have your car cleaned, you drive to a shop where they do everything by hand. Super detailed! (We only got the car cleaned from the outside, but we saw many cars shining bright as new even inside).

    People sell dried birch branches everywhere on the side of the street. These are used in the local saunas (banyas) to increase the effect.

    On the way from Barnaul to the Kazakh border we saw many beautiful settlements that had a gated entry from the main road. Unfortunately we don't know if anyone could enter or only the habitants. Houses of all shapes and colours, surrounded by what looked like super productive gardens. A dream!

    There are a high number of flowering fields. Some look like they are cover crops, but there was also a white flower that I really need to find out what it'll be used for. Often fields are lined with a flowering greenstrip, amazing for insects and local wildlife.
    It was also very beautiful to see if a field had been a sunflower field during the previous season. The bright yellow flowers surrounded the wheat or whatever else was growing and every now and then a single one would have popped up in between the new crop. Mother nature has her own way of creating beauty!

    Super duper friendly people all around! Don't believe US movies depicting the Russians as the villains all the time. We were welcomed warmly, invited for a random BBQ in the middle of nowhere and had people waving and greeting us from their cars in Barnaul. So so lovely!
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