Mike and Jess spend two nights camping in the desert with their fellow Mongol Rally travellers, find ATMs hard to come by in Uzbekistan, and celebrate a new record Jess sets at border control.[Not a valid template]
When we first drove into Atyrau the sun had already gone down, but we were still surprised by how small the city really was. The roadhouse was full of Kazakh charm, truly charismatic owners and delicious food, but it was missing a few things that a Western girl on the road craves; a hot shower, a flushing toilet and wifi. When the sun was up, we headed out in search of our necessities, and found that Atyrau is actually a large international city with big shiny hotels offering all the required amenities: had we continued on in the darkness for five more minutes, that’s what we would have found out the night before
Once we had organised ourselves we headed out of the city through the rush hour traffic in search of the Uzbekistan border. We pulled over to quickly fill the car up and receive a friendly beep-beep from a little yellow Suzuki covered in Finnish and Mongolian flags. More Mongol Ralliers.
The three Finnish lads – Mika, Tommy and Frank – were heading to the Uzbekistan border too and wondered if we would like to head there together. There is always strength in numbers and I guess after two weeks on the road together, we could do with some new people to talk to. We drove for the entire day only stopping to eat at roadside cafes and to switch drivers, and despite some more terrifying desert thunderstorms we made great time.
After going past a number of remote Kazakh villages we decided to pitch our tents a few hundred meters off the main road out in the middle of the Kazakh desert with our new friends under the stars. Waking up in the middle of a desert in Kazakhstan has to be recorded as one of the weirdest birthday mornings ever.
We were at the Uzbekistan border for five long hours. It really was an insanely long process with more than one unnecessary and baffling piece of protocol. First you have to check yourself into the country, then you have to check your car into the country, then you have to register yourselves with the car, then you have to take everything (literally) out of the car to go through an x-ray machine, and finally you have to have the car’s mechanics inspected.
When it was our turn, the border control agent noticed something peculiar on the car registration form. Jess’ name – and not mine – was listed as the owner. This gave them all a good laugh at my expense and they told Jess that this was the first time they had ever listed a woman as the owner of a car at the border.
We think this reassured them that we were just soft little Western tourists who presented no threat. Still laughing, they asked us to bring our Clio to the front, jump the queue and even bypass the extensive baggage check in place of a few questions. It may not be the Caribbean holiday that Jess has always hoped for, but she can at least claim to be the first woman ever to drive into Uzbekistan with her own car.
After the boarder is 450km of gravel road through the desert, which to drive is pretty boring stuff. Considering so far on this trip we have driven along beautiful coastal roads and around mountainside, it is hard to get excited about the monotony of bushland with only the occasional grumpy camel for company.
However, the roads were mostly in good condition so we soon found ourselves in the little town of Qo ng irot. Driving into the town square we got a few funny looks from the locals but I guess they don’t see too many oddly decorated Renault Clios rolling through town.
It was then that we found out about the two biggest problems people face when travelling in Uzbekistan; there are very few ATMs and most cars here actually run on gas, so finding petrol is equally difficult. Why this was not in the guidebook astonishes me.
Deciding we didn’t have enough fuel to get us to the ship graveyard and back, we headed to the larger town of Nukus to find a hotel for the night, get a good feed and – most importantly – shower.
– Find out how you can contribute to this charitable drive by clicking HERE, and find out where Mike and Jess are today by clicking HERE