Baku to Almaty #2: train across the steppes

“In Europe and America people in a train travel in a train fully aware that it belongs either to a state or company and that their ticket grants them only temporary occupation and certain restricted rights. In Russia people just take them over. ” – Laurence van der Post, Journey into Russia

The problem with Kazakhstan is that it is a sodding big country. It is approximately the size of Western Europe, except with a population of only about fifteen million and not an awful lot going on apart from a lot of steppe. Aktau on the Caspian is, according to my Beacon of Progress map, at least 1000 km from the nearest town of interest, and my own particular interest lay with the Kyrgyz consulate in Almaty, over 2000km away on the other side of the country (3000 km travelling distance. The placement of transport links here is somewhat eccentric.). Since internal flights are not exactly cheap and buses non-existent, I was obliged to grit my teeth for the four-day-three-night marathon train journey.

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Baku to Almaty #1: the Caspian ferry

Crossing the Caspian in an academic. Surprisingly comfortable.

Waiting for the Kazakhstan ferry proved a depressingly Beckettian state of affairs. My companion in this endeavour was Juergen, a German backpacker who’d missed the previous ferry by twenty minutes, having waited a week for it beforehand and was thus understandably losing his sense of humour slightly. After a week, the only news that we had received was from a rather wild-eyed Filippino tourist who’d just taken the ferry from Turkmenistan and whose English wasn’t great, but the phrase (accompanied by a lot of emphatic gesticulating) “it’s hell” came across pretty clearly; we had just begun to reluctantly investigate flying, when I got a phone call from the tourist office. “The ferry is leaving in an hour. I think maybe you should go now!”. Right.

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Hamams, Imams and chadors: Iran again

A shopping trip in Mashhad.

OK, I suck at travel blogging. I’m sitting on no fewer than six half-finished posts including Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and India, which were months ago. But! I am stuck in Tblisi waiting for visas (Kazakhstan, the promotional literature that your consul showered me with assures me you are A Beacon Of Progress! I find this hard to believe when your visa application process is more convoluted than, to take an example at random, Afghanistan’s.) in a hostel with free wireless, so that means spam time. First up is Iran, which had plenty of good bits which did not involve police stations.

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