About how we came to such a life and decided to become autotravelers is said here. The next story – is our first long journey. Unfortunately, there will be no photos, they were not preserved. There will be video clips taken on an analog camera and digitized, which show the roads of the first year of our century. And the maps which we used to travel.Over the past few years, we have traveled around the mountains and rivers around Almaty, visited Issyk-Kul several times and considered ourselves hardcore travelers. Having decided to assert ourselves even more, we dared, so to say, to Russia. Good friends lived in Sterlitamak, which is slightly south of Ufa. It was decided to pay them a visit, they did not object. So, let’s go. But how? According to rumors, the situation on the road was as follows: there was no asphalt, no gas, no mobile communication. Such useful inventions as the navigator and the DVR, were supposedly rumored to appear only ten years later. And, moreover, just now, and even then – not everywhere, the “dashing 90s” went silent. Funds were needed to resolve these issues.
What did we have at that time? The main tool – the MMC Pajero 3.0L GLX 1998 Model car – was deemed sufficient to overcome the all-terrain and comfortably deliver my wife and I to the destination. A box in which was neatly and steadily insulated from each other, placed 4 canisters of gasoline, 20 liters each, became a means to combat the shortage of gasoline. The fifth canister was the standard equipment of the car and was on the external sling. Well, and the fuel tank. Almost 190 liters of gasoline with full refueling of all tanks seemed to us a sufficient amount. For orientation on the terrain, a printed analogue of the navigator was taken – “The Atlas of the USSR Highways” with incomparably greater coverage than the pack of “Belomor”. There was a mobile phone, analog connection. Video camera, also analog. And, of course, a great desire to drive there and back.
The road hit us like a war – early June morning, exactly at 4 o’clock. The date of the trip was chosen from considerations of the longest possible daylight hours. Never we went by car towards this direction before. By train – yes, right up to Karaganda. We knew that they had to leave Alma-Ata in the direction of Tashkent, we had gone to Issyk-Kul, and we seemed to see a turn to Karaganda with a corresponding sign.It is dark, we are approaching a turn – the road is blocked by concrete blocks, the passage is closed. We go back to the gas station asking for the road, we dive through the villages, relying on our flair and cars in front. We seemed to be approaching the highway. Let’s go. There are a few cars, begun to gray a little, a pair of trucks with a forest passes towards us, and we almost drive into a log that has fallen from a truck and is on the way. In time, realizing that the clearance of the car is not enough, I dodge this gift. Yes, the trip could have ended before it began …
At that time, the major reconstruction of the Almaty-Astana road started. According to the ambitious plan of designers and builders, this modern two-lane highway should replace the old two-lane road and connect the southern and northern capital of the republic in a convenient and fast way. From Alma-Ata to Sary-Shagan (which is about 500 km.) the work has not yet begun and the cars jumped merrily along the asphalt tracks and bumps, but at the entrance to the city of Balkhash, reconstruction was in its full swing. We were driving along a dust road next to the new embankment, on which various road machinery was working. The dust road was sometimes watered, but the hot June sun quickly dried the water and the cars were driving, enveloped in clouds of gentle balkhash dust. At the entrance to the city of Balkhash saw a gas station. It did not work. But the benefit from it was unquestionable – we got under a shed, hiding from the sun and poured four canisters into the tank. The first refueling is done.
The first fifty kilometers from Balkhash delighted us with beautiful new asphalt. There was a thought, that the repair of the highway was completed, the road builders tried and managed to do everything for our arrival. However, the joy quickly subsided. Further, to Karaganda, road works were carried out in a big way, which meant that we drove almost all the time on a dust road, to the left of the embankment, then to the right, with envy glancing at rollers, asphalt pavers and official vehicles that were smoothly moving along the finished road. Having closed the windows and turned on both air conditioners, we won the fight with the forty-degree heat that reigned around. Unfortunately, not all cars at that time could do the same, the transport went with the windows open and the clouds of hot dust freely passed through the hot salon.
There was gas in Karaganda. Refueling at the entrance to the city, we began to find out – how to get to Astana. I must say that the phrase “Tell me how to get there?” was most often used in conversations with local people. Karaganda was driven through the city, as we, fortunately, skipped the turn to the bypass road before the questioning began. Much later we learned how lucky we were. If we discard all the unprintable words that were spoken about this detour, then the bottom line would be – there is no road. Through Karaganda itself, we drove fairly quickly and conveniently.
Back then, long-distance car traffic could not show off with its intensity. On trips around Alma-Ata, we saw cars of only two regions – the city and the region – and it seemed to us that no one traveled far. This was somewhat worrying before the trip began – the road is long, the roads are empty, and there is no one to help in case of emergency. But already in Karaganda, we saw cars from different regions of Kazakhstan, people traveled along and across the geographical center of the country, and realized that we lived at a dead end, traffic flows just bypass us. In Karaganda, it became noticeably cooler, then again – the dust disappeared, since before Astana no goofing around in the form of road repairing was observed.
As we were approaching the capital, the weather begun to deteriorate. The already started rain passes into a downpour which washes away dust and midges from the car, polishing it to factory shine. We wipe the dust in the cabin, wash up with wet tissues – we are ready to meet the capital. And the rain is pouring … We are driving along the finished part of the bypass road, we must turn onto Kokchetav – but where? No one to ask. A traffic police car is heading towards us, I am blinking headlights, waving a hand – asking to please stop. Stopped, explained the road. We must go through Astana, and after it turn right. We are going through the city. Heavy rain leveled the surface of the streets, hiding small and large unevenness of the landscape. Before our eyes, a man, stepping from the curb, goes knee-deep into the water. This is practically still Tselinograd, it will become Astana in ten years (not in the sense of the name – in this sense that already happened, but in the sense of the capital’s image). We leave the city, look around – where is this turn? Does not seem to be visible. There is a cafe near the road, there are cars parked, means there are people. I walk in to ask for directions to Kokchetav. Seeing people sitting at three connected tables, I understand that the «nineties» did not go everywhere.
But the road is explained, there is a turn after a couple of kilometers, but we will not pass there, the road is closed for repairs, it is necessary to detour somewhere, this is a decent distance, it is possible by the road along the steppe, but after the rain you cannot drive on anything, they say.
– On nothing at all? – I ask. They look through the window at our car.
– Well, maybe you will pass … –
Encouraged by such farewell we go further. At that time, only the road builders knew that there would be a gorgeous six-lane Astana-Borovoye highway, according to which almost any Astana resident (male or female) would be able to instantly reach the nearest casino and improve their cash flow in order to make it to their next salary. In the meantime, this is a road, more precisely, the direction, right across the field, dirt fountains flies into the glass – the overhangs are short. The car goes, rather – floats, sideways. I twist the steering wheel in all directions, the windshield is still manageable to be washed, the side windows are slowly losing their transparency.
The car is covered with a protective layer of dirt. Here is the water in the washer reservoir runs out, and the rain, which stopped after Astana, does not even think about starting. Finally, we get out on the road. I try to wipe the glass, and by that I transition some of the dirt onto my hands and clothes. Some things become visible, just enough to notice a traffic cop waving a stick. The police officer looks at the car from all sides – whoo, how dirty are you … Even without asking for the documents, he suggests wiping headlights and license plates at least. With grief and a half I manage to do so.
The story of the “mud baths” had an unexpected continuation. Already after returning home, in Alma-Ata, began to notice the smell of smoldering grass from under the car. At first I could not figure out what was happening, and then I looked under the car – and I understood. Dirt in half with straw while driving on a muddy field crowded around the muffler and was smoldering. Some of it managed to be rinsed with a hose under pressure, but some of it gave off smoke for about a month.
And one more episode, to the heap. In Karaganda, at the gas station, while refueling, a Land Cruiser drove up with a nylon net on the hood. At first, I did not understand why it was needed, and when I returned home and spent a very long time washing the radiator from insects, I realized the full need for such an accessory. Since then, for all long journeys I close the grille with a nylon net, helps a lot.
June day is long, but not infinite. In total darkness we come to Kokchetav, I want to lie down and fall asleep right away, but we need to wash the car until the dirt layer finally grabs. At the car wash, we are clearly explained that the usual fare is not for us, the brave-dirty ones are washed at the more expensive fare. What to do … I fight the sleep, watching the familiar outlines of the car appear from the dirt. Having found out where the hotel is located, on the last breath we reach it and, having washed ourselves, we fall.
The night flew past like youth. It’s time to go, ahead to Petropavlovsk, and from there the border is not far away. How will it be? Everything is interesting, all for the first time. Going on a trip, we planned to get to the final destination on the third day in the evening. But now we understand that we can arrive much earlier and need to somehow gently inform the receiving party about it. When in Petropavlovsk, we call the friends, saying that we are much closer than you think. This is where analogue mobile telephony services end, outside the city, the connection, let’s say, is unstable, and abroad … well, the word roaming was rarely encountered then.
And here are the boundaries of the country. To the right of the road is a wagon (not new, oh not new), a barrier and a STOP sign. I go into the room, at a low table, 2-3 people in uniforms are sitting like at home, a log book is on the table. They entered our data into the register of persons moving across the border, asked if there was any alcohol, got an answer – within the limits of what was permitted and allowed to proceed further. Fashionable currently questions about weapons and drugs were not asked. The Russian border differed slightly more with a capital structure (the trailer was not on wheels, but on the ground – real estate, so to say), maybe there was even a house, but the morals in general were also patriarchal. Everything was done somehow slowly, sedately, and there were not many people passing back then. We finished formalities, so to say, and drove into Russia. First time. The nearest regional center, Kurgan, drove without any incidents along the bypass road, but Chelyabinsk … At present, based on the map, there is a ring road around the city (I have not been there in a long time), but back then transit transport bypassed this harsh city only from the north, driving in from the east and going out from the ring road in the south-west. I forever remembered the name of the settlement Dolgoderevenskoe, the pointers to which repeated themselves over and over again, it began to seem like we were going in a circle. The road was recently renewed by poured tar and being covered with rubble, which did not adhere everywhere equally well. I just attempted to overtake the GAZ-24 that was in front of me, when suddenly pebbles started to fly out from under it, and right into the window, and cracks along it. I dodge from fear almost into the oncoming lane, scaring the truck there. Glass was a pity, it was only three years old. Well, with our luck …
Passing Chelyabinsk, we soon went to the storming of the Ural Mountains. The M-5 route was slowly going west and the undoubted leaders in restraining traffic were buses. Two-story kings of highways imposingly floated along a winding road, gathering behind then a retinue of small vehicles. It seemed, there was an unspoken competition – who will gather more. This unhurried movement gave us the opportunity to look at the neighbors in the tuple, and we were surprised to notice the diversity of regions in the traffic flow. Cars from different places of immense Russia were going about their business, traveled, carried cargo, people. It was so amazing for us who only experienced local trips before. Once again, we were glad for ourselves and were enormously proud of our decision to begin the life of auto-travelers. However, there were only a few loaded sections, mainly on winding sections of the road. As soon as the road straightened up, the traffic jam was beginning to desolve and the highway became almost empty.
There was not much left to go, but it was rapidly getting dark and, in order not to engage in night searches in an unfamiliar city, I added some more speed to the move. Having a local car to follow, we were peacefully rolling to the friend’s place at a speed of 140 km / h. Alas, the happiness did not last long, behind the next hillock, the radar ambushed in a mean way. The police let my unknown leader pass (he is local and maybe even an acquaintance). To me, a gentle gesture, supported by a truly nightingale trill, offered to stop. Excess of 50 km – termination of a driver’s license, said the policeman as a cut off statement. Of course, I got a little depressed, but still asked – are there any other – softer punitive measures? Gradually, going down the ladder of possible options, taking into account the country of my origin and the difficult financial situation of the auto-tourist, Bashkir policeman and I agreed on a tax of 1 ruble per kilometer of the overall speed of the vehicle – this is exactly the amount (140 rubles) I scraped up in trifles in my pockets. Parted happy with each other, now I’m not afraid to talk about it, the statute of limitations has expired.
It’s dark, past 10 pm. We roll along the streets of Sterlitamak – almost as we traveled back to Soviet times: people walk with their children, quietly, calmly. Asking the way only five times, we find the needed street in the private sector and slowly drive along it, looking at the house numbers. Ahead we see a group of people waving their hands. Hooray! These are our friends and their relatives went for a walk and run into us. We arrived.
The few days we spent at the friend’s house were filled with things unrelated to the road. Except for two: we made a temporary registration and received a document to be presented to the border police on the way back. At the border, no one asked for this paper. And second – we poured 4 cans of gasoline prior to leaving back, it was useful. From Sterlitamak it was possible to go home by three roads. The first, on which we arrived, led to the north of the city, to Ufa and the M-5 highway. The second led to the south, to Orenburg and further, to Aktyubinsk, but was marked in the atlas with such a thin thread that we decided – no go. And the last road went to the west, to Beloretsk, Magnitogorsk, Troitsk. The first route has already been passed, we will not go there unequivocally. The second is not realistic, forget about it. From the third we were dissuaded by our friends, saying that there was no road to Beloretsk. What to do? Of course, it was always a possibility not to go anywhere and stay in Russia, with friends, but we were not ready for this. Therefore, an intermediate option was chosen for the return route: we go to the south, to Salavat, Meleuz, then turn left, to Mrakovo (The Dark City) (the name is alarming) and through Sibay go to Magnitogorsk. Further to Troitsk, and this is already the border.
After waking up the whole house due to an early departure, we set off. We got a little confused in Salavat, safely drove through Meleuz and, already in the light of day, around Mrakovo, got into such a thick fog that the speed of movement became equal to the pedestrian. The community conscientiously delivered on its name, it was so dark that the houses along the road were barely visible. Fortunately, the condition of the road was good enough, it was not necessary to be distracted by the pits. In this fog we drove (well, what drove – we walked, stepping over the wheels) for about half an hour. Then the fog cleared and, moving on the hills of the southern Urals, we were able to enjoy the beautiful nature of these places.
Magnitogorsk was already left behind, a little far away, on the right – Fershampenoise, in front was Stepnoye, a turn onto Troitsk. The atlas draws this road with a thin thread, which caused some doubts in its existence, but the road running along the River Ui turned out to be good and, bypassing the city of Troitsk, we reached the border.
I don’t remember the details of the transition, most likely there was nothing interesting, they let us out and lets us back in quickly and now we are moving towards Kostanay and Astana. However, we did not manage to reach the capital that day. Somewhere in the Atbasar area, due to the lack of hotels, we stopped to sleep for a bit. At first, we tried to drive off from the road and park there but raised such a cloud of mosquitoes that it was impossible to open even a small crack in the window – we would simply have been devoured without salt. We returned to the road, a little slid to the side of the road and fell asleep right in the front seats without making the bed behind on the back seats.
A few hours of sleep refreshed completely. As well as, the sun and high spirits about returning home. There were not many cars, the road was not half bad, there was still petrol, and we were moving fast to Alma-Ata. After Karaganda, the speed of approaching the house had decreased – short sections of ready-made track alternated with a bypass gravel road and large pieces of old, broken asphalt.
Already all the horrors of road construction had passed, it remained approximately two hundred kilometers to Alma-Ata, the sun was setting, but it seemed we were able to make it in time of daylight. There is a sharp fractional knock, even a bang, from the back right. The car starts to get carried away, I sharply begin to break, holding the steering wheel and stop. We leave and look around. The rear wheel is ordered to live long. The protector peeled off, began to hit on the wheel arch, then the wheel snapped, but a delay of a few seconds made it possible to stop the car. Then again, the rear wheel is not the front one. A timely conclusion was made – on winter tires in the summer, and even more so – on such roads – is a no go. Since then, I never do that, but the sediment, as they say, has remained. It’s shameful, I confess … The tire, of course, was changed, however the time was spent as well, and driving speed decreased, as no one knows, what may be the condition of the other tires – and no additional spare is available.
So complete darkness covered us at the most crucial moment of the passage of settlements near Alma-Ata. The road winds, there are no signs, the asphalt is not always available, I don’t see any clear traffic flow to the city, I have a feeling that we’ve already turned back. Of all the navigation tools, only a compass, which was exactly what saved us. Soberly judging that we need to go to the south, to the Tashkent road, we went on a compass, the general direction is azimuth 180.
We were not afraid to miss and go further – the 300-km mountain range of Zailisky Ala-Tau, standing across from our movement to the south, reliably blocked this option. Imperceptibly to pass such mountains is impossible, even in complete darkness. We are going to the south, wondering to which mountain we will drive into, because there will be familiar places and we will not be lost. My wife is looking at the compass, I’m driving. Laughter drives away fatigue and sleep, a couple more tens of kilometers – and the highway. We turn left, look around, check on the compass – for sure, we are going to Alma-Ata!
Our first long car trip is complete.
We have discovered this wonderful world of long-distance travel. Even just by looking around you learn a lot of new and interesting things. The world of roads is a special kind of relationship between people, always filled with new events and feelings.
We realized that our fears were in vain. Of course, the road can give a surprise (not always pleasant) and constantly demands attention, but our whole lives are exactly the same. I was surprised to find that a long ride on the highway, strikingly different from the bustle of the city, brings me more rest than tiredness.
We began to think about new long journeys. Making plans and calculating the distances, we could already say to ourselves – we drove five and a half thousand kilometers, which means we can also drive there.