countries: Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan
We slept in an ancient Kazakh city, Taraz. Absolutely gorgeous and SO clean. We had grabbed some "burgers" at a 24 hour diner and were told we could sleep in the parking lot and they'd keep an eye on us. They also said no one robs in Kazakhstan which we keep hearing everywhere we go here, the people are amazing.
We really felt like part of a circus as we were taking our setup down in the morning. Everyone was watching us and we've found no one on this side of the world even hides the fact that they're staring. At all. Some even hover right over your shoulder.
We decided we're so close to the border that we'll go into Almaty through Kyrgyzstan. We don't need visas and we read that this was a super easy crossing so we figured might as well.
Getting out of Kazakhstan was interesting and we ended up holding up the whole line. Everyone was curious what we were up to, and we have yet to tell our story even once without the audience asking why Mongolia, why we didn't just stay home, and/or a simple "wtf". God only knows why we held up the line though considering we clearly got IN so why is getting OUT complicated? It took about an hour to get out and there were NO cars at the Kyrgyzstan side, yet we ended up hanging off railings, sitting on tables, curbs, and twirling our fingers while reading EVERY poster on the walls 3 times over as they confirmed our passports. We even figured we'd use the time to inflate our tires and fix our sump guard, but were told we can't do that at the border for "safety reasons". The head of the military dealing with our passports was SUPER nice and friendly though and it didn't feel like a border crossing at all until talking to the guy outside who didn't let us take pictures while killing time. This would've been a 5min crossing with our regular passport. Le sigh. There were signs everyone on both sides of the border about absolutely no bribing and how they're cracking down on this. Not that bribing would've helped; the problem was that our passports don't scan which is why they always have to go manually calling and confirming their validity.
We got across, and within 2 minutes in Kyrgyzstan, we were already awed and mesmerized by the beauty than all the crap (aka nothing) we've seen in 5 days in Kazakhstan. No words. Mountains, lakes, fields, greenery, everything, all in one shot. It was ABSOLUTELY gorgeous and I got to drive through the crazy mountains so justin got some drone footage.
We didn't get very far before we stopped for photos and for a bathroom break. I was sitting on the roof taking photos and justin was in some old fortress corner when a car pulled up with 2 guys. They came out and started welcoming me and asking where my other half was. Justin came rushing out, and before long, I was doing shots of vodka. They were offering us money out of their pockets and asking if there was ANYTHING they could do or get for us. We're dumb, and said no thanks and then spent over an hour trying to find food later. Should've taken them up on their offer - they invited us back home for a BBQ, but we figured we didn't have time. Totally would've had time.
Also they asked to see our passports because apparently they work border control and were the ones that were called to verify ours?! They also said they were just driving around with no purpose now and were willing to go wherever for us. Not sure if the story fell into place or they were legitimately the ones called but we're also pretty sure they were so far gone drunk wise at this point that anything could've made sense.
We said our longest goodbyes and drove on. Kyrgyzstan is interesting... started off similar to Kazakhstan with small little towns, but i found it actually reminded me more of Azerbaijan. Also, again, couldn't have a single conversation that didn't lead with "is this your husband?" Weird.
It wasn't until we got out of the towns and hit the mountains that it felt like we could already be in Mongolia. Yurts. The stunning mountains, 9000ft high, were bare except for the occasional yurt and its herd of cows, horses, or sheep. Just a cloth tent with smoke coming out the middle. Many had a sign inviting for food, and we thought we'd spend a night in or near one but there was still light and we wanted to make some progress considering the road was very slow.
It got slower. So so so so much slower. We officially hit the Pamir highway, and it showed. It's like the road was a minefield and 20km/h is being generous. It was BRUTAL and awesome at the same time.
The yurts seemed to disappear and now we were in the mountains on our own, not entirely sure where we'll camp. Then we saw a tank on the road. Turned out it was a polish couple in a customized Mercedes truck that seriously looked like a tank, so we befriended them and we pulled off the "highway" (aka a dirt road, aka a washboard. Our butts got quite the massage for hours!).
Andrew pointed justin on where to park for the night in a field with the grass reaching our waists. Justin parked.
Then justin decided he needed to move for some unknown reason and completely bottomed out.
We are now sleeping on an angle with grass in the car, and we'll need said tank to pull us out tomorrow.
Well done, Justin, well done.
We stood around, chatted, drank vodka, and exchanged our travel stories. We were in the middle of nowhere miles from towns, and after the new friends went to bed, justin and I just leaned against the car and looked at the stars trying to figure out constellations... quickly realizing we really need to up our game on astronomy.
So far, love Kyrgyzstan. We got passed by 3 cop cars who all honked, flashed their lights, and just waved. Everyone is so nice and hospitable. The guys that walked into the diner while we were eating all wished us a Bon appetite and just in general, everyone says hi, waves, and acknowledges you. Granted, we came in from the non tourist side so they probably never see any foreigners, let alone in a jazzed up car.
Going to sleep high up in the mountains with nothing in range round #2. At least we have a tank on our side now.