Across Continents

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Difficult choices

Barely perceptible. The slow, insidious tick of the visa clock. A few more weeks permitted in Azerbaijan, a generous fifty or so days remaining for Kazakhstan. Just had to get there. Confident I’d cross the Caspian sooner rather than later, the difficulty was not the ’Stans. It was China. Had to cross the border before mid-June. At best then, three weeks to trek across Kazakhstan, a country sixty percent of the size of the European Union.

I’d also discovered that the ship I sought out of Baku went to Aqtau, rather than Atyrau. Rather than entering Kazakhstan at the northern end of the Caspian, I’d be landing further south, adding around a thousand kilometres to my journey. Close to the Uzbekistan border. But I’d already decided not to obtain an Uzbek visa, favouring a faster, more direct route across Kazakhstan. But that decision had assumed arrival in Atyrau, not Aqtau. An Uzbek visa was possible in Baku, but trying to obtain one, the inevitable handing over of your passport, ran the very risk of missing the ship. Again.

So, I’d have to run north from Aqtau towards Atyrau, pick up the direct route across Kazakhstan, then sprint towards the Chinese border. Now close on four thousand kilometres or about two and a half thousand miles. Across arid deserts, through mountains, often on rough tracks. At best, an exercise in endurance, Kazakhstan a mere blur. I’d leave the country not much wiser than when I’d entered. Much of the intended route follows railway tracks, which I thought might provide a compromise – leap ahead to the more populated eastern regions, more of a chance to get a measure of the country, and then cycle into China.

So, it would seem that the stark choice was cycle all of Kazakhstan, or all of China, but not both. Far from ideal. Practicality rather than purity. And I was still very keen to visit Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s riot torn Capital, if the security situation permitted. Unlocking the problem required a fresh Chinese visa, permitting entry for at least sixty days. Question was, could I obtain one? Not in Kazakhstan it seemed. Thirty days at best. I’d an idea. Besides, quite fancied a cup of tea at the British Consulate.

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