Across Continents

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Long road back

long road back

I’d decided to return to Almaty via a different route to the one I’d come on, back tracking a little to the town of Koktal, then heading south across the Ile river to Shonzhy. Then westwards through the Kokpek Gorge and across the plain that led to the city. Two hundred and forty miles. The length of Wales. Despite the heat, reckoned this was possible in three days. It’d be hard going, but I wanted to get a fresh Chinese visa as quickly as possible, so as not to loose too much momentum.

Marker posts

Swift progress back through the provincial town of Zharkent, past fertile, irrigated fields, alongside woodlands, and a brief stop in Koktal. Then south towards the Ile river and, far beyond its banks, the town of Shonzhy for the night. Fifty miles. Thirty or more degrees. I’d camp if I could find sufficient cover to conceal myself, but I doubted that would be the case. Way markers showing the distance, in kilometres, from the border, and to Almaty.

A very gentle, at times almost imperceptible, downhill gradient towards the Ile, and then a steady, I thought flat perhaps, run to Shonzhy. Bar a short stop in a roadside cafe in the late afternoon, I’d kept moving. The briefest of water stops and I’d found myself engulfed in a cloud of flies.

The town of Shonzhy, a short detour off the main route towards Almaty, was uninspiring, nothing to distinguish it from other similarly sized provincial centres. I quickly found a small workman’s hotel, about five pounds. But, by the time I’d got my trusty steed and all the luggage into the room, the price had doubled. The lady indicated it would be more, as I’d have two beds, and there was a television. ’Nyet’ I said, picking up some of the panniers as if to leave. We settled in the middle.

After a shower of sorts – barely a dribble but at least it was hot – shared with a few resilient cockroaches, I settled down to watch some television. Mostly in Russian, including a dated – I thought the seventies – dubbed production of Jerome K Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”. Few musical numbers and nymphs on water lilies I’d not remembered from the book I’d re-read back in Istanbul. And at least two different dogs.


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