Across Continents

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Unexpected stop

July 30th, 2010

Bayseit was typical of many of the small linear settlements I’d passed through in eastern Kazakhstan. A wide, tree-lined boulevard, small, single storey houses set back a little along either side. Along the roadside watermelons stacked up on rush matting, the odd one cut open to reveal its succulent, tempting red flesh. Further down, fruit and vegetable stalls, packed closely together, almost indistinguishable. Midway along, a hotch-potch of cafes, some just a few tables in the shelter of the trees. The enticing aroma of meat being grilled over hot coals.

I’d ended up here the previous day, arriving in the last remnants of the evening light. The plan had been to stop earlier in a small hostel, largely frequented by itinerant workers. I’d spent a night there during my previous return to Almaty. Typical of those run by ethnic Russian women, it was basic but always clean and welcoming. Or it would have been, had it not been closed for major refurbishment.

There’d been no choice but to press on, assured by a few locals that there was a similar establishment in the next town. In any case, I couldn’t camp where I was. So I’d hastily departed, a little unsure as to exactly how far I’d have to ride. In practice, it hadn’t been that much further, perhaps six or seven miles, but locating the guest house hadn’t been easy. Eventually, stopping at a petrol station at the far end of town to ask if they knew where it might be, a car was summoned to guide me there, a few hundred metres back along the road.

A drive way led up to a house set back quite some way from the road, nothing to indicate that it might be a guest house. In what little remained of the light I could pick out some substantial log built cabins, and a large, immaculate white house. I was greeted, in perfect English, by Benny. The place was a Spa, he explained, owned by one of the large Almaty hotels. He looked after it for them, together with a few others from India and a small local staff. Sensing I feared a night here was quite beyond my budget, he added there were rooms in the house for just two thousand Tenge – about ten pounds. I accepted at once, relieved to be off the road at last.

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