Silk Road Adventure

June 1-2

Almaty Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan, the land of Borat, is not what the movie depicts. Almaty, formerly called Alma-Ata, is a prospering modern city growing rapidly (approximately 12% in the last three years) with a population of about 1.7 million in a country of perhaps 13 million. It has a gross per capita income of approximately $2,260 (2005 World Bank) compared to Kyrgyzstan of only $400. Although much of its growth has been from oil revenues, the nation also has broader economic underpinnings than some of its central Asian neighbors. The avenues in Almaty are wide; the hotels lavish and western; and there is clearly a lot going on. In Almaty a typical building without walls costs about $500 per square foot – far more than Cleveland, and apparently more expensive than Moscow. The country is run by a strong leader – a former communist in earlier years – but he is progressive, growth oriented and has a reputation of being the best leader of any of the central Asian republics. However, from what I read, there is very little democracy.

The Breakdown

My motorcycle broke down at the Kazakhstan border. It stopped running, and ignored all efforts to revive it. Earlier when it "konked out" on big bumps, I jiggled the electrical wiring to rejuvenate it, but at the border it died for good. We put the motorcycle in a chase vehicle, and I reluctantly rode the rest of the way to Almaty with Sasha, our guide, and four drunken Russians arguing at 100 decibels. Relief finally came when one of them passed out on a pile of tires. I wanted to write on his forehead "Please tell me what a foolish drunk I've been." But his friends wouldn't let me.

When we arrived in Almaty, Helge and I did some quick diagnosis and determined that instead of a wire connector being the problem, the fuel pump was not working. The following morning we went to a BMW dealer and got a fuel pump for a small BMW automobile (slightly larger than needed), spent the entire day installing it. I have now gotten two wrong parts (and no right parts) to repair the controls on the left side of the handlebars damaged in the "minor crash." I think I'll try repairing it one more time, and then perhaps throw in the towel. Hopefully the bike will run tomorrow (June 3rd) when we are riding to Zharkent, Kazakhstan. I have not had any chance to wander around Almaty.

There is a Triumph Tiger motorcycle on the tour that has had both shock absorbers blow out and also the front bearing that connects the front fork to the frame – a bad bearing to lose at the wrong time. The bearing failure was caused from inadequate lubrication but was repaired easily. So far there have been a number of breakdowns, but everything has been solvable. I hope the fuel pump will be the same.

Hitchhiking

A fascinating aspect in central Asia is that everyone hitchhikes, even a mother and her children. When a driver stops, the hitchhiker says where they are going, and the driver quotes a price – that's the way he covers his gas. It is an efficient system and our guide told us that there is rarely a crime problem. In Almaty, there are 600,000 automobiles for 1.7 million individuals. The number of autos has grown enormously in the last three years. But the traffic plays havoc with the roads. During rush hour, the traffic resembles Chicago or New York. There were a number of BMW billboards. The oil money is flowing and the Germans are cashing in!

The Internet

The Internet has been a great disappointment. I planned to dictate blogs on my digital recorder, send the digital file to the office via email for transcription, and then review the written version myself via email. The crew at my office would do a final edit to add the right tone and a little humor, and then post the blog to the net. As it turns out, I have only been able to dictate sporadically over the phone, and Carolyn, Nancy and Laura have carried the main transcription, editing, and posting burden. DTMCo may have the only "blog pit crew" in town that can correctly spell the names of the central Asian republics, their capitals, their leaders, and the premiere resorts and hotels. Many thanks to my blog pit crew for keeping the site running.

Today in Kazakhstan, I have finally been able to access the Internet. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are apparently frightened of widespread use of the Internet. Azerbaijan is too slow, and in Georgia it worked occasionally. Next trip I will have a SAT phone system that is entirely independent of internet access.

So much for the land of Borat. It is definitely not a cow town. Kazakhstan is a very sophisticated country that will play an important role in the central Asian scene in the years ahead.

« Previous article
Next article »



Back to Top

Add A Comment

Add A Comment


Code in the picture:
Title:
Your Name(*):
Email:
Notify me of any further comments to this thread:
Comment(*):