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Gerrit Meerman and Sonja de Lange (Netherlands)

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Bronze Ring of Sary-Arka

We made a 4-week trip to different parts of Kazakhstan This was our second time in this country, we visited the southeast of Almaty in 2001. This time we were interested in the Soviet history in central Kazakhstan, the landscapes of the east, Baikonur and the Aral sea. (Too much to tell everything). We started in Astana with our young and beautiful guide Oxana. She spoke very well Englisch and knew a lot of everything. With Oxana and our good driver Kolya we went to Shabanbai-bi, a little village in the countryside. Sleeping on the ground and the toilet outside between cows, it was a very nice experience. Climbing the mountain Aksoran peak was not a good experience. We didn’t have the right local guide there. He didn’t know where to go and we had to struggle through the bushes for a long time. After about 10 hours and out of drinking water, we arrived at our car. The Banja afterwards was like heaven!

Visiting the Semipalatinsk, we had Sasha as driver and Roman as Englisch speaking guide. Both of them very nice people, trying to do everything for us. The Semipalatinsk ( or Polygon) is not really a beautiful place but very interesting because of the past. The Soviets did many tests with nuclear bombs and there still is radiation in the whole area. We had to enter the place with mouth masks, special shoes, and a Geiger teller. Very spooky!!! Also being on the aerodrome of Chagan was quite an experience for us. Absolutely not beautiful, but knowing that from here the secret long distance flights were leaving for so many years, was for me as a photographer a must to be.

Visiting the Black Irtysh River was not really pleasant because of the many, many, many mosquitos! Don’t do that in the summertime. The Zaisanlake and cape Chikelmes was a very good and quiet place to stay with good fish. Our driver/guide Andrey didn’t speak Englisch ( just a few words) but with his very good car ( Mitsubishi Pajero) he drove us to every place we wanted to go.

Visiting Baikonur was like a boys dream. Being on the launch place of Yuri Gagarin, sitting in the cockpit of the Buran and visiting the assembly halls of the rockets, that’s a different experience. Not many people do visit this place. Our guide Elena wasn’t good at all. Always too late and not speaking English very well, she couldn’t translate our questions and give the right answers.
At the Aral sea, it wasn’t quite what we expected. Only a few ( three) shipwrecks were left ( just parts of it) and next year maybe they will be all gone. Also, the dam is not really special. Is it worth the long drive? We liked the harbor in Aralsk the most. Traveling by train to and from Aralsk was also a nice experience. Sleeping in one cabin with local people gives plenty possibilities to speak with them.

Resuming we will say that this trip was very interesting. We visited a lot of different places and we would like to go again to Kazakhstan to visit the west.
It is not a country for a beginning tourist. You must be experienced to handle all the different impressions. Making long drives by car and train, and often almost no luxury. But all the people were very nice and we were feeling safe everywhere.

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