But really, who would’ve guessed. Our first experience of Kazakhstan after crossing the Caspian wasn’t the greatest. So we were very surprised every time people told us Kazakhstan was the highlight of their trip so far. We decided to take a chance and invite Sabina’s parents to this place. Let’s see what it has to offer.
We were so excited to finally be in a modern city again. Almaty has quality restaurants everywhere, too many coffee shops to try (we tried of course) and a McDonalds with a proper McCafé. Pure luxury if you ask us. One of the benefits of cycling the world, is that you can eat as much as you want without gaining any weight. The downside is that you’re constantly hungry of course, so that kind of balances it out. Well, Almaty is foodie paradise. We could find everything here. One kilogram of pancakes for not even 1 USD for example.
ORS to the rescue
But it wouldn’t be Central Asia if one of us wasn’t having stomach issues. The Pamir belly was still ever apparent and we were both on dorm arrest. We patched ourselves up with oral rehydration solution (ORS) and stuck to food that agreed with our upset bellies. We caved once and got McDonalds and both ended up terribly sick again. We were definitely playing it safe from here on and prayed to not get this sick again.
After a few days Sabina’s parents, Wout and Monique, joined us. It was great to reunite after not having seen each other for a couple of months. They arrived pretty early and had had a long flight, so Monique had booked a luxury hotel for all of us.
It got even better, because they had also brought all things we had been adding to our wish list the last months. It was a pretty interesting collection of bike tools, Dutch food (even mayonnaise!) and candy, bikepacking bags and new cycling shoes for Robin. We finished the bag of crisps first.
Southern capital Almaty
There was so much to do in Almaty. We walked around town to see the Soviet architecture, visited the bazar, took the cable car to a view point slash amusement park and enjoyed the exquisite gastronomy scene. After every day of sightseeing Wout and Monique would take a swim in the pool and visit the sauna at our amazing hotel. We only joined them for the first day and we can confirm that it was lovely.
But things were only to get better. We had booked a private three day SUV tour to see the nature this region has to offer. Andrey picked us up in his incredibly cool SUV and we were off to our first outdoors destination: Kazakhstans canyons. With Charyn canyon being the most impressive one.
After crossing the endless, wide-open plains outside of Almaty, the landscape suddenly gets a third dimension. The canyon consists of colorful formations, and towering cliffs. Being scared of heights definitely didn’t help some of us when visiting this majestic nature phenomenon. Robin was the bravest one and faced the deep abyss to take some wonderful shots.
The Kazakh simple life
After Charyn we cruised along the breathtaking views of more canyons and mountains in the distance. We drove to a small Kazakh town offering Wout and Monique their first insight in small town life of Central Asia. Luckily they also enjoyed getting stuck in a traffic jam (sheep and goat jam) and weren’t too bothered by the more simple accommodation located in the foothills of the Tien Shan mountains.
On our second day we drove to the famous Kolsai Lakes for a brisk hike. Armed with trekking poles for Monique and anti-diarrheal medicine for Sabina, who was still quite sick, we hit the path. We started to hike along the first lake, which was already very impressive. The pine forest reflected beautifully in the calm water and the mountains painted the horizon.
The second Kolsai lake
The total tracking distance to the second lake and back was 16 km. Three quarters in the trail started to become more and more difficult. So after a small lunch and some tea Wout and Monique started to walk back at a bit more relaxing pace then we had been doing. We continued together with Andrey and we were not disappointed by the rest of the hike. The forest became more dense and we passed waterfalls, deep muddy tracks and it even started snowing for a bit!
On the way back from the second lake Sabina started to struggle. She was exhausted and had to dive in the bushes every now and then for some business we won’t define. At an extremely slow pace we did make it back, and at the second lake we could even see her parents walking and waving to us from the other side of the first lake. They had taken a somewhat shorter stroll the other way, which had been equally beautiful.
For our last day we had three items on the program. First of was Kaindy lake, also known as the sunken forest. The lake was formed as the result of a landslide triggered by an earthquake more than one hundred years ago. It blocked the gorge and was filled by mountain river water. Trunks of submerged pine trees rise above the surface of the lake. The cold water helps to preserve the trees, which are overgrown with algae and other water plants.
The other two stops were more like scenic breaks to stretch our legs. We went to our last canyon, the Black canyon and to Bartogai Lake. A reservoir in the middle of the desert, a steppe surrounded by rocky mountains. We can’t thank Andrey enough for three amazing days. He was a great guide and we had a lovely time. If you want to know more about his tours, check out his website kolsaitour.com.
From luxury hotel to youth hostel
Back in Almaty we traded the luxury of the Novotel hotel for a youth hostel. It was fun to show Wout and Monique how we have been traveling and meet other travelers. We considered putting them in a dorm for fun, but that was maybe a little too much. The private rooms would do, and it was nice for us to also have a private room for once! We spent our last days together walking around the city and simply enjoying each others' company.
Kazakhstan had been a great success. Greatest country in the world!