North in Kazakstan to Russia.

After seeing John off at Almaty's rather fine international airport the reduced group set out north again, heading for the Russian border near Semey, a distance of just over 1000km.

A good road with rolling hills about 100km north of Almaty.Rather than just follow the A350 all the way from Almaty to Georgijevka we decided to take "the scenic route" passed the small town of Lepsi and Balkas Koli (a huge lake). Between us we had four different maps of the area. Three of them showed a reasonable road, one of them showed a very minor road. At the point where the routes diverged we asked lots of people the best way to Semey. Everybody, including a bus driver going that way, recommended the "scenic route" passed Lepsi. We were assured that the road to Lepsi was good. And it was.

Alas the road north from Lepsi was closed and clearly unused for some time! So we had to abandon the "scenic route" and re-join the A350 at Kolbaj.

The scenery has varied from very attractive with rolling green hills and snow capped mountains in the distance to monotonous plains. The bird life has however been exceptional, with short-toed eagles (identified by Olwyn and by their ability to hover) so common that by the time we reached Semey we had stopped pointing them out to each other!

John fills up with water from a roadside "tap".The road condition has varied from excellent (we can all cruise at 70kph) down to so poor that most traffic has used the adjoining unmade track. But on balance the road has been far better than we expected. We have covered distances of around 250km per day. There have also been plenty of roadside parking areas some of which we have used for overnight camping. We have been able to fill up with water and fuel easily (except at Lepsi) and have encountered only one or two police check points.

We are currently camped in a car park adjoining the Hotel Irtysh (50.403352°N 80.247597°E) in Semey (a little too close the "boat" restaurant and disco attached to the hotel). We do not have permission to park here, but so far nobody has bothered us, or even stared at us. The contrast between China 2002 and this trip in terms of intrusive staring is significant, and so far unexplained.

The town of Semey seems laid back, with multiple small supermarkets and a couple of museums. Two nights here will be enough. This morning we have been planning our stratergy of the Russian border, which can be tricky.

Pat at the Gates of Mordor.

We are currently parked in the northern Kazakstan town of Semey. A town most people will not have heard of.

But this town is better known by its Russian name of Semipalatinsk.

A name that will mean most to those living in the USA in the '70s and concerned with nuclear weapons testing.

And not a town to stay in for too long.

Mog Speeding Shock!

Mog celebrated her first 100th birthday (100,000km) by being stopped for speeding in Kazakstan by a couple of policemen with a radar speed gun.

54kph in a 50kph zone! The police's dedication to road safety was slightly tarnished when it was discovered that a payment of $3USA could have saved a lot of troublesome paperwork.

An Explanation Please.

In most of Kazakstan the "No Overtaking" sign is a conventional solid metal disk.

However we came across one 50km stretch of road where most of the signs had had the "body" of the two cars cut out relatively neatly.

We have no explanation, do you?

Stephen Stewart.

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