Friday 17th September
For 21 kms, the main Almaty to Shymkent road actually runs along the Kazkahstan/Kyrgyzstan border. In the past this has presented no great problem, but since the troubles in Kyrgyzstan this year, the Kazakhstani powers that be have thought fit to erect a huge fence of coiled barbed wire along the boundary. This would be OK except it is on the Kazakhstan side of the road, so that if you are travelling along this section of road you are effectively trapped on the Kyrgyzstan side. And they have designated it a no-stopping ‘transit zone’.
Again OK if you are in a car, but a little more complicated if you are on four legged transport and find yourself in the zone with dark falling.
This situation was partly caused by the fact that I was stopped and interrogated by every eager little Kazakhstan soldier who popped up at regular intervals along the border (are they seriously expecting a Kyrgyz invasion?) and held up for over half an hour at a watch tower. This was while traffic sped past unmolested. But I suppose I have to accept that until the invasion occurs they must lead a rather uneventful life and I am the best entertainment they have had in weeks.
In such circumstances it was inevitable that we ended up camping in the transit zone and ignoring military requests for us to move on. The last time I read by torchlight under the covers it was not to avoid the attentions of the Kazakhstan army!
We are now ensconced in a field of akfalfa near Merke, courtesy of Ukrainian bee keeper Anatoly, who also kept an eye on Zorbee while Bakhram and I went off to purchase much needed victuals and a bottle of vodka to share with our host before he joined us for a bonnet buffet.
Here is one of the big ‘bee wagons’ which can house thousands of bees in the stacked bee boxes which make up the sides. This one was surrounded by a throng of little birds swooping around a making a meal of bees - very pretty pale-coloured things, but not so popular with the beekeepers. I don’t know what they were, but they were called something like ‘schuur’ in Russian. Anyone know?
The beekeepers sell the honey in large pots at the side of the road.