I have arrived in Atyrau and am currently staying in Rowena and Matt's lovely house on the European bankside of the river Ural.
Yesterday we loaded Rowena and Bolashak the horse, together with most of our kit, into a cattle truck to make the three day journey by personal train across the frozen steppes to Kyzlorda. Bolashak and and his supply of hay and feed is at one end of the carriage, Rowena is camping at the other end with the baggage. Before anyone asks, she has taken a generous supply of plastic bags. Here are the intrepid rail travellers settling into their rather spartan quarters prior to departure. Rowena phoned in on her mobile this morning to confirm she had survived the first night alone in the wagon (apart from the horse) in sub zero temperatures - but at least she has our entire stock of sleeping bags to fall back on. I am following on this evening in considerably more style in a first class train compartment, accompanied by American photographer John Smallwood who will be joining us for a couple of weeks.
I am hoping we can make a start on Tuesday, but it depends on a number of factors including when Rowena arrives in Kyzlorda. As we have not yet tracked down a reliable farrier, and Rowena has not been able to get hold of horseshoes for Bolashak, we may ride the next leg without horseshoes. In any case last year I found that Zorbee's shoes had minimal if any wear once I was riding across the steppe. But both Bolashak and Zorbee will have a hoof trim before we set off.