On a ride of this nature through largely 'uncharted' territory as far as horse travellers are concerned, it is very difficult to anticipate what we will face on a day by day basis, and I am continually changing plans and routes.
I had hoped to follow a road along the Emba valley towards Kulsari, but when we reached Shubarshi, Bauzhan said that it had been reported to him that the road was badly cut up by heavy lorries and essentially impassable for the back up truck. With great disappointment we started heading north for the 'main' road between Aktobe and Atyrau. However, 1 km further on Bauzhan met us to say he had been told there was a good track along an oil pipeline (it turned out to be the same pipeliine we had followed to Shalkar) running straight across the steppe in the right direction for about 80 kms. So yet another change of plan, and after about an hour scouting around to find the start of the track, we set off across the rolling grassy steppe to a gloriously remote camp spot.The next morning we were accompanied in silence for several kilometres by an enigmatic local Kazakh on his grey horse, until he lost interest and galloped off over the hill.
As before we were welcomed by the friendly pipeline security guards, who kept an eye on us and promised help if we needed it, although they derived a lot of pleasure teasing Yolanda about the many slavering wolves which they told her abound in this part of the steppe. As I have still not seen a wolf I am beginning wonder if they are a Kazakh invention!
..... until we reached a metalled road (but more potholes than metal as usual!) leading north to Bayganin on the Aktobe - Atyrau road.
Here we had another dilemna - whether to continue along the remote and scenic oil track which purportedly led all the way to Atyrau, or play safe and head for Bayganin on the A340 and railway line. In the end we chose the latter option. Although the oil track was by far the most attractive alternative, I was worried about the availibility of water and supplies en route, and also still had a concern about Bolashak, who was progressing very slowly. If we travelled on the 'main' road, it would be easier to truck him back to Atyrau if there was a problem, and Yolanda would soon be heading home and would need to get to a train station.