Monday May 16th 2011
For the last few days I have been following the A340 which is the major artery between Aktobe and Atyrau, over the route that Rowena and I drove last autumn. The grand title belies the real experience, as it must be one of the worst roads I have driven on - see the December 2010 blogpost 'Braving the Potholes'. The photo below shows us on the brow of the same hill shown in the 2010 blogpost - this time with a horse not a Lada.
But the appalling state of the road makes it excellent for horseriders, as the traffic is minimal with about one vehicle an hour, if that! In dry weather most people drive on the earth tracks at the side of the 'metalled' road, which is more potholes than metal, and the tracks make excellent paths for horses as well.
Bolly had been plodding so slowly up to Bayganin that I had been dreading having to ride him and lead Zorbee, that being a better option than riding Zorbee and dragging Bolly. He was genuinely off colour up to Shalkar, but it is evident that recently he was taking advantage of Yolanda's kind nature, as with a firmer attitude he soon picked up the pace and has been striding out confidently.
The main concern has been the frequent small herds of horses guarded by feisty stallions who always come to investigate intruders on their territory. They are not a problem when riding one gelding, but more worrying when one is riding a stallion and trying to lead an occasionally recalcitrant Zorbee. We are easily visible for miles on the treeless steppe, but I usually manage to duck behind the road embankment out of sight, and sometimes Bauzhan waits in the truck to fend off hormonal males. The little grey stallion with his mares in the photo below persisted in hanging around our camp near Zhamansor one evening until we chased him away over the road.