We’re up and out early with no sign of the rest of the people who were at diiner last night. Wee had left early and everyone else stayed. It’s a good bet that they won’t be leaving early. We, however, after cleaning and reorganizing the car, depart for Aktobe.
We check the map. Put the hotel coordinates in the GPS and push Go. Hmm…. The GPS says around 300 miles in over 8 hours. Not good. There’s something you’re not telling us.
The road starts out well enough and runs in the usual bumpy Kazakh way for about 75 miles. Then in Maqat the fun started and continued unabated to Shubarqudiq,. For the next 200 miles the road was dirt, rocks, gullies, potholes and, at times, completely off-road on the steppe. We drove the next 6 hours at 30 – 35 mph in survival mode. I have never driven a road that was in such terrible shape fo so long.
The fun started in Maqat. The road came into Maqat and then literally disappeared in the town. Paul Franklin had warned us about this. He suggested going off-road before the town to avoid getting lost in the town. But we couldn’t find the dirt road before we entered the town and before we even realized that we had missed it, we were in town.
We tried to find the way out and drove up a couple of alleys that went nowhere. We flagged down a driver and asked him for the way to Aktobe. He motioned to follow him. Down the street, turn right, go farther. He stops and motions us to turn right and go to Aktobe. We look down the road and it loks like a dead end until we get to the “end”.
The street turns into a maze of tracks through the desert with sun dried mud pits to climb up and over. We head into the maze with no idea of which track to take so we just keep driving of a heading that points us generally in the driection of Aktobe. After a couple of miles, we move onto a dirt road and follow it until we meet the “ main road”. This doesn’t look very promising.
Occasionally, the dirt track would spit us back on to the road “proper”. But that was usually worse than driving off the road. The pavement had collapsed so completely that the potholes had evolved into craters. In places where the pavement existed but failed there would often be a 1 to 2 foot gap to the gravel following the pavement. As best as we could tell, there had been no attempt to repair or maintain either the road or the dirt track.
I love off-road or gravel driving more than most people but this wa just way too much of a good thing. After, 3 hours of this, I just want the road to end. Fortunately, after Shubarqudiq, the road improved to standard Kazakh terrible and we made it to Aktobe and to the Hotel Dastan.
Both of us were exhausted. We cleaned up and headed down for some dinner, drinks and a bottle of wine. While we’re eating we look at the twiiter feed and find that 3 cars have decided for various reasons to go to Aktobe and avoid the run through the Uzbek desert by going to Aktobe and taking the parallel road in Kazakhstan to Samarkand. They appear to have left Atyrau some hours behind us. They’ll be locky to make Aktobe tonight, if ever. They may have made a big mistake.