It’s finally time to cross into the ‘stans and I thought I’d catch you up on how the planning for that has gone. Lots of people have been asking me how I feel about it, so I’ve touched on that too.
- How to get from Georgia to Kazakhstan?
- The cold
After deciding I wouldn’t stay in Gomarduli for Christmas it was time to prepare for the ‘stans. The first step was working out how I’d get there. My original plan was to cross into Azerbaijan and take the cargo ship which accepts passengers from Baku to Aktau, Kazakhstan. The big problem was that Azerbaijan still hadn’t opened their land borders, and it didn’t look like they would anytime soon. This meant I was going to have to fly, at least from Georgia to Azerbaijan (so annoying!!!). The big question was whether the land borders being shut affected the cargo ship. I want to illustrate how hard I tried to find this information out: I contacted a total of 18 people/shipping companies/embassies/hostels in Baku to try and get an answer. I pestered 6 contacts on whatsapp; 6 contacts via email; 3 contacts via social media pages; and I posted on 3 reddit and facebook pages. I trawled through hours of blogs and forums. Did I get a clear answer? No. (The title of this section is two quotes from more definitive replies.) From my in depth research my conclusion is that it was possible to cross up until October/November but then they stopped it again, requiring ‘Special State Permission’ which isn’t really possible to get (I couldn’t find even find out where to get it from)! By the end of my hopeless search, I realised a flight directly from Tbilisi to Aktau (where the ship would’ve docked) was actually shorter than a flight from Tbilisi to Baku, and it was cheaper. So I resigned my quest and booked the flight to Aktau. I was disappointed, the cargo ship crossing was one of the things I was most excited about and I was looking forward to the challenge it presented. That’s why I spent so long looking into it, not wanting to give up on the idea. But that’s life, things out of our control happen and there’s nothing we can do about it (I’m looking at you Azerbaijan). And some positives came out of it - I got to visit Armenia and realise I don’t like it, I got to spend longer in Georgia, I didn’t have to visit Azerbaijan. So my overland journey ended sooner than I hoped, but having got to Kazakhstan having only flown for 1 hour is still pretty cool. And maybe I won’t have to fly again… (yeah I’m not too hopeful either, looking at you Afghanistan and Myanmar).
“I’m off to Kazakhstan next”. Look of concern from them. “That’s going to be cold!”. People were starting to freak me out about just how cold it was going to be. One guy warned me to check my shoes for any leaks because if water gets in it would freeze and give me frostbite. I was panicked. Especially because I wasn’t very prepared, I still didn’t have any proper gloves! I should’ve had my parents bring me some from England, like my Dad suggested, but I’d been so sure I would easily find some in Georgia. My Dad was right, like Dads often are, when he doubted this. I hunted all of Tbilisi for a pair of proper mittens and found only giant men’s ones or tiny children’s ones. In a moment of exasperation I did ask one shop assistant if he thought women didn’t have hands when he told me they didn’t stock women’s gloves. Eventually, on my last morning in Tbilisi, I found a pair of junior mittens which just about fitted my hands. Not perfect, but close. I’d hate to know how much time I’ve spent trying to find gloves. I’d managed to find thermal leggings and tights over the last few months, and I found a snood (or buff) and a balaclava in Tbilisi. I felt as prepared as I was going to get for the cold! Where I currently am in Kazakhstan it’s -6 degrees in the day and I’ve been toasty warm in all of my layers. It was -15 in Almaty last week but it seems to be warming up there so hopefully it’ll all be fine… I think the lowest I’ll experience is -20!
I’ve been travelling for over 7 months now, and I’m comfortable and confident when doing it. But there’s something different about heading to places that no one seems to visit. I know I’ll survive and make it through, but I don’t know how enjoyable it will be. That makes me nervous. I’m nervous about the cold, about the language (and alphabet) barrier, about the completely unknown culture, about the lack of other travellers, about actually travelling alone. I know this is completely normal. It’s normal to want easy, enjoyable experiences and to be apprehensive about the opposite. But I’m also really excited about all of the same things. I set out wanting a challenge, wanting to push myself and see exactly how strong and independent I really am. This is where I find that out. And the harder it is, the better in a way. Being nervous about the challenge isn’t a bad thing, because the challenge and the nerves are what this part of the trip is about! So I’m okay - nervous and excited. Ready for the challenge and intrigued to see what this part of the world is like.