It was a long walk into Shymkent, and it was very hot. Checking for wifi in every nice looking restaurant and hotel on the way in we were staggered not to find any, and then even more surprised when whilst sat outside a corner shop Arjun managed to find an open network. We checked for a hotel or restaurant in the centre with wifi and saved the directions, then arrived and ordered a chocolate milkshake whilst Kieran text a friend of our Russian friends Val and Alexander, who agreed to meet us at the restaurant. He arrived and introduced himself, Sanjar, and his work colleague, Sergey. Showing amazing hospitality, he took us around to his home where he and Val had arranged for delivery of a new cart for us. Val had amazingly bought us a solid cart similar to our current one (but much, much better), DJ Mark4, and sent it to Sanjars where we would construct it and replace our old one, Sarah Mark3. Our old one had suffered some rather catastrophic wheel problems, but we hoped to continue using it with bodged repairs for as long as it took to completely give out. After dropping off our cart and things, Sanjar took us to a health centre, where we enjoyed a swim and a sauna, and then out for a meal with his wife (who is an amazing artist!) and her sister. It was incredible to be able to finally relax, they are such nice people and it all made us feel a world better. Afterwards, Sergey took us around to his place with everything we wanted to take to Almaty, and we slept the night.
That morning we returned to the wifi restaurant for another chocolate milkshake, and waited for the evening coach to Almaty. Sergey organised a lift for us to the station, wished us luck and offered us to stay again when we returned, lovely guy. We then got on the coach ready for the 12hr overnight drive.
The plan was to get to Almaty, organise the Chinese visas, meet up with a couple of friends and family from back home, who would bring out some required replacement gear and take back a lot of gear as well, relax and regain our strength, and then return to Shymkent to pick up the carts and continue walking to Kyrgyzstan from where we left off.
Arriving in Almaty early in the morning, we walked aimlessly towards what looked like the city centre. A couple of hours in, we admitted defeat and sat outside a restaurant with a wifi sticker in the window, waiting for it to open. When it did, we were told it didn’t have wifi. The staff were lovely though and rang around to find us a restaurant that did have wifi, and thankfully there was one not far away.
None of our couchsurf requests had replied except one who was unavailable, camping was over 15km away which was useless to us as we needed to begin the Chinese visa process, and we could only find a couple of hostels. We wasted a good few hours trying to find one which it turned out had closed down months ago, and so found ourselves at the hostel our friends and family had booked, the Backpackers, which although was undergoing construction work was the nicest place we had found in Kazakhstan. We spoke to Aibek, the manager, who was a really pleasant person, and booked in for the next three weeks.
Then began the Chinese visa process…