Day 19 Tue 28th Sept – Almaty to Shymkent / Border (Kazakhstan)
Awesome breakfast buffet that was opened early for the P2P crews so they could get an early start for this the longest day. Little did they know that in the tradition of the rally, breakfast also means lunch and there is no shame in taking in your Tupperware box. Your first plate is for lunch then once your sandwich is made and stowed you go back-up for what you actually want to eat for breakfast. Despite the buffet being intended for all of the Intercontinental’s other guests too, once the P2P locust swarm had passed through there was little if anything left for them.
6.00 am start for a very very very tough day. For Tim the toughest day of the rally yet by a long way. 730 km on really shabby Tarmac roads. Imagine that you have a road surface that a contractor has dug a trench across and then filled really badly. Now imagine that this has been done every one to two metres for the whole length of the road. It shakes the car really badly and you can’t get any speed up which means you can’t knock of the kms.
They checked out at 6.35am and arrived after 8pm with only two stops of less than ten minutes in the whole day to buy fuel. Relentless non-stop tarmac from hell. At about the 400km point Tim admits to a total sense of humour failure and found himself screaming and shouting abuse at the road each time the car took a massive wallop. In addition to the unintentional sleeping policemen every couple of meters there were also the usual ludicrous pot holes to contend with.
Throw some interesting local driving into the mix and the thrills never end! They overtook a coach, the driver of which was seriously put out to have been passed by a vintage car. So he then does the evidently sensible thing which is to go for the revenge overtake of Benson and the truck in front of him, going up hill whilst approaching a blind right hand bend. A truly extraordinary bit of driving even by Kazak standards.
Problem at one of the time trials when a stationary Benson was swarmed by not so friendly locals many of whom were prodding Julie to get her to turn round for photos. All went a bit far when one guy jumped on the back of the car and started bouncing it. Although Tim was fairly sure that he didn’t speak much English he got the message that this really wasn’t OK really very quickly.
About 60kms from Shykent they realised that they hand’t seen any other rally cars for quite some time so they were relieved to see a group of cars ahead. These guys were going pretty slowly and there was a lot of dust which combined with a low sun ahead made the visibility really difficult. Tim is wary of traveling in convey so they overtook and made their own way into town.
In the end they did the full route as the diversion they had considered didn’t save them all that many kms and to date there has always been a good reason when the route seemed a bit circuitous. Good job too as they realised this evening that their diversion would in fact have taken across the border into Kyrygstan – which was removed from the planned rally route following political unrest!
Little improves your humour more after a day of really tough driving than a truly awful hotel straight out of the soviet era with the added draw of a freezing cold shower. Other of course than an equally awful dinner.
Almost as bad as the drive today is that it seems that Benson’s mascot the Monkey Navigator has been left behind in Almaty.