When we finally walked from the embassy with our China visa in hand we’d been in Astana for 13 days. Some would say that’s an unlucky number and we never planned to be in the bland and sterile capital so long but we had been very fortunate. In our final opportunity to acquire a visa for China we managed it independently – travel forums had suggested it was not possible but we persevered and with the kind hospitality of our adopted Russian/Kazakh family our stay was extremely pleasant.
They took us in when our strange landlady turfed us out. We were treated to cooking lessons of all the Russian and Kazakh recipes they knew and on our last weekend we did a spot of fishing. Whilst I showed Sam the basics of lure fishing with a spinner Andrey had his own way. He donned a scuba suit and strapped on a harpoon! Half and hour later he emerged from the near frozen broad like a Mad Max swamp hunter with a bunch of pike hanging from his waist. Definitely a more efficient way of doing things. Sam and I stood gobsmacked still trying to untangle a knot from the reel whilst Andrey was supping warm tea preparing to descale the fish.
We devoured them, gently fried with onions, later that evening before the family served up the Kazakh speciality, Beshbarmak. It was our last evening with Andrey, Anna and the boys and they were not going to let us leave without eating horses arse! Yep, literally. We’d accompanied Andrey to the market a couple of days before and after tasting fermented mares milk he marched us around to his favourite meat lady. He picked a monster horse sausage and also a funny tubular piece of meat which he explained he would have to cook separately as not to taint the flavour of the other cuts. It wasn’t until the meat had been boiling for 3 hours and the whole house stunk that I asked what part of the horse it was… the answer explained the very strong smell, the nearly inedible taste but apparently desirable choice cut…Horses arse!
The next morning we dropped the kids at kindergarden and Andrey and Anna took us all to the train station for our 20 hours overnighter to Almaty – origin of the famous apple.
We had hoped that the majority of our time in Kazakhstan would be spent in the wild apple forests of the Tien Shan mountains bordering China and Kyrgyzstan collecting seed of the father of all apples to disperse to our friends in various parts of the world, doing our part to save the genetic diversity of the worlds most eaten fruit. Easy to say all that when you didn’t do it. To my disappointment by the time we arrived in Almaty, because of our China visa hold up, we had only one day before our Kazakh visa expired and so immediately boarded an overnight sleeper bus into the the north west of China…So long malus sieversii. Farewell Kazakhstan…