‘Richard, we’ve found some guys in Atyrau who’d like to take you cycling after you finish your teaching day. They say bring your own helmet and pedals.’
That could mean that people in Kazakhstan pick up rusty bike frames by the roadside and cobble together a rideable machine by adding bits and pieces.
Or these guys could be rather serious cyclists. Both possibilities are dangerous.
It turns out to be the latter. Kiet and Mark have organised a rather good and well-used mountain-bike for me, and my fellow riders are decked out in what look at first to be Astana team uniforms, but on closer inspection read ‘Atyrau Cycling Team’.
‘We start out on a busy road,’ says Mark, ‘Watch out for the cars, because they sure as hell won’t look out for you.’
After a few tense kilometres of major road, we turn left into the steppes, crisscrossed by dusty tracks between illegal rubbish dumps. The country is dead flat, and a few metres below sea level.
The Atyrau Cycling Team is kind enough to wait for me to catch up, pretending they needed a drink stop too.
There are few sights…until we spot the herd of camels. They look wild, but I’m told they all belong to somebody. Once branded they’re set out to graze on what little grass there is on the common land.
We’re aiming for a 30 kilometre loop, so it’s time to head for home, past a cluster of low buildings.
Then it’s back into town. Thanks for the ride, people! Not the most beautiful ever, perhaps, but one of the most interesting for sure.
Here’s the route we took. To see it in detail with our speeds and elevation and too much information, click here.