Road Stories #38: Hitchhiking to Astana, the futuristic capital of Kazakhstan
Conquering the steppe and meeting a very interesting character
Read our previous story: “The highs and lows of hitchhiking through the steppe”
Although the hitchhike from Karaganda to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, was supposed to be a short one, there was one little problem – the industrial town of Temirtau on the way, which we thought most cars would be going to, so getting stuck there would mean more trouble for us with finding the edge of town and hitching on.
Using public transport, we got to the edge of Karaganda and were walking along the side of the road to the nearby petrol station when a big 4×4 pulled over next to us and the driver told us to jump in. Little did we know then that he would offer us one of our best experiences in the whole of our stay in the country and we would become good friends. But let me tell you the story from the beginning.
His name was Artiom and he was driving his sister, who had cancer, from treatment in Karaganda back to Temirtau where they lived. He offered to take us for lunch and then drive us to the outskirts of Temirtau which sounded awesome! We went to quite a fancy cafe where he ordered the most expensive lunch and dessert on the menu, just for us as they weren’t hungry. We had a nice conversation and he seemed amazed by our trip saying that nothing in life is worth more than living it to the fullest and having interesting experiences, a view point probably hugely influenced by his sister’s disease. Then he insisted on us staying with him on our way back from Astana to Almaty and was even prepared to give us a cellphone (the device itself!) so that we would be able to contact him easily. After lunch he indeed dropped us on the outskirts of town and we hitched on (but that’s not the end of the story; wait for another blog post in which we will reveal what happened on our way back from Astana).
The next car that took us was an old Soviet mini van with a Russian family going for a little weekend excursion to a village half way to the capital. They were a kind of Russian hippie bunch and we got on so well we didn’t even notice the time go by and we soon had to jump out.
Our third lift was a Kazakh family with a little baby. They took us to the outskirts of Astana and when they left us on a busy road going to the capital we thought we were in big trouble as nobody would take us from there. Fortunately, a young guy soon stopped and drove us directly to our host’s house.
Staying in Astana: futuristic architecture and a very liberal crowd
Our host in Astana was an interesting chap: IT guy by profession, who in his free time acted in musicals and trained kick-boxing. Unfortunately, we arrived in Astana too late and missed his performance in Chicago! What a shame!
The next day we went out to inquire about our visas to Russia (which was a failure) and take a look at the futuristic architecture. We’d thought we would hate Astana (and everyone in Almaty assured us we would as well), as we’d imagined it to be a soulless petro-rich capital with shiny buildings but not that much else to it. In fact, there were lots of glass and steel skyscrapers but the variety of shapes and colours made it an interesting mix and I walked around in awe trying to capture all this weird but fascinating architecture.
While in Astana we also met some really nice and liberal people who we hanged around with and who taught us a very popular Russian card game called byelka and participated in our Cultural Relay Project with us teaching them the Spanish card game Chinchon.
Read: How to play Chinchon
It was a lot of fun and we thought it was probably one of very few capitals in the world where people were nicer than in the provinces. We loved it so much that we found it extremely hard to leave and face the steppe one more time!
written by: Ania