“I’ve once been to Kyzyl-Orda, but never to New York”.

I recently attended a training course which, as corporate events normally do, started with an ice-breaker. Every attendee had to stand up, one by one, and declare to the roomful of colleagues something quirky, or unusual, about himself.
When it came to my turn, I stood up, declared my generalities and team and confessed “I’ve never been to New York. But I’ve recently spent two days in Kyzyl-Orda and Aktobe”.
Silence around the room. I was stared at as if I’d just admitted that I liked sleeping  hanging from the ceiling head first as a way to reduce hair loss.
“Kazakhstan”, I then suggested. “Central Asia”, I tried.
No dice. I exhaled and fell back into my own chair, like Dumas’ characters seemingly did every other second.
Hungarians have a saying that’s just the business for Kyzyl-Orda. Az Isten háta mögött. Behind God’s back.
And it certainly feels to be sitting behind the Almighty’s shoulders. But when you’re in a country as big as Western Europe but with 3% of the population, it’s somehow inevitable. Still, the Jaxartes flows leisurely past you. Less than 20% of its inflow will eventually reach the North Aral Sea. It was 0% not long ago.
You’re bound there. But when you’re in a place as big as Western Europe, things take time. It’s 500 km from the bank of the river to your destination.
Better enjoy the place whilst you’re waiting. Join in the locals.
There’s so much time. On your map this leg of the journey is as big as your thumb’s nail. The distance from Astana is longer than your index. And you’ve big hands. Larger than Western Europe.
This is Russia’s Space Country. Gagarin left Earth a mere 300 km from here. Soyuz still lands in the bit of steppe between here and Zhezqazghan. 400 km of steppe is a pretty large landing strip.
There’s so much time. Enough to sit and wait for the amusement park to open at dusk. No one’s around earlier, when it’s 38C. No one but the guy who’s never been to New York, that is.
This is still Genghis Khan country. Today they’re soft drinks kiosks, 700 years ago they regurgitated horsemen bound to destroy Merv and scare Europe gutless.
The station is the fulcrum of this city, or so it seemed at night. But, yet again, there’s time for that.
I used to pore over maps of the old Soviet Union, reading mysterious names. Akademgorodok. Anadyr. Baikonur. Semipalatinsk. Kyzyl-Orda. They exist.
Sixteen hours of train, 1000 km lie between Kyzyl-Orda and Aktobe. A tad less than London to Berlin. Frisco to Vegas.
Aktobe, previously known as Aktyubinsk, feels a lot closer to home, and it’s not just because it’s an hour closer.
One in five is an ethnic Russian. I see fair-headed men, women and children walking, playing, talking and flirting with the almond-eyed Kazakhs. People no longer stop me to ask if I’m Turkish. Perhaps they only think it.
It’s not just the comfort of familiar lineaments. A Burger King does a brisk business and offers free Wi-Fi. I find I cannot resist the luxury of a menu with pictures.
Children mess about on a swing outside the mosque. A wedding is in full swing. Sun sets over a warm (35C) but breezy day. A plane roars in the sky, Astana-bound. Tomorrow I’ll be on it. Never been to New York, but I’ve seen Kyzyl – Orda and Aktobe.
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14 Responses to “I’ve once been to Kyzyl-Orda, but never to New York”.

  1. richandalice says:

    I think you may have finally reached Peak Off-The-Beaten-Path.

    • awtytravels says:

      Ah, I still haven’t. For I know there’s another place – actually, two – which I visited that are even further off that unbeaten path! Thanks for the comment Rich 🙂

  2. starrywazzoh says:

    Reading this from remote Aktogay on the eastern tip of Lake Balkhash. I’ve never been to Athens but I have been to Aktogay!

  3. J.D. Riso says:

    I’ve pulled the same thing during icebreakers, usually with new colleagues, expat ESL teachers. I relish the bewilderment. 😀 I haven’t yet had the chance to present North Korea. I’ll probably have to file that one away for little bit. I’m not in the mood to be scolded.

    Kazakhstan. I’ve stared at that immense space in the map. I seriously considered taking a job there, but I’ve heard stories of teachers falling ill from the toxic Soviet-era housing. Already dealt with that in Poland. Too old for that crap now. Anyway, your photos and words are so atmospheric, as usual. It’s a welcome reminder that off-the-beaten-path places still exist. And it inspires me to keep the motivation to travel. Thank you, Fabrizio.

    • awtytravels says:

      Hi Julie, thanks a lot for your kind words. I suppose that housing varies, in quality and safety, depending on where you go in Kazakhstan, but I see what you mean (and, dare I say it, some newish buildings in Aktobe didn’t look that “healthy” at all, inclusing the hotel I stayed at). Nothing bad in going there briefly though, or staying in a yürt! 😉

  4. Beautifully written. ❤ They exist… In Slovenian we call such places "bogu za ritjo". Behind God's behind. We would. 😉

    • awtytravels says:

      Thanks MMM! I’d say you and the Magyars have a better way of define these places than us volgar Italians, I’m sure you know how we say it! 😉

      • Hmm, I don’t right now, but I’m pretty certain it involves ‘culo’. So much of Italian expressions and gestures involve it. I’m convinced Italians had suffered through history in more ways than we know. 😀

      • awtytravels says:

        Indeed, we’ve really suffered!! And you’re really right, it’s “in culo ai lupi”. What have the wolves done to deserve this I don’t know but…

  5. lexklein says:

    Kazakhstan! Every time I mention this as being near the top of my travel wish list, I am met with blank stares (including from my own husband). I studied those old Soviet maps also, but I think my current Kazakhstan obsession comes from my time in Mongolia and is more focused on the northeastern part (although I’d happily go to any part!). Kyzyl-Orda looks utterly desolate; did it really come alive at night?

    • awtytravels says:

      Well, can’t say it got all much livelier, but at the end of the day it isn’t too different from where I grew up in terms of life and activities available. Sorry to hear that you can’t whip up interest on Kazakhstan, Lexi… That’s probably why I’m going solo so many times!

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