There is no more public transport. We’ve just caught the last bus from Shymkent to Lenger and no-one is vaguely aware of anything to do with the glorious Syram-Ugam National Park in their back yard. Adding to that, no accommodation seems available here and the tourist centre seems to have been desolate for years. The only thing that makes any kind of sense is the tiny wooden Brewery stationed opposite the bus station. It has larger on tap and large glasses – thank goodness!
Times like this take a little courage and a big imagination. We dare to barter a taxi man, don our back packs and grab a couple more beers for the ride. Leaving civilisation further and further behind and finding our taxi more frequently stuck amongst cows rather than traffic, it was a pleasant until our driver wanted to drop us off in the middle of nowhere.
We asked to be taken to some form of accommodation. Grumbling under his breath he screeched away, making a couple of requests at passing locals and finally he ushered us out of the vehicle beside several fenced off cabins. He did not wait to see if they were inhabited before grinding his wheels against the gravel and leaving us stranded. The cabins looked well out of our league and it soon became apparent that they were. Two men approached and asked for 200 dollars per night. While muttering something about having no running water and seeing we could not afford this exorbitant price, maybe it could be done cheaper. Suddenly there is a yelling from afar. All we can see approaching is a large red object but whatever it is, it has some serious lungs. It… she, approaches and after a flurry of conversation with the two gentlemen looks at us and claims “you stay with me, home stay”. This is the kind of woman to whom you are obedient. We hoist up our bags, stroll across a small stream and snake our way up into the surrounding hills. Just as the sun is setting, appearing to have set ablaze to the conifers on the horizon, we can see several lights shining from a wooden block of houses.
“You stay in my dining room.” We are lucky, walking is not good here at night, “there are wolves.” First we are shown to an entrance hall where we leave our shoes, then a dining room with an incredibly long table where we leave our luggage. This looks nothing like a home stay.
“Home stay includes dinner and breakfast, lets eat”.
Soft cheeses, hard cheese balls, cream, butter, biscuits, local fruit and individually wrapped chocolates formed the feast in a separate out house. The clustered table looked so alien against an otherwise bare room. The company of our host, her sister and husband was pleasant. Their gold teeth sparkled every time they asked a question and laughed at our responses. The mother of five proudly told us of her children and beamed with delight as her youngest accompanied us. Barely five years old and already monstrously spoilt, it was allowed free reign. Those grubby fingers prodded at our food, twisted our hair and her squealing voice kept on demanding. She cried bitterly, laughed harshly and it took every ounce of effort to look as charmed as its parents while those vocal chords bellowed out the Kazakhstan national anthem during breakfast.
We slept upon a medley of blankets and beneath several others, secretly enjoying the peace as we knew sunrise would bring more screaming, grabbing and … actually the child was rather distracted by a small kitten. After seeing her pick it up and shake the life out of it, we removed the poor creature and took the punishment upon ourselves.
Watching our host make the mornings bread was fantastic and the highlight. Her hair was set strictly within several large rollers and a long black velvet gown covered her red night-dress. She smiled and waved hello before stomping across the yard to begin wafting her fire. This fire consisted of large pieces of dry cow dung. In and amongst the flaming dung sat a small tray with a lid and in that sat raw dough. An honest Kazakh breakfast.
Once again we are told we cannot take a walk due to wolves. Instead we must hike only to the main road and try to get a taxi from there. We take our leave after paying a mere 15 dollars to our host making sure we gorge ourselves to goodies. Waving goodbye we take some time to appreciate our surroundings all the while the menace child wipes herself on her pink dress after taking a wee on the front lawn. Charming.
There is no traffic. No likely chance of reaching the official Ugam park but a walk amongst roaming wild horses, jet blue streams and cascading golden hillsides seems worth the effort. Prue and Becks back on the road.
We pick apples off trees, munch on hard cheese balls and wonder how we are ever going to get back to civilisation.