|Caspian - Big water! And my new "go Russia" hat.|
The Aral Sea (Nukus and Moynaq, Uzbekistan)
|The Savitsky museum|
|Big city Moynaq. The main road.|
After an exceptionally long and slow day of hike-hitching (emphasis on the hiking... I walked at least 15km trying to find a decent place to pick up a ride, or just out of boredom), I finally made it to the tiny fishing village of Moynaq. It's a bit tough to describe exactly what Moynaq is like. It definitely still has the feel of a fishing village somehow, yet the water is nowhere in sight. Imagine suddenly transplanting a small Duluth, MN or Aberdeen, WA from their resource-rich locations to, say, west Texas. That's about what it's like. The entire economy of Moynaq and the region relied on the sea and the fishing industry, providing much of the Soviet Union's fish supply. Today, however, it looks quite different.
|The view out to "Sea" This bluff was the shoreline 50 years ago|
|Something's not quite right...|
|Some parts of the cannery survived better than others|
|Much of the cannery material was left behind|
|Even the cans were left behind...|
The town isn't totally empty, though. There are lots of kids running around and a few working schools and colleges (colleges in Uzbekistan are basically like specialized high schools). There are lots of drunks, and there are still a lot of older people who seem mostly to lament the lost past. My hotel keeper (I was the only tourist in town at the time, so I spent my first night trying to chat with her) is in her 70s and knew the town when the sea was still there. Most of her children work in Almaty, Kazakhstan or other Uzbek towns now, since there's no work in Moynaq. When I asked her if she liked it here, thinking she must have a reasaon to stay, she laughed, "No! It's a bad place! Bad land, bad weather, bad." Speaking of the weather, apparently a side effect of losing the sea is that there are now terrible sand-salt-dust storms that whip up from time to time, causing excessively high rates of respiratory disorders in the area, among other health problems.
|Contextually depressing mural|
|The first Christian cemetery I've seen so far. A sign of the huge Russian population here during fishing times|
But there is a bit of hope for local industry, in a way. Oil companies have started to move in to exploit the reserves beneath what used to be the sea. When I inquired about tagging along with another jeep to the sea (chartering one turned out to be an over $500 trip to camp in single-digit temps with inadequate gear), all the tour guides were only taking oil workers these days. Turns out most tourists like to come in the summertime. Weird.
|Me, Baatar and Nik in their abode|
The Caspian Sea (Aktau, Kazakhstan)
With a few of these thrown in:
Again, hitching was hard, and it was cold and windy. Despite the deserty-look of this terrain, the weather was frigid. Even getting a ride wasn't always a guarantee of warmth. One van I rode in had a broken heater AND a broken windshield. The three of us crammed up front shivered our way across the steppe. But at least we were moving. So often my rides ended up looking more like this:
|It's amazing how much hitchhiking looks like this sometimes|
I finally made it to the border (where they didn't even mention anything about the registration slips I had so diligently collected...) and across, I still barely managed to find a ride from the complete middle of nowhere to the nearest town, Beynau. At that point, I'd had enough of all of the above, and opted for some of the below:
|I've been workin' on the railroad...|
I figured the next several hundred km of steppe probably looked a lot like the last several hundred, and a night train would also get me out of paying for an expensive Kazakh hotel for the night, win-win! Turns out when you ask the cashier for the "very cheapest" ticket on an overnight train, you probably shouldn't hope for a decent night's sleep...
|Phonetic translation: Vinni-Pooh! I wonder if Kristof Robinov eats here|
|"Hmm, whom should we blatantly imitate: McDonalds or Burger King? Why not both?"|
Also, apparently Aktau was only created by the Soviets for Uranium mining and enrichment, along with other heavy industries. All that petered out in the 90s, so now there is a ton of sketchy industrial wasteland surrounding the town. On the plus side, lots of room for street art (and graffiti...):