Almaty – another lesson in assumptions

Our main mission for Almaty was to check in to a cheap hostel whilst trying to track down a mechanic to fix our rapidly failing alternator. Things didn’t quite turn out that way. We expected that this second stint into Kazakhstan would be a 1400km dash north, with hours upon hours of driving through flat nothingness, with limited habitation or civilisation. Almaty truly proved how wrong we were. After spending one night in a budget hotel (still relative luxury in our easily pleased eyes), we got in contact with someone on air bnb, and set off to unload the Landie prior to finding a garage. At $100 per night (for all of us), the photos and claims on the website seemed a fraction unrealistic, but the sleek silver Mercedes that met us at a nearby petrol station gave us an inkling of things to come. Secure parking (which we didn’t need!), balconies, patio, rose garden, two enormous double rooms, dish washer, washing machine, 3 bathrooms… You get the idea. Oh, I nearly forgot, and the home cinema room and the sauna. Did I mention the sauna?
With the Land Rover empty and the washing machine on the first of many cycles (let’s be honest, everything needed a good clean), we set off for Caspian Motors, an official Land Rover dealership on the road to the airport in the north east of the city. We had heard of it on caravanistan, and rightly so, it came highly recommended.
Neither Jon nor I would describe ourselves as particularly pro big corporate companies, but Jaguar Land Rover in Almaty did not disappoint. Within moments of arriving, we had coffee in hand and were explaining our situation to the Technical Manager, Vlad, who spoke flawless English (he was stumped briefly by callipers – not that we have them anyway..). After about two hours of his time, he gave us his personal mobile number, called us a (free) taxi home, and quoted us a ludicrously cheap price to fix her. The hardest part of the whole process was inputting our very old vehicle details onto the very new Land Rover computer system… Turns out our VIN number was so old that it was 5 characters too short!
Waiting for the new alternator to turn up, and a number of additional mechanical problems to get fixed took a bit longer than intended, and by this stage we had decided to get the dates of our Russia visas changed. This was actually pretty easy to achieve, although not cheap. We used the same company that we used the first time (Real Russia – highly recommended) to get another Letter of Invitation sent out to us (DHL courier from Moscow as the Russian embassy didn’t accept our print outs). After filling in and printing out the lengthy online application form, we went to the Russian embassy (open 0930-1230 Tuesday and Fridays), paid 52,500 Tenge each for a double entry, urgent 3 day visa. More expensive than we had hoped for, but worth it when we had our passports back on the Friday (collections 1500-1700).
10 days flew past in a blaze of art galleries and Rachmaninov concerts (Jon and Coby), sleeping and late breakfasts (Tom and Kat), and much, much kit shopping (all). Almaty has the finest selection of kit shops outside of Surrey (with the exception of waterproofs, which, in a mainly desert country, isn’t perhaps that surprising). Limpopo sports is the best for personal clothing (we spent a lot…), and Robinsons is the place to go if you need to kit out a private military company. This shop stocked everything from argocats to RIBs, assault rifles to blowpipes, and, luckily for us, some more thermos flasks to add to our collection.
Fully kitted out, we collected the Beaut (with new alternator fitted, exhaust welded on, timing tuned, brakes serviced and hole in diff checked – less than £63 for the lot!), and headed north. Destination – Semey!

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