Monday, June 27, 2011

Borovoe Day 1 - Getting There

Thursday, 23 June

Borovoe is the name of a lake and the town next to it, about 250 km north of Astana. There are several small lakes in the area, surrounded by a few small mountains, making the place a picturesque oasis in the middle of the Kazakh steppe. It's a very popular resort area, a touristy place with visitors from Kazakhstan and Russia.

I first heard about it last year when I had the students bring in pictures of themselves; one of them brought in a picture of himself in a woodsy, hilly area, much unlike the flat steppe I was used to. I asked him where he was, he said Borovoe, not far from Astana, and from then on I have wanted to go.

Sophia and I went with my Kazakh friend R and her daughter A, who is best friends with Sophia. We left on Thursday, 23 June. Classes ended at my school on 21 June, and the last teacher workday was 22 June. I had a little over a week before my flight out of Kazakhstan.

The drive takes between 3 and 5 hours, depending on how fast you're willing to go on the freeway. The road to Borovoe is one of the nicest in Kazakhstan, I've heard, and resembles a freeway more than a highway. (The road to Karaganda resembles a two-lane highway.) The bad thing about freeways is that you can't just pull over on the side if you have to use the bathroom, you have to find an exit. And since most of Kazakhstan is the middle of nowhere, there aren't too many exits.

There are rest stops, marked by signs with a picture of picnic table and a pine tree. So we stopped there once. I got no closer than 10 meters from the outhouse when I decided I'd rather use the side of the road than that bathroom. Seriously, it stunk that bad. Luckily, no one was around, and we were able to use the bathroom outside.

Finally we got to the town of Shchuchinsk (I've yet to be able to pronounce that name!), which is about 20 km from Borovoe. If you take the train from Astana, you get off here and then find a taxi or a bus to Borovoe.

My friend had found a place for us to stay; we met our host outside Borovoe's small bazaar. He was on his bicycle, which we soon discovered was a faster way to go. The muddy ground was full of potholes that were filled with mud; we progressed rather slowly and fearfully in our tiny car.

Finally we arrived at the guest house. It's a large 2-story brick house, converted into a guest house with many rooms. We had the largest room, with five extremely narrow beds (but only paying for 4, since there's only four of us.) There is a shared living room and kitchen and 3 toilets—one on the 2nd floor, one on the 1st floor, and one outside (outhouse). There is also one shower.

Two families from Russia were staying there, and between them they had 3 boys. We learned that our host and his wife are from Astana, they are renting this place for the summer and using it as a guest house to make money. They also are living here, so we share the tiny kitchen with all the other guests plus the host and his wife. It can get rather crowded!

It's nice to have a kitchen, but it can get awkward with so many people. The kitchen is small and poorly equipped. The refrigerator is stuffed full. And the host likes to stay up late, drinking beer and listening to loud music. However, he is a very friendly and amicable man, and he is good with the children.

And this place is better than a log cabin with no bathroom or shower! (One of our options, at 4000 Tenge a night. This place is 10,000 Tenge a night for us four.) And I'm sure a nice hotel would be more expensive, and not have a kitchen.

The kids love it. The yard is overgrown with weeds, but of course they don't care. There is a place to throw darts; there is also a volleyball. The neighbors have kittens.

Our first day we arrived at dinnertime, so we just walked until we found a place to eat. We'll get to explore Borovoe tomorrow!

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