Sunday, May 10, 2015

Driving to Borovoe

Borovoe (or Burabay) is a resort town a little over 200 kilometers from Astana.  Astana is in the middle of the steppe, with nothing but flat desolate grassland for hundreds of kilometers around.  So Borovoe is the place to go when you want to leave the steppe.

Borovoe National Park is not very large, and is basically a bunch of hills and lakes.  If you've hiked in the Appalachian Mountains or the Alps and are expecting something similar, you'll be disappointed.  If you just want a quick getaway to someplace that's not flat and desolate, then you'll love Borovoe. (Some people really love Borovoe and think it's beautiful, the stuff of fairy tales.  It's all about perspective and expectations.)

I've been there twice before - once in the summer with my Kazakh friend and her daughter - and once in the winter with my mother. Both times I'd had fun, but felt like I was missing something - is this it?  Both times I'd felt confined by the fact that I did not have a car and couldn't just easily get around on my own.  (My Kazakh friend had a car, but the roads were so bad that she wouldn't drive around.  She drove us there, and we walked and took taxis while there.)

I had finally got my new car in December, not long before Winter Break, and after Winter Break I was ready to use it!  The weather was unseasonably warm (but still below freezing), and so I decided to take Sophia and her best friend to Borovoe.

We left in the evening on a Friday.  I didn't have a map with me and I had only quickly looked up the route before we left.  I went to Bogenbai Batyr Street, turned left (west), and followed the road.  After leaving the main part of the city, the road veered north and turned into a highway.  Then we had to make a choice - continue straight on this road (towards Ekaterinaburg) or take an exit towards Petropavl.  I continued straight but had the sense to stop at a gas station to ask.  We were supposed to head towards Petropavl.

We got back on the highway,  turned around as soon as we could, and were on our way.

We had one more exit to take to get onto the main road to Borovoe, and we had to slow down and stop at the police checkpoint.  Exiting and entering the city, you must stop at the stop sign, and the police can pull you over if they want.

Then we had about 200 kilometers of open road.

The road to Borovoe is the nicest in all Kazakhstan, a real freeway, with three lanes on each side, and exit and entrance ramps.  Very easy driving.  In the winter in the dark, it wasn't the easiest.  At least one lane was always covered in ice, sometimes two.  But there was always one lane that was completely clear.

There was powdery snow everywhere, and a passing truck or a burst of wind could blow it all around, causing a momentary and rather scary complete white-out.  Luckily, this happened very rarely.

We finally made it to the town of Shchuchinsk, which is just outside Borovoe.  We had to pay a toll, as the Borovoe freeway is a toll road, but it was only 200 tenge (less than $2).  They recently updated the highway, and there is a road that goes around Shchuchinsk and straight to Borovoe, which was nice.  Also, many hotels, including ours, have signs pointing the way.  It was very easy to find our hotel.

Our hotel is next to Lake Schuchye, which is south of Borovoe, and in the national park.  We had to pay to get into the national park - 198 tenge per person.  However, the girls were asleep and covered with blankets and it was dark, and I didn't know that the fee was per person, so the guard charged me just 198 tenge.

I am a slow and cautious driver, and we had left rather late.  We made it to our hotel around 1 am.  Tired, we crashed and went to sleep.

More on our hotel and winter adventures in Borovoe later!

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