Colin woke bright and early at 4:30AM, we packed, took the bags to the car then had a hearty breakfast. We left the Almati Intercontinental at 5:45 AM ahead of the pack and headed south west on the 730km journey to Shymkent. We were making good time. The car’s vital signs were good - temperature 180 degrees and oil pressure between 30 and 45 psi.
We stopped to fuel up at the first Passage Control and another driver noticed a pool of oil under the car. I crawled under and it appeared to be from the between the engine and gearbox or the crankcase breather. I checked the oil, the level is difficult to read with new clean oil, I thought it was low and put a litre or so in and we continued at speeds up to 85km/h on good surfaces and below 60km/h on the rougher rutted corrugated bitumen. After about 200km we stopped for a comfort stop and rechecked the oil level. I thought it looked low and added another 2 litres and off we went. After another 200km we stopped for another pee and rechecked the oil - this time using toilet paper and low and behold it was spot on. All the time we had been overfilling the sump which overflowed and looked like a massive oil leak. What a relief.
The country we traversed was interesting rather than beautiful: there was a lot of smoke haze but we had glimpses of high rugged snow-covered mountains to our near south. Rolling plains and crops, and every village has its grim relics of the Soviet era in the way of abandoned concrete factories and apartment buildings. You can just picture the Gulags with political prisoners forced to work in the harsh winters. The main means of transport for the locals is the donkey cart. In every village there were roadside fruit stalls with apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes and peppers. We stopped and bought some apples, they were great.
We breezed into the Shymkent Hotel at about 6:45 for a well earned shower and cold beer. The hotel was typical eastern bloc 4 star with dreary rooms and inedible food. The main course defied description: chicken in a grey sauce, I settled for a meal of bread and potatoes. The bath mat in the shower looked like an incubator for all manner of skin disease.
It was Greg Newton’s birthday so Colin ordered a bottle of red and white only to be advised that the hotel was out of wine but that they would send out for some. About an hour later after Greg and Liz had left the dining room for their beds a bottle of white arrived. Another table claimed it. Colin and I had a final cleansing ale in the bar before retiring when a bottle of red turned up we said it was too late and left. We had just gone to bed when there was a knock on the door it was the waitress with a tray with the bottle and two glasses. I sent her away, ten minutes another knock and this time Colin sent her away. But after three phone calls to our room Colin finally got the message through.