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Tuesday 8th August - Panda surgeries and mosquito mania

Quite a sad morning as we said goodbye to our convoy friends. Everyone had decided to do different routes all over the country. Our young Swedish friends Niklas and Andreas wanted to see the Aral Sea which is down south. We said goodbye to them hoping we might see them further on in Mongolia or Ulan-Ude. We also said goodbye to the Aussie friends we'd met the night before. They still had another few weeks of their trip left to Scotland. Another sad goodbye to our young U.K. friends who were going to join the young Swedish guys to the Aral Sea. Goodbyes all complete we decided to jump in Miss Panda and drive her to a repair shop for another operation. She needed two tyres replaced because the ones on the back were going bald. We pulled into a place called Auto City and went inside to ask around. Kazakhstan is an interesting country because hardly anyone here speaks English. The second national language behind Kazakh is Russian. The locals here are proficient in both these languages; if you're incredibly lucky they might speak a scrap of English but otherwise you're forced to use sign language or get google translate ready. Auto city proved to be difficult because not a bit of English was spoken. The staff there were very willing to help though. We bought a window screen repair kit because we've unfortunately managed to get a tiny crack in our front windscreen. A local guy offered to drive us to a place where our tyres could be done. He lead us there in his car and we parked ready to source somewhere that could replace our tyres. An hour later and Miss a Panda was getting fixed up. We had a discussion about changing her name; James' mates have been calling our car the Sloth. So we decided she can now be known as Sloth (or Slothy). She's slow but she gets us there in the end.

The two tyres we had in the back were rotated to the front and the staff found some new ones to fit on her. The bloke who had lead us to the repair centre which had aisles and aisles of car parts, sort of like a Paddy's Markets for cars. Our friend told Pat he wanted to take him for a city tour. Pat jumped in the blokes car and went for around half an hour. When he got back he explained that the bloke more so wanted some help unpacking things from his van and only gave him a small tour of the Main Street. Locals kept walking past our car looking at all the stickers and chatting with the repair guys about what we were getting done. Our Swedish friends had come with us to the repair centre to see if their suspension could get fixed. We ended up getting split from them as we all had to do different things to our car. Two hours later and we were getting a bit peckish. Our sloth was all fixed up so we asked our local mate if he'd show us somewhere for lunch and we'd pay for his meal. He drove ahead and lead us to a traditional Russian restaurant, complete with a stuffed bear holding an accordion on the restaurant stage. We had a 'business lunch' that came with five courses, cheering! Our local mate didn't even want to eat, he was simply happy to take us to th restaurant and make sure we were fed. So far he'd spent his whole day with us making sure our car tyre were fixed and taking us to a restaurant. Just another Kazakh local helping us because he was a decent bloke. We waited for our Swedish pals to join us but their suspension was taking a very long time. In the end we had to say goodbye to them over messenger because they told us the suspension would take all night and they would get accommodation in Aktobe. We would try and keep them posted on where we'd end up camping and maybe see them in the road tomorrow to continue convoying.

Our local friend had us follow him to the outskirts of the city and gave us directions on how to continue toward Kostanay. We thanked him for all his effort in helping us today; despite trying to offer him some money he wouldn't take it and just wished us well on our journey.

We drove for approximately three hours before getting ready to wild camp for the night. This was always going to be the plan because basically between Aktobe and Kostanay there are no hotels or large towns. Haylee had and google maps open on her phone. Using satellite images she was able to work out an area near a town called Taldysai that looked to have a few wild camping spots. We pulled off the main road and followed a dirt road toward a Muslim cemetery. The first thing we saw was a sign covered in bullet holes, nice. Ivan Milat eat your heart out. We then turned right to head toward a lake but saw some locals fishing in a boat. The aim was to camp away from any locals and out of view from the highway. Despite meeting some amazing people in Kazakhstan so far we were cautious of any Wolf Creek characters out here. We didn't want to end up in tiny pieces after risking a wild campout! We managed to drive a little away from the lake down the dirt road and found a good spot near a small canyon and river. We quickly set up the tents before the sun went down. Pat got a great photo of our car next to the two tents with the golden setting sun behind us. Another one to put in the pool room!

We set up our little gas burner and cooked up some two minute noodles for dinner. Who would've thought we'd be wild camping in northern Kazakhstan near a Muslim cemetery. It would have been a perfect night save for the hundreds of mosquitoes that were intent on eating us alive. We could hear them everywhere, buzzing around our heads most likely discussing how they would suck every bit of blood from us. We swatted them away with the Aussie salute but it didn't do much, not even the can of Off we'd bought could save us. Eventually we had to just pack everything away and retreat to our tents. We all then spent a good ten minutes crawling around our tents trying to squash the ones inside that had thought to eat us in our well earned sleep.

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