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Thursday 10th August - Police bribes and hitchhikers

This morning we said a temporary goodbye to our Swedish convoy friends as they've decided to leave Kazakhstan to travel north to Omsk (Russia). We're optimistic our little car will do okay on the Kazakh roads plus we're quite determined to see Astana (the capital of Kazakhstan). Our Swedish friends only have a little 0.9 litre car so need to save her for the Mongolian roads. They're hoping the roads to Russia are in better condition and think the Russian highways will treat their car nicely. We chatted with them to organise our days of travel and hope to see them again in the Russian town of Barnaul, then we'll continue in together to Mongolia. Good luck Two Gingers And A Rat! We'll see you soon for some Russian vodka.

Today's destination is Astana, a city that has been labelled as the worlds weirdest capital city. To make our day a bit more interesting we were pulled over by some Kazakh cops as we were leaving a town. James was driving at the time. The cop came up to his window and asked for his passport. He used gestures to explain that James had been traveling too fast. The cop then got James to step out of the car and sit with him in the police vehicle. James had to use google translate with the cops to figure out what they wanted. In the end he had to offer a bribe; the cops originally told James he needed to pay 22,000 tenge which is like $85 aud. James managed to bargain them down to 9,000 tenge which is $35 aud. There was nothing official about the way they handled the whole speeding situation. They even had James sneak the cash near the handbrake because there was a camera in the car filming. Haylee tried to take a sneaky photo but got caught by one of the cops. He pointed at her and said very sternly "no photo!" Haylee just kept claiming that she didn't take a photo which they fortunately believed. See the lengths we go to for a good blog entry with pics!

After paying the bribe we were free to go and continue on to Astana. It was getting close to lunch time so we were getting peckish. We drove past two young hitchhikers that looked European. A guy and a girl, one of them carrying a guitar case. They saw us approaching and held out a thumb, we had to go past but realised we'd taken a wrong turn so did a u-turn and drove by them again. Quite awkward. They kept looking at us. Oh well. It's not as if we could fit them anyway, they could see we were completely overloaded. We drove on for an hour to a town with one random cafe/restaurant. As we entered we looked at a table to the left of the door and saw the two hitchhikers. We've still absolutely no idea how they beat us to the restaurant when just an hour earlier they were standing on the side of the road wanting a lift. They saw us as we walked in and gave a look. It couldn't be any more awkward than it already was. We ordered some borscht soup and tucked in.

Onward we drove to Astana. We arrived in the big capital city at approx 9pm. It was obvious this was the largest city in Kazakhstan; the buildings were massive and there were beautiful lights lining all the main roads. It was great to finally have flat, well maintained roads. We pulled into San Marino hotel, our accommodation for the next two nights as we'd be having a well earned rest day tomorrow. Dinner was beckoning so we walked to a nearby pub/restaurant called Draft just ten minutes away. Quite a relief to find western food on the menu as we were getting a little tired of Kazakh food. The menu was covered in photos, bloody brilliant. No google translate needed, just a finger to point with. Our dinners ended up being burgers, steaks and schnitzels. Yummo. The restaurant had a UK theme with Beatles pictures all over the walls. Kazakhstan constantly surprises us. After waiting a million years for the bill we finally left and walked back to the hotel for some rest before our tourist day in Astana tomorrow.

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