A Few Days Rest In A Coal Mining City
Karaganda Travel Blog› entry 60 of 83 › view all entries
From Zhezkazgan, I took another 10-hour bus ride to the fairly large coal mining town of Karaganda. This time we passed through some villages and towns and passed by some small hills. As we got closer to Karaganda, I could see traces of snow on the shadowed side of the hills and ditches. The bus was more of an official bus but the seat was a little stiff. They showed about nine episodes of a popular Russian miniseries called Morozov, which was a police detective show. By the end of the trip I was hooked. We did stop a lot on the bus trip and made it to the Karaganda bus station around 7pm. I was greeted by a man who asked if I was John. This was the father of the Zhandos, a CouchSurfer who was hosting me at his house even though he was in Almaty.
Zhandos's father and I rode a bus about three stops away and walked through a series of large apartment buildigns. I slipped on a slope in the ice and landed on my backpack, which did cushion me from injuring myself but without help I would have stayed on my back on the ice like a helpless turtle. We walked for what seemed like a long time on a dark, icy street to the house. There I met Friedemann, a German guy who was living there and working in Karaganda at the ecological museum. He was kind enough to cook me a pasta dinner while we got acquainted. I washed dishes, but I don't know if I could adequately describe the setting without adding a picture. The room contained a large stove for burning coal, a cold-water sink, a scalding hot-water heater with a rubber hose pumping water to a red plastic bucket below, and a toilet.
In the morning (December 8th), we had brunch together with Friedemann's friend Zuhra, who knows all about Peace Corps volunteers. She was a bundle of energy and a joy to be around. After she left, Friedemann and I went to the local bazaar, not far away. I then set out on my own to explore the city. It was cold and although it hadn't snowed in over a week or two, there was stick a thick layer of ice on most of the walkways, so getting around was slow as well as dirty. Like other cities in Kazakhstan, Karaganda lacks a definitive tourist attraction that draws travelers, but it is a large city with many exclusive shopping malls, restaurants and other stores.
I wandered through the park and ended up on a side street near a restaurant called Cafe Ben. I was starving, so I decided to eat lunch and ordered "Iranian beef" and a beer. They actually had an entertainment booklet like the ones I've found in bars and restaurants in big American cities. It was all in Russian, but I could tell they had a nice selection of restaurants (including Mexican, Thai, Georgian and Uzbek) and some nightclubs.
When I got back to the house, Friedemann, Zuhra and another friend Cristina, were hanging out with snacks and wine. I had stopped at the store to get some beers and I joined them. We communicated in a mixture of English, German, Russian, Kazakh, Uzbek and the occasion words we knew in any other language. It was a lot of fun and quite cozy to stay inside after the cold.
I didn't do a whole lot on the 9th, but I did visit Friedemann at the ecological museum. It's a relatively small museum, but everything is hands-on and it was ingeniously designed for maximum educational value, especially for young people. The featured piece was a large hunk of space junk that had originated from Baykonur, the former Soviet space station that is now within the Kazakhstan border but leased by Russia.
In the evening I met up with Oleg, another CouchSurfer who was willing to host me. We met under the statue of Nurken Abdyrov, a famous aviator who had become a hero when, running out of ammunition and noticing an enemy about to attack, decided to kamikaze into the column and became an instant legend. Anyway, Oleg had run into his friend Nik and the three of us went to a cafe across the street and had a dinner of soup, tea and bliny (Russian pancakes). We chatted for awhile, then left and walked around in the cold, stopping by the Abzal shopping center. Oleg and Nik are students and had a lot of exams to prepare for, and since it was cold and there wasn't anything left to see, we went to our respective abodes. In the evening I finally met Zhandos, who had arrived by train from Almaty. I had been planning to head to Astana, but Zhandos persuaded me to stay another day so we could go see Dolinka, a village nearby famous for the third largest gulag in the Soviet Union. Zhandos, Friedemann and I talked late into the night about cultural differences and traveling among many other things.