Petropavl is the most northern city of Kazakhstan. It is only 60 km to the Russian border from here. After having been spoiled with Kazakh hospitality throughout the country, we had to find in Petropavl a hotel by ourselves again. We had a hotel suggestion from the NoMiEV people, who passed through Petropavl themselves one year ago. Their suggested hotel was one of the more expensive ones (60€/night). Therefore, we tried at 3 other hotels to get a room to sleep and three phase electricity to charge. One had no parking spot, another had a huge wedding party at their hotel and the third had a mean receptionist that didn’t wanted to help us solve a problem (of course did this large hotel also have three phase electricity – most often it just depends on how much a receptionist wants to help their (future) guests to find it).
… and finding it!
We ended up staying at the same hotel as the 80 E-days people used to stay. The staff was very helpful at the hotel. Only a little after we arrived, an electrician helped Benedikt to setup charging at a fuse box in the server-room of the hotel. The connection was very strong. I wish, hotels would always be that helpful…
In the north of Kazakhstan, the national park Burabay can be found. It’s only a 3 hour drive from Astana. We stayed in a hotel at lake Shchuchye. The nature reminded us of Scandinavian countries, since birch trees, soft hills and lakes shape the beautiful national park.
Charging Benedikt and the car
Benedikt got a cold at the Expo. He needed to rest and recover. That’s what we did during 2 days in the Kazakh nature.
Also, the car needed to charge. It took us quite a while to make us understandable what we need and what we were looking for. Eventually the technician of the hotel showed Benedikt a fuse box and we started charging with all three phases.
Astana is the capital of Kazakhstan since 1998. The government invested huge amounts of money to build a futuristic city in the middle of the Kazakh steppe. Benedikt and I felt reminded of Ashgabat (see this post), except that Astana is a bit more “colorful” and not only out of white marble. The police, military and security presence is also unnaturally high in Astana.
Meeting Ueli Maurer
The Swiss Pavilion invited us to visit them at the Expo 2017. On June 11th, Ueli Maurer, Swiss finance minister and member of the Swiss Federal Council was also expected there. We had the great chance to have lunch with him and talk with him about our journey. Thanks to the team of the Swiss Pavilion for organizing this!
Bringing our Tesla on the Expo territory
We really wanted to bring our Tesla on the Expo territory. Traveling with an electric vehicle from Switzerland to Kazakhstan fitted so well to the topic of the Expo. We couldn’t organize this on the day that Ueli Maurer was present at the Expo. But, thanks again to the great team of the Swiss Pavilion, we managed to bring the car to the Expo territory in the night of the June 12th.
We got overwhelmed with requests of journalists that wanted to make interviews with us (see for example this and this article). The whole day long, except of the times that we visited other pavilions, we answered questions of visitors who were curious what the story of this Tesla is.
Visiting other pavilions at the Expo 2017
101 countries present in Astana how they interpret “future energy”. The main pavilion with 8 floors is the pavilion of Kazakhstan. In a building looking like the death star in Star Wars, the country established a very well-made museum about renewable energy. Of course, this pavilion is the most popular with the Kazakh visitors. 90% of the people seem to only take pictures (toooons of pictures) and enjoy the entertainment-shows in the pavilion.
Around the Kazakh death star, all other countries have their exhibition rooms. There is the German Pavilion, that is high in information, very well made and with a fancy, little excessive light show at the end. USA is saying that they are the source of energy (whatever that is supposed to mean – they had no real reference to alternative energy). The Lithuanian Pavilion is staffed only with native Lithuanians and it gives one a good impression of the country. We also liked the Polish Pavilion, since it covered well information about their state forests and how they perceive the topic “future energy”. Even the Vatican was present and we saw a very well-made movie about the creation of the universe ending with the thought, that it is our responsibility to care about what was created millions of years back. We saw many more pavilions, of course that would go beyond the scope of this article.
Charging in Astana
Somehow, we arranged to park in the underground parking of the Airbnb-apartment that we stayed at. We used a Schuko in the parking to charge the car during our first night in Astana to 90%. The security of that building was annoying. They unplugged the cable (luckily after the battery reached the 90%) and told us we would need to leave the parking garage (that was almost empty). Our Airbnb-host managed that we could return in the garage, but we weren’t allowed to charge there anymore. I wish, people would be better educated about electricity prices and unity. Most people don’t know what a Kilowatt hour is and how much they regularly pay for one. The price for one kWh in Kazakhstan is about 0,07€. That means charging 30 kWh (this is about as much as letting the air-conditioning for one room for 12 hours) costs about 2 €. We always offer to pay, but if people have no clue on how much kW what electric equipment in their house uses and what the price of one kWh is, they can’t relate to this price.
We changed front and back tires (to have a even attrition) in the underground garage of this building.
On our way out of Astana, we planned to charge at Astana’s only charging station. It was out of order… we managed anyways to drive the 250 km north to a natural reserve close to Shchuchinsk.
It was a long drive (350 km) from Balkhash to Karaganda (we crossed again almost no village or point of civilisation). By 10:30 p.m. we finally arrived in Karaganda and two friends of Meiran were waiting in front of an apartment complex (we met Meiran in Almaty – see this post). Meiran was responsible for the construction of the complex and owns a flat there. He offered us to stay in this apartment.
Charging in the underground parking
Meiran’s colleagues welcomed us and showed us a modern fuse-box in the underground parking of the apartment block. It took Benedikt only a few minutes to set up a nice connection. Even though we had a strong connection, we charged with only 10 amperes and until the maximum of 85%. It’s better for the battery to leave it only for a short time fully charged. Before we left Karaganda after two nights, we fully charged the car.
Getting spoilt and learning about Kazakh history
On our first morning in Karaganda, we got invited to have breakfast at Meiran’s ants house. Of course, her self-made bread and everything else was delicious! We spent the afternoon at the KarLag-Museum. It is a museum about a large Gulag labor-camp during the Stalin-times of the Soviet Union.
We are thankful for Meiran for all his help and his great hospitality. We had a great time in Karaganda thanks to him. It really makes our journey special, meeting people like him!
When we were about to leave Almaty a guy on a brand-new Ducati motorcycle signaled us to stop. We drove to the side of the road and met Meiram. He himself traveled on a motorcycle almost the same route as ours. We will have noticed later that we were extremely fortunate to have met him.
Charging-attempt #1 and #2
Meiram knew people in Balkhash and arranged for us help with charging there. We met our “charging crew” at the city entrance. The first car workshop where we tried to find three-phase electricity, could only offer 16 amperes and Benedikt didn’t really find the earth connection. The next large car-workshop we drove to, was by chance a place where the NomiEV people also charged on their 80 E-days journey.We were excited, when we found a Turkish Style outlet in the workshop. Benedikt re-adjusted the adapter (we used the Montenegro-style plug a few times in Iran. That’s why the plugs of the adapters changed after we left Turkey again – see also this post). The fuses were set for 50 amperes, so we didn’t worry to let the car charge with 32 amperes.
Shortly before we wanted to leave, Benedikt checked the connection again – and there was smoke coming out of the outlet. Uuuuuups. Probably the plugs have not been used for a long time and dead bugs and the same started to slowly burn with the heat of the strong electricity. Since we didn’t want to risk setting the workshop on fire, we stopped charging immediately.
Charging-attempt #3 – finally a success!
There was a fuse-box close to the Turkish-outlet. Since it also had three-phase connections, the plan was to get the electricity from there. As soon as we were about to set this up, Benedikt noticed that he forgot our open adapter, his safety cloves and the screw driver at the first car-workshop we have been to (charging-attempt #1). We opened the Turkish adapter, dissembled it and used the three-phases and the earth connection to set up a new connection on the fuse-box. And voila, charging worked out! Since the cables got a bit worm (the connection cable to the fuse-box seemed to thin), Benedikt wanted to charge only with 25 amperes. That meant, the car needed to charge for the next 3 hours.
We get entertained by the best charging-hosts ever
Our charging-helpers were our hosts during the next 3 hours. They drove us back to the first workshop to pick up our forgotten stuff. Due to language misunderstanding, they also bought us a new screw-driver (we later gave our old one as a “souvenir” to them). After that, we went to a garden restaurant and had a late lunch there. The restaurant was at the shore of lake Balkhash and we went to the beach later. Lake Balkhash is apparently the 15th largest lake on the earth (16,400 km2), but only 26 m maximum deep. The water was therefore really worm (maybe 25 degree Celsius). Before we left Balkhash again, we got a beautifully painted plate of lake Balkhash as a gift to remember the city. We started our continues drive through the Kazakh step with a feeling of gratefulness to have experienced this superb hospitality. Thank you!
Road with deep lane grooves and potholes needs all the attention
We got warned that the road from Almaty to Astana will be, especially during the first 300 km, awful. Indeed, it was awful! Three times the bottom of the Tesla was scratching at the tops of the deep lane grooves. It took all of Benedikt’s attention to not drive in one of the deep potholes.
Drying to find a charging spot, part 1
Not only the road was challenging. Since there is almost no civilization except of two cities on the entire way between Almaty and Astana (1200 km), we knew that charging will be challenging. Team NoMiEV, one of the German Teams of the 80 E-days, send us charging points they and other team members have used on their journey through Kazakhstan and Russia. We approached the first spot of civilization (three roadside cafes) after 300 km of a tiring drive. Behind the cafes we discovered an old fuse-box that still had stickers of three 80-E-days teams on it. Unfortunately, it was locked. We asked at all the roadside cafes, but none had a key to the fuse box. Everyone pointed towards the close by “village” (3 other houses in the distance of 10 km) where an electrician might have a key. We didn’t want to waste more time searching for the key and left for the next gas station.
Drying to find a charging spot, part 2 and 3
The next gas station that we reached after 50 km had electricity, but for unknown reasons, didn’t wanted to let us charge there. With a battery that was less and less charged, we continued another 30 km to the next small village . At the first roadside cafe, we got told to wait until the owner is done praying. The owner showed us then a very old fuse-box in his car-workshop. Somehow Benedikt made it possible that we could charge. It was 7 p.m. by then. We tasted the fish of lake Balkash in the roadside café, enjoyed the company of some truckers and waited 3 hours for the car to charge. When it was fully charged, it was dark outside – time to find a quite spot to spent the night. Considering how few people are living in the Kazakh steppe it is not hard finding a quiet spot. We didn’t get disturbed once and left the next morning at 07:00 a.m. to drive to Balkash, a 70.000 inhabitants city at the western edge of lake Balkash.
Like in Bishkek, we also had in Almaty the privilege to be welcomed by members of the Tesla-family. Askar, himself an owner of a Tesla Model S and X, invited us to stay for 3 days in an entire house (three-floors with garden). The house was on the same road as his office building. Askar installed at his office different chargers. One of them a super nice 32 amperes wall-box. It was such a pleasure charging there! We were super grateful for meeting him and for all his hospitality. It really makes us happy to meet people like Askar on our journey.
Tesla meeting at Shymbulak
Electric vehicles don’t have many advantages in Almaty. But one of them is that you can drive up a hill to a skiing resort (Shymbulak), where no other cars are allowed (everyone else must go up to the village with a cable car). Together with Daniyar and Sanzhar, other Tesla owners of Almaty, we spent an afternoon on that hill and enjoyed lunch. Later that evening we had fun at a local brewery (that is owned by another Tesla driver). Almaty is a soviet city, but many parks and trees make the city very welcoming. We were surprised on the many super expensive cars we saw in the city. This together with the scenic view of the Tian Shan mountains made us feel like being in Zurich 😉. Even though we were only 300 km away from the Chinese border.
Supercharger in Almaty
At the above-mentioned Tesla meeting in the mountain restaurant, Sanzhar, one of the craziest Tesla drivers (he took this video of a swimming Tesla) told us about a “supercharger” in Almaty. In fact, the charger isn’t that “super”, since it offers only 10 amperes and has an American plug. That means, we can’t even use it. But, it was still fun checking it out.
Almaty was a welcoming city and we enjoyed having an entire house to ourselves. We didn’t really wanted to leave, but we knew, that new adventures were waiting for us.
The resort hotel Alma Tau is not far from Shymkent. The city is described as Southern Kazakhstan’s most vibrant city. Good for us, since we needed to do some “business” there. In an extremely efficient manor, we first bought a Kazakh SIM-card and later a car insurance. We were absolutely impressed on how little time (and money) we spend on organizing both of it. Something that is not to imagine in many countries we passed. In the late afternoon, we continued our drive to Taraz.
Finding a hotel and three-phase electricity in Taraz
Situated on the route from Shymkent to Bishkek, Taraz is one of Kazakhstan oldest cities. In the 11th and 12th century it was a wealthy silk road stop. It got destroyed by Genghis Khan and only had a Russian rebirth in the 19th century. The current appearance has still a soviet charm that we did not further inspect.
It took us a while to find a hotel that also allowed us to charge on three-phase electricity (this was necessary to have a fully charged car for the way from Taraz to Bishkek, about 320 km). We ended up staying at a modern hotel that offered us a room for 12 hours (for a reduced price – something that seems to be common in Kazakhstan). The set up for the charging took Benedikt quite long, since about 8 people thought they knew better what to do. In the end, our open adapter was connected to a fuse-box. We left in the morning before nine to drive to the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.
Border Kazakhstan – Kyrgyzstan
The border close to Chaldovar was probably one of the easiest of the last weeks. They quickly checked the car on the Kazakh side. Afterwards I drove to the Kyrgyz side, did a little small-talk, got the new stamp and left with the car. I think the whole border process only took us 30 minutes. Incomparable to some other borders we had before… (see this post).
We drove to the closest border coming from the mountains. After the border official checked our passport, he told us, the border is closed for vehicles (couldn’t he just said that right away? Or why didn’t they put up a sign somewhere?). We had no choice than to drive to the next border checkpoint that was supposed to be bigger.
To exit the country, the Uzbek border control let us unpack the entire car. Of course, such a procedure is annoying. We tried to keep always an eye on our valuables, since it wouldn’t be the first time, that somebody “lost” something at the border.
To enter Kazakhstan, Benedikt and I had to split up (again). He went through the passenger control and I imported the car into Kazakhstan. Since I am the official car owner (my name is in the car documents), it seems to be easier, if I do the entire bureaucratic procedure. After about 2 hours I drove the car through the border gate.
A Kazakh resort hotel
Our destination was a resort hotel east of Shymkent. Shymkent isn’t known as a very attractive city. Therefore, we had no precise ambition to go there. It sounded good to us to have nature around us and a pool in front of us. We found a resort hotel in the middle of nowhere. The hotel was nicely maintained and for what it offered good value for money.
We got extremely well taken care of by a receptionist (the only person speaking a few words of English in this hotel), who even drove us in a golf cart around the grounds of the hotel. When we sat down in the golf cart he said, “this is an electric vehicle!” – you can believe that we started laughing and replied that we also have an electric vehicle. He helped us find a Schuko, where we fully charged the car during the 1.5 days that we stayed at Alma Tau.
The only real downturn for us was, that the hotel was playing club music with the strongest beats the whole day long. We had a room facing the pool and could feel the vibration of the bass while laying on the bed. Kazakhs seem to have a different definition of relaxation ambiance than we do ;-).