29-May-2010 – How many English teachers does it take to visit a confluence? Four. And a Lada Niva.
We left Almaty at 4:30 pm with our GPS arrows pointing at 44°N and 79°E, approximately 4 hours north of the city. The weather report indicated rain showers and high overcast after 5 pm. But as soon as we were out of Kapshugai and out on the steppe, we spied a black and purple cloud the size of a Gulf of Mexico oil slick.
We planned on sleeping under the stars, but the rain, wind and lightening caused us to fight over who got to sleep in the Niva and who got to sleep under it. However, after we descended from one of the many ranges of the Alatau mountains, the wind shifted, the moon came out, and with the help of Google Maps and an iTouch, we found our ‘secret’ nondescript turn-off into Altyn Emil National Park.
It was 8:30 pm and we didn't want to announce our presence, so we turned off the headlights and drove 12 km across the steppe, by moonlight, until we nearly drove into a herd of a hundred sheep.
We made camp in a wash, sleeping under the stars and the light of Venus. It was cool but not cold. At 5:30 am the sun woke us up and revealed that we spent the night sleeping in a patch of fresh horse muffins.
A 30 km drive across the barren steppe brought us very close to the confluence. A short walk around a miniature drumlin, and we were standing on 44°N 79°E. The setting was beautiful in its own way; quiet, primal, and remote.
22 hours after starting out, we were back in Almaty.