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October 1, 2002

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We walked from Europe to Asia to find a hotel. In Atyrau, Kazakhstan, if you head east across the bridge over the Ural River then you leave Europe and enter Asia. Geologists have known for a long time that any water flowing west of the Ural Mountains drains into the Caspian, Black Sea, Mediterranean, or Atlantic. That's why they defined the boundary between Europe and Asia as the Ural Mountains and made it follow the Ural River down through Atyrau into the Caspian. Besides the Europe-Asia boundary, Atyrau distinguishes itself with oil. Kazakhstan has one of the world's richest oil concentrations. If people traded the economic futures of countries on the stock market, Kazakhstan would be a rising star. Huge mineral wealth assures Kazakhstan's future and Atyrau is an oil boom town. For today, however, we're concerned with registering ourselves in Kazakhstan. Any tourist who wants to stay more than three days must register his visa with the Office of Visa Registration. At the OVIR, we waited in line while the bureaucrats ignored us. After our legs wobbled from standing too long, the officer behind the desk handed us a form in Russian. We wrangled with wording, filled out the form, and waited in line a few more times to have our form rejected until we made pointless corrections (they never told us all of the corrections at once, only one at a time, to give us more chances to stand in line). On the third try they accepted the form and announced we must wait until the 'big boss' signed the completed form. The big boss may sign today, or he may sign tomorrow, it was anybody's guess. Lucky for us, the big boss signed and gave us a coupon-sized form which stapled into our passport. We can't lose this coupon registration or it will mean 'beeg problemski.'
The first character we saw in Kazakhstan came from neighboring Kyrgyzstan - you can tell by his black and white felt hat.
Central Asian mosques exhibit unique style - blue turquoise domes, fortification tower minarets.
Not your average Kazakh: Natasha (aren't all the women called Natasha?) is a Russian expat who helped us figure out the Kazakhstan registration process. She came to drop off some papers and ended up staying with us for a few hours to make sure we got through okay.
Drive your Russian-made Lada and fill up at the local well - the way people fetch water might have changed over the centuries but they still need to do it because there's no plumbing in old town Atyrau.