I have to be honest, 95% of Kazakhstan is really boring. We have spent about 130 hours on trains and buses all over this country and there was hardly anything to see out the window. This huge country is flat as a pancake and with no signs of life anywhere. But when you stumble across that 5%, usually on the edges of the country, Kazakhstan can be a cultural and natural wonderland!
On the far south east you have the cultural and financial center lined with beautiful mountains, Almaty, and then to the far west is the little port town of Aktau. It doesn’t take up a huge spot on the map, and for backpackers it is typically only a small stop as they wait for the ferry across the Caspian Sea. Even the town is pretty unassuming with huge boxy soviet apartment blocks with a few newer, shinier high rises being built along the coast. No architectural thrills like its Western neighbor, Baku, and significantly smaller population of 175,000 people, but you see most of these people come out at night as they stroll up and down the coastal walkway. Along the rocks during the day we met old fishermen passing away time reeling in a couple fish every hour. When the men heard I was from New York and was taking pictures, they started exclaiming ‘New York Times’!! Then there was the younger, more athletic and ambitious diver who was swimming around underwater shooting spears at the fish. His hard work was rewarded with slightly larger fish, and a much cooler get up. The locals took us along the coast by passing all of the tourist, regular beaches and showing us these chalky white cliff faces. Here we had the whole beach to ourselves as we jumped off all sorts of rocks jutting out of the water and swimming from place to place. The bright teal water contrasted the white, textured cliffs so well and just invited you to swim to relieve yourself from the oppressive summer heat that takes over this coastal beach town.
I never pictured being on a beach in Kazakhstan, let alone such a picturesque one, but the beauty and colors resembled something you would see in the Mediterranean. Aktau isn’t quite a destination in itself, but what a pleasant surprise it was to see such crystal clear blue water after traversing the desserts and mountains of central Asia.