I was very pleased to arrive in Kazakhstan, as I'd wanted to visit the 'stans for ages, and this was the first of four in a row!
Almaty itself is a rather typical ex-soviet city based on the grid system, but it's setting is rather spectacular at the base of a rather large range of mountains. So it's perfectly possible to be skiing in the morning, and back in the city by afternoon.
I decided to head out of Almaty and see some of the Kazakh countryside, and I was told that the Charyn canyon was the place to visit. There were not tours heading out there, so I had to hire a private guide. Expensive, but it's not as if I'm in Kazakhstan everyday. The snow was an added complexity as the guide was unsure if we'd be able to make it out there.
In the end we need not have worried, there was only a few centimetres of snow on the ground, and the 4x4 dealt with it with no problems. We were rewarded with an amazing view of the canyon with snow capped peaks in the far distance. The guide explained that Snow in April was very rare, and I was lucky to be seeing the canyon with a dusting of snow.
The canon is nowhere near as big as the Grand Canyon in the 'states, but because of that it's easier to take in, and see the strata that makes up the canon walls. We walked down a steep slope in the canon floor, and followed it's curving route down to the river.
And then the most unexpected sight - a brightly painted outdoor toilet. Just what I needed. I came prepared and had a few sheets of toilet paper in my pocket, but even bigger shock - there was a roll in the toilet! I mentioned this to my guide afterwards, and he explained that it was due to a visit from the head of the park services to the area that day. Everything had just been painted, tidied up, an generally given the once over.
On the way back into Almaty we stopped at what appeared to be little more than a truck stop, but there were stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to plastic toys. My guide had a round of Shashlik, but I abstained as I was feeling a little under the wether. I asked about the range of goods on offer in this rather unlikely spot, and my guide informed me that this was one of the roads into China. The border was less than 200Km away, so a lot of Chinese goods found there way here.