by Thomas O’Harra
So, we’ve been in Kazakhstan for about a week now, and I have to say, this place is crazy (also a note on the title, I figured that it was only a matter of time before someone said it). Not in a bad crazy, either. It is just… different here. Personally I have no background in Russian or Kazakh (which are very similar) or any other Cyrillic languages, so walking down the street I feel very lost. Also, the drivers are worse than L.A. and Chicago combined, and it seems like using your horn is expected rather than frowned upon.
That said, everyone that I’ve talked to has been very nice! People are especially nice at the Grand Bazaar, although I strongly suspect that is because they want me to buy things from them. Speaking of the Bazaar—there’s an experience! They sell just about anything you can think of, from horse to doorknobs to knockoff brand-name clothing. There is even a huge section for spices, though mainly red ones it seems.
There is also a huge food room with butchered sheep, pigs, cows, and horses. Believe it or not, horse is the national dish of Kazakhstan. I’m not actually sure if I’ve had any horse. I’m not super keen to find out, either. Unfortunately, they do not allow pictures there. I’m not sure why, but there are signs everywhere that say not to take pictures.
The smog here is also extremely bad. Some days, I can barely see downtown from up at the trails, and they aren’t that far from each other. On those days down in town, the smog is so thick that I (and everyone else, for that matter) feel like a smoker. It smells bad, and makes all of our clothes smell. Personally, I don’t understand how people can live in situations like this and not want to fix it. After my second race, I did a lap around the distance course to cool down, and there was a nasty, gross smell in the air the entire time, like someone was burning plastic and hair and rotten wood all at once. It was definitely pretty nasty.
However, sometimes it can have a serene beauty all of its own, like during the morning, at sunrise.
The other cool part of this place is that there is a huge WWI and WWII memorial very close to our hotel. However, this memorial is different, mainly because everyone memorialized was part of Soviet Russia. There are Soviet stars everywhere and I spotted the hammer and sickle a couple times.
I’m very excited to do more exploring soon! Expect more updates to follow.
Thomas O’Harra is a full time student-athlete at Alaska Pacific University. Growing up in Anchorage, he spent a lot of time outside and in the mountains—hiking, skiing, and generally having fun. He now races and trains with the APU Nordic Ski Center while taking a full course load at the university. Currently, Thomas is on a two-month trip for racing, starting in Kazakhstan, then traveling to races in Czech Republic and Switzerland before returning to the U.S. to race at Junior Nationals in Truckee, CA and SuperTour Finals and Spring Series in Sun Valley, ID at the end of March.