Sunday, 9 November 2008

A night under the stars

Hot on the heels of the AIWC Ball, we had booked to go and stay the night in the Observatory at Big Almaty Lake on Saturday night. I should have packed the night before, but had not got round to it. This was a shame because despite having left the ball at a very middle-aged 12.30, I was feeling rank on Saturday morning (must have been the Cuba Libre cocktails...). We finally managed to sort ourselves out with a ridiculous amount of kit for one night (travel cot, baby back pack, all the ski wear etc - it mounts up!) and got on the road by about 11am.

There had been snow on the hills in the night and they were looking fabulous, ringed with low bands of cloud, the sky grey and the contrast between the dark foliage and the streaks of white snow were super dramatic. 

We had discussed with Baktiyar if we should put our snow wheels on the Landcruiser, but he reckoned that we would be OK since it wasn't that snowy yet. I was worried, having slid down the road at Chimbalak last week, that our enormous car would gently slide off the edge of a mountain ravine with all of us inside and we would plunge to our deaths in one of the many streams that you have to cross to get up to the Lake. I was under strict instructions from Husband not to fret or make tense comments as we drove up, and did my best. 

Actually, it was not a treacherous as I had imagined, so I was able to keep my nagging, uptight-wifely comments largely to myself, and we made it up to the Lake in an hour, which was not much longer than it had taken us the last time when there wasn't any snow.
The north-facing slopes were all white with snow, but all those south-facing were still clear and green. But even by the lake, and with just under a kilometer to go, we had still not written off the possibility of turning round if the track became too dodgy, and so we were delighted when we arrived at the Austin Powers style spy centre, or the Astrological Observatory. 

The rooms are really basic, beds and chairs only - no curtains or light shades - but clean and warm which is all you really need. There is a communal dining room and a large area with a table tennis table. 

We arrived and put our bags in our rooms then went for some fabulous Kazakh home cooking: massive bowls of chicken and vegetable soup, then spaghetti and sauce and bread and washed it all down with sweet drinks, and a large pot of tea. 

In the afternoon we went for a walk outside, and played in the snow. Having been relieved to arrive, we had both agreed that the journey down would be fine as long as we were lucky and there was a not a huge dump of snow during the night, so it was slightly alarming to find ourselves playing in a semi-whiteout of snow. The snow continued all night, so although the Observatory's taciturn general helper, Oleg, was happy to show us the huge telescope they have for star gazing, there was nothing to be seen at the end of it. We will go back after the winter, and hope for some clear skies then.  

All in all an adventurous and great day. Little did we suspect the fun we had in store on Sunday. 

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