Darren Evley, East Midlands Region, the UK, general director, @dpe72
I am from a small village close to Derby, Nottingham and Leicester borders. I am divorced with two teenage girls. I am a collector of watches, enjoy traveling, working and a big follower of Derby County Football Club. We established a company in Atyrau, Western Kazakhstan, in 2013 with a local partner. I am General Director of the business which is called Speedy Zholdas LLP and predominantly rents equipment to the oil and gas industry in Kazakhstan. We are now western Kazakhstan’s largest general plant and equipment rental company.
I established a business in 2013 but have lived in Atyrau since 2012. Initially, I had planned to stay here for 18 months, manage a large project in Tengiz during 2012 and relocate back to UK in late 2013. However, I decided to stay for a number of reasons. Firstly, the project we undertook in 2012 was very successful and so we decided to establish a permanent business here. Secondly, I enjoyed Kazakhstan, the people for whom and lived and worked with.
About first impression
I first visited Kazakhstan in December 2011 so I was, naturally, shocked at how cold it was. I had not really experienced extreme temperatures previously. My first impression was, however, quite a positive one. Many of the people with whom I met had a good understanding of western cultures, had traveled themselves and spoke a variety of different languages. I was particularly happy to speak to people in my native language as my Russian and Kazakh was almost non-existent. The local guys loved their football so I could also speak to them freely about the English Premier League which is followed here very closely.
Initially, I struggled with being away from my daughters and family for many weeks at a time. However, it must be much easier for distant parents these days taking advantage of the modern day apps. I also struggled with the logistical challenges of managing a business in such a large country where logistics and planning is difficult.
When I first moved to Atyrau it was a developing city. The roads were in poor condition and there was not many things to do. However, Atyrau has changed significantly over the last nine years and it has seen some excellent investment in the city. There are many high quality accommodation buildings, good bars and restaurants, cycle paths shops.
Kazakhstan is very different from UK for many reasons. The UK does have a very diverse mix of nationalities and, therefore, religions. The city where I am from does have quite a large Asian population so there are some similarities that exist. Like Kazakhstan, different cultures and nationalities can mix freely. Family values are important in UK but even more so in Kazakhstan. I have always been very complimentary as to how the Kazakh people support each other when needed and the values that they have within their own family.
The nomadic nature of the Kazakh people is very evident as well as very important in this country. A Kazakh person would happily travel thousands of miles to work on a rotational basis where they are away from their family. Whilst this is very important for their income it is also very encouraging when we try and recruit the best candidate for a particular job vacancy. I am also very surprised how some families manage to live comfortably off, sometimes, very moderate incomes.
What I like there
The Kazakh food is very traditional. In the UK, we do have our traditional Sunday roast dinners but in Kazakhstan many of the local people have the options of a wide range of local cuisine. I love Kazakhstan weddings and large gatherings where we can eat lots of Kazakh food which is very different and unusual to our UK cuisine.
I have many, many stories of things that have happened to me in my time in Kazakhstan. Most of these involve vodka toasts and wedding parties. A friend of mine who married a local Kazakh girl. I was invited to be best man. I was looking forward to supporting my friend on his special day and, as it was my first Kazakh wedding experience, I was really looking forward to it. What I had not expected were the 600 guests turning up on mass at 10.00 pm for a 7.30 pm wedding and the 600 speeches that followed. Not only did I not get chance to eat anything but I arrived home finally at 3.30 am.
Krysten Mariann Boado, Agoo, La Union, Philippines, full-time traveler, @krystenkaladkarin
I am a full-time traveler who is working online as a writer and journalist. I am traveling the world only by foot and hitchhiking, and at present, I am writing a book about my journey. I have been in Kazakhstan for 10 months now. I came to Kazakhstan because it recently opened the visa-free regime for Filipinos during the quarantine and because it was on my way to Europe. I wanted to experience the culture of the country and I wanted to be able to see the beautiful places in it as well.
About first impression
Kazakhstan is very diverse. The variety of things to see and do and people to meet made the beginning of my Kazakh journey very exciting. I was getting rides from Karakalpak drivers, attending Kazakh birthday parties, befriending Russians, living in an Uyghur village, hiking with a friendly Ukrainian, eating plov with Uzbeks, camping with a Tatar sportsman, drinking with Caucasian nationals. You wake up one day on the lakeside then sleep beside a river in a canyon on the next. There’s no saying where the road leads in Kazakhstan and what it holds for you, and I loved it.
The most difficult thing for me was that I did not quite fit in with the individualism and materialism that I witnessed when I got stuck here during quarantine. I cannot say the same for all cities, but in Almaty, the people I met have no problem with inflicting pain on other people as long as it satisfies their best interests. The lives of most people dwell on two things: marriage and money, and both are far from my mind.
The country is really big, and travel time takes a lot compared to the countries I walked and hitchhiked in. There was horse meat and horse milk and people consumed a lot of dairy products. The first thing I noticed when I crossed the border to Almaty was McDonald’s. I spent a year in other Central Asian countries, and all of them did not have any McDonald’s. I am not a fast food fan. It is just that compared to other countries in the region, Kazakhstan is more modern and developed, but it still has a long way to go.
Filipinos and Kazakhs both value family. During my stay here, I have witnessed how locals would travel 3,000+ km for three days just to attend the wedding of a distant relative. Locals recognize their ancestors and their bloodline, and reunions are usually big and boisterous. The opinion of elders matter, and people generally have close relationships with their loved ones. It’s quite the same as the Philippines.
Since I have been nearly everywhere in Kazakhstan, I can say that Western people are more laid back and friendlier. Because they do not get a lot of foreigners in their region, they still have that pure hospitality and enthusiasm towards a traveler that stumbles upon their deserts. They are proud Kazakhs, and they love to show people around their country. Meanwhile, Southern people are more traditional. Their nomadic heritage still runs, although it has been touched by modernism. They are more materialistic than their Western counterparts, but they remain the daughters and sons of the steppes.
Northern people are colder and extremely modern, but they are still helpful and open towards travelers. In general, Kazakh people still operate on an “uyat” mentality, which I honestly do not like but still respect. Whenever I tell people about the things I have done at my age, they would always ask me when I would find a man and get settled down as if it was the cherry on top of my achievements. I also wish that there was a more nomadic culture here in Kazakhstan. I wanted to see a more authentic Kazakhstan with eagle hunting in the winters, with men and women still proudly wearing a hint of their national costume and with Kazakh patterns incorporated in the design and structure of the cities. After all, the country is not just about these big tois.
What I like there
I love the nomadic heritage really. The patterns adorning the yurts, the ability of people to just get on horses and ride in the steppes, simple food from whatever resources they have, the hospitality, the kindness and most of all the wonderful nature. We do not have deserts or snow-capped mountains, so for me, these also won my heart.
I survived camping in my first sandstorm in Mangystau. I was scared to death, and it was a moonless and starless evening. My tent fell because of the winds, and the sand inside got up to my ankles. I packed up and walked eight km to the asphalt road because I was in a dangerous situation alone. I risked venturing into the steppes in total darkness with 20% battery and with the threat of wild animals too. I got signal and called my good friend Mirzhan to pick me up on the side of the road. I sent him my coordinates and he rescued me from that wretched night with his girlfriend. I was really touched with this gesture. He waited for me and really came to help me survive that night. If he had not I would have been stuck sleeping in the steppes with just an emergency blanket. It just showed me how Kazakh people really treat their friends and travelers who come to their motherland.
Alex Pflaum, New Zealand, travel photographer, @ahpflaum
I am from USA and New Zealand, but I grew up mostly in Singapore. New Zealand I would consider my home country, though I have not lived there very much. I am a travel photographer https://www.alexhpflaum.com/ . I have been in Kazakhstan for exactly one month now. I have moved here to start a tourism business once the pandemic is over.
About first impression
My first impression of Kazakhstan was back in 2018, when my brother and I took the boat across the Caspian Sea from Baku to Aktau. We then drove across the Ustyurt Plateau. The whole experience was absolutely crazy, and often very difficult. But I loved every second of it.
So far, difficulties have mostly been around sorting out my long-term visa. The language barrier can be difficult too, mostly when shopping somewhere like Zelenny Bazaar, but I am trying to learn Russian as fast as I can.
Before this, I was living in a small town in New Zealand, Nelson, for most of the year. It is different in just about every way imaginable. Things are very fast-paced here. In New Zealand, people generally take it slow. I think the cultures are very different, but a love for nature seems to be a common thread.
What I like there
Kazakhstan is massive, and near the center of the world. In New Zealand, it is hard to travel to other places because it is so far away from almost every other country. In Kazakhstan, there are so many nearby travel opportunities. I am also incredibly interested in the history here. Both the recent soviet history, and long nomadic history of these lands. From the Soviet history, I love to explore the architecture, art, and monuments.
When my brother and I were driving across the Ustyurt Plateau, we ran out of gas about 100 km before Beyneu. The Sun just set, and it was starting to rain. After about an hour, a small car full of Uzbek men stopped and offered to help tow us. Since we had no tow bar, we had to use the rope from our roof straps to tie a line between our car and theirs. It was a rough ride. The next morning, while crossing the border into Uzbekistan, our breaks stopped working in the middle of nowhere and we had to drive 150 km without breaks. Luckily it is the desert and the roads and straight and flat. Overall, the experience was extremely stressful and even a little scary. But an experience I learned a lot from and look back on fondly now.