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Steppe Motel

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Places to stay are few and far in between along the highways through the Kazakh steppe. Wary after a long day of navigating potholes and driving desert tracks we are happy to find this one near a fuel station outside Sagyz. The house is charmingly illuminated as if it was a film set. The signboard reads “resting rooms” rather than hotel – maybe out of modesty and maybe just to temper expectations.

Those who travel these lonesome roads usually have urgent business elsewhere. Some work on the oil fields near the Caspian Sea, others are migrant labourers on their way to Russia. Broken axles, loose sands, sudden storms or other troubles are frequent; everybody agrees that the steppe can be a dangerous place. People drive long hours to arrive somewhere safe.

Our room is tiny and the beds are so narrow that I fall out twice during the night. But the canteen is warm and the owner serves us tea and dinner. The motel soon fills up and those arriving late are sent away – the last ones at 3 a.m. They get back into their car and drive on till morning.

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