We were awake and moving early today, keen to get to the border and also a little anxious. We had read that the border crossing on the A349 was very busy and had even read on one website a recommendation that travelers should consider using another crossing about 100km east which was supposed to be quieter and hence easier. So we were relieved to find only about 8 vehicles ahead of us when we got to the Russian border post and pulled in at the end of the line waiting to be allowed through the control gate.
From our reading we could see two complexities facing us in regard to entering Kazakhstan, over and above the border processing, they were 3rd party vehicle insurance which we had read was mandatory in Kazakhstan (where were we going to get that), and visa registration. It seemed that unless we were lucky enough to get registered automatically at the border, we were going to need to (within 5 days of entering KAZ) find an office of the Migration Police in some town to register our visas.
Eventually our turn came to enter the Russian post and like the other occupants of other vehicles we parked where indicated, gathered our papers and headed into a small office building where after a short wait an officer recorded our exit. This time they did not seem to require that customs declaration but did require the "car passport" - we handed over the registration document as that is the only one we have from South Dakota with both the VIN and license plate number. Back at the vehicle a customs officer gave our vehicle a cursory inspection, had a few questions about the photos of our family, and we were done with Russia and drove about 300 m to the Kazak entrance gate.
At the Kazak entrance gate I showed both passports and received a small ticket to track our progress through the processing steps. The guy at the booth waved us through and pointed to a nice new building and told us to "go there". After a short wait an officer processed my passport, Nina's passport and the "car passport", and told us to go to the "blue hanger". Nina and I got a white immigration card included in our passports at this stop. The only difficulty we had at this step was how to communicate the color of our truck - fortunately the officer had some yellow on his epilets so we could point at that. The officer stamped our ticket and we returned to the vehicle.
At the blue hangar a friendly officer inspected our vehicle, stamped our ticket, and then we were done. So onto the exit gate where we handed in our ticket and we were in Kazakhstan.
Immediately we cleared the exit gate I happened to notice a small office and thought I recognized the Russian word for insurance, so we parked and I went to the office - sure enough they sold both Kazak and Russian insurance, and more over did so in either currency. So 500 roubles later we had Kazak insurance for 1 month.
While gettting the insurance I noticed that my immigration card had 3 words printed in large blue letters across the face. As best I can tell these words say FREE in three languages, Russian, Kazak, and English. The guy at the insurance booth told me that these words mean we do not have to got to the migration police for 3 months - so MAYBE we are registered. But we were not sure so determined to try and clarify the situation when we arrived in Semey the first big town.
The road south from the border to the city of Semey was pretty good pavement; at bit bumpy with a regular supply of pot holes but mostly they were avoidable.
Arriving at the northern border of Semey however the road deteriorated into a broken mess and we struggled our way into the heart of the city. As we got closer to the center the road surfaces improved but low trees became a problem (and we resorted a few times to driving on the wrong side of the road) as did heavy traffic and narrow streets - Nina was starting to have a hissy-fit about us squeezing between cars when we finally found a parking place right beside Lenin Park and in front of the towns most expensive hotel (the Nomad).
We asked a couple of the upmarket hotels about visa registration but got "we don't know" as answers. Bought a Kazak chip for my phone, got some groceries at a very well stocked super market and had a bit of a walk around the Lenin Square area.
While on our walk-about waiting to cross a busy street we had cars stop and wave us across the road - we were shocked. The Mongols try to run pedestrians over, the Russians stop at pedestrian crossings, but the Kazaks actually stop and make way for pedestrians even without a pedestrian crossing. How amazing.
The city of Semey was called Semipalatinsk during Soviet times. This means "seven halls" as early in its history the settlement consisted of 7 buildings. As a side note of trivia. If you read Bill Bryson's book "At Home" you will discover that in England stately homes were often called "something Hall" because they were literally a big hall or room. Semipalatinsk was also famous during soviet times as the home of Soviet nuclear weapons testing and during a 30+ year period 460 nuclear tests were conducted in the region west of the city. Apparently these tests had a devestating impact on the health of the local population.
The road south from Semey (the M38) was an entirely different story. The M38 is an older paved road undergoing major repairs and rebuilding. The older paved sections are very bumpy and pot holed and where the new road is being constructed there are long sections of gravel/dirt bypass roads being used. So for us the traveling was slow.
Around 5:30 we came to the River Tsar and decided to stop on the south east side of the bridge for the night. A herd of horses were using the bridge and river to get relief from the heat and during the evening a number of travelers stopped to cool off in the river.