Roosters crowed in unison at 3:30 a.m., and a breeze ruffled the lacy, lilac curtains of our guest room in Saty, Kazakhstan. I drifted back to sleep before the next round of ruckus began, then tip-toed to the community kitchen and made a cup of hot tea.
I was traveling in Kazakhstan with a group of seven other Americans on an organized tour of the largest country in Central Asia. We spent three days in the city of Almaty, which felt modern and safe, with cultural and historical sites to visit.
But we all agreed that what we really wanted to see was the rural area of the world’s ninth largest country.
A typical rural scene when traveling in Kazakhstan. Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle
Traveling to Kazakhstan’s Countryside
From Almaty, we drove several hours past meadows with horses grazing and arid lands to the village of Saty, population 2,000. We checked into Alban Guesthouse.
We chatted with a couple from Costa Rica who were just checking out. They told us that this was one of their favorite experiences traveling in Kazakhstan.
The community room serves as a gathering place at Alban Guesthouse. Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle
Warm Hospitality at Guesthouse
A patterned carpet covered the floor in the shared lounge and blue velvet material with squares of quilted fabric protected the sofa. Throw pillows, which looked handmade, leaned against the back of every inch of the furniture.
Slippers are provided for all visitors at Alban Guesthouse. Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle
Slippers and Serene Setting at Kazakhstan Guesthouse
As we entered, we removed our shoes and donned a pair of slippers set out for visitors.
The one-story guesthouse did not have enough rooms to accommodate each of us individually, so we doubled up. We tossed a coin to see who would get the one room with a private bathroom.
Another woman and I lost the bet, so she and I moved into a room with three twin beds that each held a set of sheets for us to make our own beds. We had a picture window overlooking a serene scene of cattle grazing, two yurts, and a kids’ swing set.
Rooms were basic, but clean and comfortable. Bathroom facilities were down the hall.
The hostess of the Alban Guesthouse, in Saty, Kazakhstan, gives cooking demonstrations in the yurt behind the guesthouse. Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle
Cooking Demonstration in a Yurt
Shortly after we got settled, Ghanar, our host, invited us to a cooking demonstration in the yurt located not far from the guesthouse.
Wearing a scarf on her head and an apron embroidered with the name Alban, Ghanar spoke as if we understood every word. My companions and I sat on the carpeted floor and listened as she spoke in Kazakh, then waited for our guide to translate.
Dumplings are on the dinner menu at Alban Guesthouse, a recommended place to stay while traveling in rural Kazakhstan. Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle
Homemade Dumplings at a Kazakhstan Guesthouse
That evening, we gathered for dinner around a long table set with a plastic cover. Bowls of wrapped candy as well as platters of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, sat before us.
A portrait of our host and hostess, in which they seemed to pose almost like royalty, hung on a wall near the table.
Our host’s daughter served homemade beef dumplings to each of us in an etched wooden bowl. The serving of six ample dumplings looked so large that one person thought his portion was for the entire table.
My favorite part of the meal was the delicious fried dough-like bread called barsak, which to me, tasted like a sopapilla. Our host served cognac with the meal, rather than wine or beer.
Light rain fell outside, and the aroma of wet earth drifted in through the open window. As I sipped spirits and feasted on the typical Kazakh meal, I tried to absorb every detail knowing I was in a land most Americans will never experience.
Resident of Saty, Kazakhstan, poses for a photo . Photo by Sherry Spitsnaugle
Meeting the Locals in Rural Kazakhstan
Early the next morning, my roommate and I opted for an early stroll around the quiet village.
Dogs ran loose, barefoot kids rode bikes, and people tended gardens of tomatoes and lettuce. One resident butchered an animal in his backyard.
As we strolled unpaved paths, we met an elderly man, wearing a suit jacket and traditional Kazakh men’s felt cap. He seemed as curious about us as we were about him.
We couldn’t understand each other’s language but through gestures, we asked permission to take photos of him and his grandson.
The gentleman put his arm around the youngster, smiled, and gave him a hug. Later, we learned that the man is 89 years old. He has 11 children and has lived in the village his entire life.
As visitors from another country, we may not share identical customs as Kazakh people. But we all take pleasure in family, a morning stroll, and a friendly exchange with visitors.
We may not be that different after all.
Author Sherry Spitsnaugle and the daughter of the Alban Guesthouse hosts pose for a photo. Photo by Donnie Sexton
If You Travel to Kazakhstan
Visit www.Kazakhstan.travel for the most up-to-date information about traveling to Kazakhstan.
Sherry Spitsnaugle is a travel writer and guidebook author, based in Denver, Colorado. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the North American Travel Journalists Association, and the International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association.
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