The winter started to really show itself at the end of October and it seems to have settled happily at between a day temperature of -5 to a night time temperature of -15 for November.
Now that autumn (or winter in any other country) has arrived, the question in Astana for foreigners then becomes “what am I going to do for the next five cold, dark months?”
I received an email a few weeks ago from the local international club about an event, being organised by the American embassy which caught my eye. It was a scavenger hunt. When I was a child, my family used to organise yearly scavenger hunts based around Plymouth, both in Devon and Cornwall.
One of the family would write the clues and we drive to various places in the area to discover the answers, often ending up at a local watering hole – when my parents did the clues it was the Langdon Court hotel, near Bovisand. Though, as my Father said the other day, the cost of petrol in the UK means those kind of games are no longer an option. Petrol here costs a third of the price. Our driver in the morning is often sat outside for more than hour with the engine running, to keep himself warm. I decided to take part.
The hunt started began on November 3 at the United States Marine Corps House US Embassy and was going to last one month. We had to get a group of five people together and the game would involve finding five sites per week for four weeks from a set of clues sent to us, plus answering bonus questions. One person had to have a car and one to speak Russian. Luckily my colleague had just got himself a 4×4 BMW a few weeks before and I could do the translation so we were covered for that. We asked three more of our colleagues and we were ready to start.
We went along to the US embassy (luckily a short walk from our work) for the 6.30pm start, interested to see who else would be taking part. It was only open to foreigners and once through all the security, we were escorted to the Marine block where they had a bar area in what was basically their front room.
We got chance to mix a little with the other 10 teams (all from different countries) taking part and then the organiser from the embassy explained the game rules and handed out our first set of questions. There was also a bonus question which would be won by the first group to send the answer in. We were given a map and pen and started reading through the questions.
Being new to the city, we had no idea where the streets or places from the questions were, so we took a look at the bonus question. This was a question about the train station, and how many horses ran wild in it (we assumed a reference to a statue or picture). When we looked around though, we realised a number of teams had already left to find the answer. Obviously we were not going to get that answer, so we agreed to stay and enjoy the hospitality of the embassy and marines.
We decided Sunday would be our scavenging day so we met Sunday afternoon, having plotted on the map where we believed the clues were referring to and set off in the car to discover the answers.
I love discovering new places and it looked like this was going to be the ideal opportunity. We drove to the north of Astana, over the train tracks that mark the boundaries of the city, which peters out into a small number of old wooden bungalows and then flat expanses of grassland. Here we discovered the answer to one clue was a white ribbon in a girl’s hair. The picture was a poster of the president and pupils on the side of a new school.
We drove around the city answering three further questions (including having to have our picture taken on one of the answers) and then drove to the far west of the city to discover the colour of the sign on a Chinese restaurant to complete the weeks clues. By now it was becoming dark and the temperature had dropped below -10, so we were pleased to head home in the knowledge that we had full marks for the first week. Three weeks to go!