Traveling with a Purpose: Kuat Bolatov about Kazakhstani Overseas

Kuat Bolatov is well known in social networks for his active traveling and documental movies about Kazakhstani people in different countries. He is getting a master degree in environmental sciences in the Netherlands. He is sharing his story about his first trip to Europe and its challenges, the idea of movie making, learning points and some advice to our readers.

What was the main purpose of your trip?

I was 26 years old when I traveled abroad for the first time. Exciting 5-star hotel, all inclusive. But once I reached Turkey, I had a clear thought that I wouldn’t see the real Turkey. It was just a small piece of land sold for a bunch of money. And the real picture is out of touristic sight. For that reason, I made a promise that I will never go like that to any place. After that trip, I have been traveling across CIS countries, in some Asian countries and then there was a big trip to the US to study. 

How have you decided to go cycling in the Amsterdam?

Europe was out of the league yet and that was one of my big dreams – to see the real Europe. In Autumn 2015 I decided that next year I will visit it. There were different options on how to make it real: low coasters, buses. But it was quite pricey overall and didn’t meet my goal to see the real Europe, not the touristic one. There was a thought to go by foot from Prague to Paris. But it would have taken a long time, almost 4 months. And since I was occupied with my job, it was impossible to do. So after that, I decided to make it by bicycle. From one point, it was totally up to me, I can stop or go ahead at any time. Comfort speed, 15-20 km an hour to make me truly discover a place. Thirdly, it’s a sport, eco-friendly and affordable. Plus, Europe’s infrastructure allows to cycle in a comfortable way.

“A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles”

That autumn 2015 I was chilling with my friends around a campfire in North Kazakhstan. We were dreaming and sharing about places to visit. I said about mine but didn’t have a clear plan to follow. And on March 8, 2016, I got a message about big flight tickets sale to Amsterdam. I thought that this is a time when I should decide: Am I following my dream or not?!

After 15 minutes my tickets were in my inbox. I flew to Amsterdam, bought my bike. And from the very first moment, I felt the hospitality abroad. One Kazakhstani picked me up from the airport. He was showing the city the whole day and helped to choose the bicycle. The other one invited me to his workplace at Booking.com in Amsterdam.

Then, heading to south to city Utrecht I realized that I was lost in a small village. On my bicycle, I carried a small sized flag of our country. Dutch woman came close and asked me about it. We had a conversation and she said that I was the first Kazakh she has ever seen. Especially on the bike. She asked if she can invite me home and introduce me to her family and children. So, on the first day of my travel, I was warmly welcomed to Europe. That time there was a little number of followers on Instagram, around 1200. However, people somehow quite quickly found me and started to invite me to their houses. So out of 32 nights, 14 of them I stayed in someone’s place. And amazing thing is I have never met anyone of them before. Just with the help of social networks, they found me and I found them.

You are actively traveling and shooting videos about Kazakhstani citizens overseas, how you came up with this idea, what motivates you to do it?

In the middle of my travel, I was invited by my friend to make a speech on some show in Astana. She suggested making some video for a few minutes. That time I thought what I should make it about. There were plenty of videos about Europe’s beautiful landscapes. So I finally decided to make it about people. I took my phone and started recording Kazakhstani people I met. What are they doing there and how did they get there. Self-made people who made it through appeared to be big motivators. I showed this video in Astana and right after that moment, I decided that I want people to know about them, the real heroes of our country. I made a promise that in the next cycle trip I will invite Kazakhstani people and make a film about them.

Your second trip to Europe was in the UK, it was more prepared and you got some sponsors. How the idea came to its realisation?

Yes, I decided to go to England and shoot a movie about Kazakhstan citizens. At first, I called my friends working in Air Astana, proposed my project and asked for the support. They were eagerly open to help me with it. Some other organizations and our embassy decided to support me in the idea of making the movie about Kazakhstan citizens in the UK. In this travel, I needed to have a videographer. I announced this in social networks that I’m looking for the videographer and going to cover all the expenses. That time I got more than 200 applications and the chosen one was a guy from Karaganda.

We have visited total 18 cities. Kazakhstani invited us to their homes, there were meetings with students. I was looking for heroes on social networks. Also, many people started recommending people they wanted to hear about. Plus, our embassy really helped a lot, especially in connecting to aksakal (an old respected man) and an adopted boy. When we reached Kazakhstan, the movie “Kazakh People in the UK” was released. It’s about 7 characters: the architect who is projecting stadium of World Cup 2022 in Qatar, the girl with infantile cerebral palsy, the adopted boy, aksakal, human rights fighter, the family of musicians’ and chemist. The movie got a good reaction in social networks. It was mentioned in serious media. One of our national channels asked to transmit it and the whole 2018 they are periodically showing it.

After that, there was a project when I went alone to Europe in autumn last year, where I shot a movie called “European stories”. It’s about 4 Kazakhstani in Zurich, Prague, and Vienne. Then I got an idea to write about Kazakhstani in China. There was a support from several organizations, airline and our embassy. I took one assistant-photographer, but this time the requirements were a little stricter. It was May-June of this year. We traveled from north to south from Beijing to Macau. This time it was about 7 people. The movie about the first character is already available online. The other part about the rest of the people is going to launch soon.

What challenges you faced in your trip?

I had some bruises on my body and once I injured my left leg and I couldn’t bend it, so I had to cycle only with the right leg for 40 km till the next city. Many random people helped me during my trip. When the wheel poked out, there was an old man passing by. He asked questions and invited me home. He was principal of the school and that was really cool.

What have you learnt from your trips to Iran, China?

In 2018 I had two big goals: to visit Iran and China. Two of the countries are closed and really different from the rest of the world. I have been in Iran in March, where I celebrated my birthday and Nauryz. It is a really nice country, which made my top 3 countries list for its really warm culture, people. 

  • There are always kind people who can help you. While traveling you should be open to people and what’s happening around you. Rely on the road and it will lead you to something good. Professional travelers often write the “Road” with the capital letter, because it always has its own plans for you. No matter how good you plan your trip, it will always be in its own way, cause you can not plan people. I really love the quotes “A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles” or “Traveling changes you”.
  • Everything comes in comparison. Absolutely everything. 

The main thing is not to be afraid. Don’t be afraid to plan your trip by yourself. Not a fact that it is going to be cheaper, but it will definitely worth it. 

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