Crossing Kazakhstan in the new VW Touareg

“Are we nearly there yet?”. A seemingly innocent phrase, yet five words that instantly mutate into verbal kryptonite when spurted from the passenger seat on a long journey. Even so, I can’t help but blurt it out as a sort of ice-breaker. Being just three miles into a tiny stint of an epic 16,000km road trip with someone I only met five minutes ago, this could be a mistake.

I’m riding shotgun through the cold, Soviet tones of early morning Almaty, Kazakhstan. Pinned upright behind the wheel (thanks to some osteopathic foam bolsters) is Rainer Zietlow. Wrapped in a thick layer of Gortex, he’s garnished with a grizzly salt and pepper beard while carrying two weeks’ worth of cross-continent exhaustion under his eyes. Luckily, this isn’t his first five-digit road trip.