Saturday, August 24, 2013

170 km/h with vodka

We are going around Ouzbekistan because they are too much of an assholes. They want a registration every 3 days. Kazakhstan wants it only once and we are not giving it to them.
This morning, I publish blog posts quietly on the computer besides a sleeping asian beauty. She doesn't wake up until the phone rings. They all sleep on carpets. On their beautiful colorful carpets.
In the morning they bring us 30 kilometers in our direction towards Oral. I call Orianne and ask her to check on Nata. Maybe I am a bit of a control freak but turns out Nata had the same idea and Orianne is already in contact with Nata. Interesting.

We get a lift to Oral. We are close to Russia, people drink vodka in this region, our driver says. We continue towards Aktobe. Nothing stops except an asshole who thinks the picture from cinderella from Disney on Ilona's notebook is sexy. How desperate can you get? He has one of those faces you just want to punch, has stupid sunglasses and spits all the time. After a while Ilona just decides to go away withou giving any reason. It's a good choice.
We try to stop anything that has wheels before that assholes comes here again and continue bothering us.

A truck stops. After the episode with our turkish drivers we prefer not to stop trucks on Kazakh roads. 10 kilometers of bad road can mean an hour more. 100km means end of party.
It's not any truck, this is Europe! I can see Latvia! I forgot how to say hello in latvian but this feels like home. The driver is young, his name is Alex and he is Belarussian. What's the difference, it is Europe! So far away, a bit of home. This is ironic I am calling Belarus home, I've never even set foot there.
But this guy has some aura, he has gone through something in his life. He has children somewhere but doesn't see them, he spends too much time working in Latvia. He gives us the impression that a tragedy of some sort occured in his life but we will never know. What we know is that we feel safe with this guy, safer than in a long time. He doesn't have an organised fridge and cooking tools as the turkish trucks have. But he gives us space and lets us make tea. He has a giant heart. We sleep in a tent tonight,

Today is the day we meet Andrezh. Andrezh, in his own words is the russian son of Kazakh nation. He must be two meters tall, the kind of guy who breaks walls in American films.
He must be sixty but well in shape and is accompained by two younger guys, about our age. They both seem to hold him in the greatest respect, especially the driver. The driver's name is Adlet and he doesn't like us very much. He would want to continue the road without stopping for us but Andrezh's word is veto:
"If we don't help them, who will?"
And in this tiny cosmos we are entering, you don't argue with Andrezh.
Andrezh is a the president of a company which builds roads. No need to say they are of great need in Kazakhstan. He made his business flourish in a spectacular way and earned a lot of money and respect. You could feel the respect in Adlet's way of talking to him. However, Andrezh is one of those leaders who does not abuse his position. His is to attached to the hard life he experienced beforehand to slip out of reality.
The third guy is Talgat. He doesn't have any problem with us, he is kind of funny. He is talkative, as opposed to the silent Adlet and the first reassuring presence I find in the car.
Before we hit the road, we eat and drink. Me and Ilona haven't eaten anything since yesterday evening and even yesterday we have skipped lunch.
The reasons for that is that after being robbed of our 20 dollars by the bus driver in Turkmenistan we have decided not to spend any money in order to keep our average down to 2 euros a day. That goal was achieved yesterday or the day before yesterday but there was still no point in exchanging into Kazakh money because we won't be staying in Kazkhstan that long anyway and our money would turn into useless pieces of paper.
So now we realy completly invitations, our budget is truly zero.

Andrezh serves us vodka. "Bad times are coming", I hear myself thinking but on the other hand I trust my alcohol training in Georgia and Armenia. And I'm sure these Kazakh are no match for them. I notice the bottle, it's merely 40% industrial vodka. Compared to what we were used to drink, this is water. Moreover, asians have this gene that makes them worse at drinking alcohol than us caucasians. They get a headache quicker.
So I play the guy shocked by so much drinking ("oh my god we are not used to that in europe!") but in reality, I am fine.

In a moment, we are on our way. We are in an air-conditioned jeep, Adlet runs it 170 km/h on Kazakh roads. Sometimes, he reaches 180. He is a top class driver, he has reflexes and intuition. Ilona admires his driving skills.
He almost never uses breaks. We are going towards Almaty 2300 kilometers from here. If we stay with this ride, we are finishing the big detour around Uzbekistan and will end up about 30 kilometers from the border with Kyrgyzia.
Most importantly it means that we are sure to cross Kazakhstan before our visa expires.

We stop for lunch. I tell them that I'm writing a blog and I intend to write a book. Andrezh gets serious: "Oh yeah you should write a book. Write about Kazakhstan. Do you need money for that?" No I don't but from now Andrezh gets fond of the idea. He gets my point and why I'm not travelling like a tourist. If I am to write a book, it has to reflect some kind of reality, some kind of emotions, some kind of raw truth and most importantly a fair amount of vodka.

"Davaj Filip 100 gramov vipyom, patom pajdom." (Come on Filip, we'll drink 100 grams and then we go.)
That's the phrase we'll hear over and over again.
The tradition of drinking in Kazakhstan is similar to that in Georgia and Armenia. You say toasts, you drink, you don't have to finish your glass but you have to finish the bottle. There are some small differences in which I won't go into.
When Andrezh talks about 100 grams, it means 100 grams of pure alcohol and that is the dose each person has to drink. Take for example a bottle of 1L of 40% vodka. It weighs about 1000 grams, 400 grams of which are alcohol. That bottle will be drunk by 4 people to achieve the dose of 100g/person which is a reasonable quantity for one meal.
We eat huge portions of meat. Here in Kazakhstan, they eat meat. Full bowls of meat and meat only with some onions in the mix. After meatless Iran, that sounds great. It also helps to calm down the vodka in our stomachs.
Andrezh has trouble getting up sometimes. He got shot in Afganistan by sniper fire. He was there for three months, building a hospital.
Adlet helps him, he doesn't want his help.
"Fuck that, I can get up on my own!"
Andrezh has travelled the whole universe he says and Kazakhstan is a hell of a great country. "Write that in your book!"
He was pretty drunk when we met him but now he's getting it on heavily with the vodka. I am starting to get over my limit too.
"They can be very stupid sometimes", he says, "Sheep can beat some Kazakh at chess. WRITE THAT IN THE BOOK!!", he yells.
He brings more and more portions of meat and vodka to the table. The lovely waitress follows instructions but is thrown off balance a little. We drink the delicious tea with milk and even more vodka.
"Look how well we eat in Kazakhstan, Knigu zapisaj, write that in your book!"
We go. Andrezh is really drunk. "Knigu zapisaj!", write the book! He keeps repeating. And yes, I will write.
"If you don't write that book, we will find you!"
I must smile to that. Probably if I write that book, Andrezh will kill and bury me under a Kazakh road and if I do, Nata might do the same.
I take my place between Ilona and him. He tries to touch Ilona a little, nothing too much off limits but you never know. He is a guy, drunk, limits are quickly crossed if you give too much opportunities.
Andrezh isn't feeling well, he mostly needs human contact now. He tries to get if from Ilona but all he gets is shaking hands. It is I who gets most of the contact. I get touched on knees, kissed on the ear, whatever. But if Andrezh can be anything, he surely is not gay. All he wants is human contact and I know that whatever he does to me is completly void of sexual intention. So it doesn't bother me that much. It would maybe not be the case with Ilona.
"I am done with vodka", he says.
At one point he chockes,it looks bad, we stop the car. He gets back on his feet again.
"Fuck all of you, let's go!", he says. We continue at 170 kilometers an hour. Besides Andrezh being drunk this is the most confortable and fastest ride we could have imagined. Second fastest only to air transport.
Andrezh goes to sleep, he wakes up from time to time.
"Switch places with Ilona!", he says. That way, she'll be next to him. We refuse. No way. Adlet and Talgat look at us with surprise. You don't refuse things to Andrezh. But there is a reason Andrezh is such a respected authority. As the king from the little prince, he tries to give reasonable orders. Orders people can follow. We will not follow this one. He doesn't insist that much.

We continue our journey, we eat in a some local cafés. The food is great each time. The Kazakh sure know how to cook meat. Cow meat, sheep meat, camel meat, horse meat, whatever.
At night, we sleep at his friends house. It's one thing to be invited to our host's place, it's another thing to be invited by our hosts to a totally different place.
"Is there space for us? Because we can build a tent."
"We don't even know if there is space for us," says Andrezh, "maybe we will all sleep in your tent"

Turns out there is space for everyone. We have come to Andrezh's good friend and his family. He is blind and seems very wise. But same story with the vodka.
"Davaj Andrezh, Filip, 100 gramov vipyom, patom paydom."
So we drink again, Andrezh seems to have forgotten his good resolutions about ceasing to drink vodka. We eat also, the food is amazing and lots of it.

We go to sleep on beautiful carpets, they call it "on the street". It's a bed made outside the house, under a net to prevent mosquitoes and where you can sleep under the stars. One of the most romantic places.
And by some miracle I manage to catch some open wifi, get to the internet and update my blog. I get more info about Nata, seems she really thinks about going to Kyrgystan. Let's see what comes of it. I also post some information about Sylvain, my contact in Ashgabat to Ana, the croatian girl who will attempt this path by hitchhiking. It's not easy, she might need the help, I know for a fact that I felt lost in that country.

The next day we wake up with the sun. I didn't sleep much because of surfing the inertnet. But who knows when will I find a connection again?
We eat a wonderful lunch and we continue our path at top speed.

The same rituals repeat, lots of food, lots of vodka. I still manage to keep up but it is getting harder. Andrezh is clearly more russian than Kazakh, at least in terms of alcohol tolerance. Talgat drinks less than us. He says he might have to drive but he never does. We stop to visit a giant mosque. I am not that much into buildings but that one is amazing.

We see camels again, horses, a 4x4 wedding limousine. A bus with all the luggage randomly thrown on the roof. "Oh yeah, Uzbeks going to work", says Andrezh ironically. He is drunk again.
We make it only to Taraz, the border and Almaty is for tomorrow. We try to sleep there at some other friends of Andrezh but a women who looks like a wannabe prostitute (which is positive by my beauty standarts actually) comes out and politly sends us away. So Andrezh books two rooms in a luxury hotel. One for us, one for them. Tonight we sleep in our own hotel room for free, how cool is that!
Before we sleep though, we drink another two rounds of vodka and cognac. It's really getting too much.
We have some internet but I'm too tired to use it, I just sleep. I write something to Nata but I think I am too drunk to make any sense.
Theo writes to us with a solution to get a chinese visa in Bishkek. He tells us that he is safely in Isfahan. Great news. He will be there in six weeks, can we wait for him? I think we can.

We wake up, I didn't sleep enough and we are on our way again. Brunch 150 kilometers from the Kirgiz border. Giant bowl of meat. It's deliscious but I'm starting to have enough of all that meat. What I would really want is vegetables.

"Come on Filip, let's drink 100g and after we go", says Andrezh for the last time. The waiter throws us a despising look, it's 9 in the morning. Andrezh is miles away from caring about how other people feel about him, especially her. He is smart enough though not to make Ilona drink, she just might throw up.
So we drink for the last time.

We are 30 kilometers from the border when he lets us go. Georgian goodbye. Thanks Andrezh. You're a solid guy.
"Knigu zapisay!" (write your book!) He says in a threatening way.
And we are gone.