Monday, August 19, 2013

Nothing

Kazakhstan is an endless desert. It's full moon, we can see our shadows clearly. The border just closed just behind our backs again and the road is empty. There is no point in hitchhiking obviously. We are going to sleep. A few trucks are parking there, Ilona tries to speak to one but without success. He doesn't speak a word of russian. But he understands turkish, wait a minute, he is turkish. That means dinner! So cool, we barely touched our food reserves!
But it's necessary too, we have to regain the twenty dollars we lost to that stupid turkmen driver. That means not buying anything for five days.
Dinner aside, the trucks are going to Kygrystan! One through Almaty and the second one directly, or as directly as you can go through Kazakhstan which means a 1000 kilometer longer ride than it would be if there was a normal road system.
He goes through Aktau, Benyeu then Atyrau, Oral and Aktobe. From there he goes south towards Taraz and finally Bishkek.
I negociate a ride to Aktau au first because I want to be polite and then extend it to Benyeu. I think he and his friend are prepared to take us all the way but we just cannot ask them as much.
Later, we will be glad we didn't secure our way all the way to Kyrgystan. Now they are talking about a 6-day ride, 7 days at most. We are 19/08 at night, with our fast ride through Turkmenistan we have a whole 10 days, that is more than enough.
We go to sleep with the quiet impression of having crossed the terrible Turkmenistan against all odds and having a secure life ahead of us again.
"Kazakhstan gives me a warm impression," Ilona says.
Next day, we wake up at 8:30 and eat breakfest. Our turkish truck driver has chocolate cream; it's amazing, we can't get enough of it. We are travellers again, hunting for rides and for food.
At least the rides are a safe thing.
Safe yes, fast is another story. We are getting aquainted with the Kazakh roads. 5 km/hour, 10 km/h top speed. The truck is shaking at each bump. It's funny at first but quickly it becomes tiring after a while. It becomes downright concerning when after an hour we are barely ten kilometers from the border. But why are we surprised, that is what 10km/h means. That also means 10 hours for 100 kilometers and not enough time to cover the 3000 kilometers of kazakhstan.
Today we won't get to Benyeu, the intersection where many cars drive from Uzbekistan. The road is horrible, when there is asphalt on it it's even worse than when it's just dust. Asphalt just create more bumps. Stupid soviet roads. After 6 hours of having our asses shaken by the bad road, after 6 hours of eating dust our nerves are in a very bad state. We can't sleep, we can't write, it shakes to much. We can't talk otherwise we'll eat dust. We can't do anything. This is torture. And we know that this will continue for hours and hours.
I am lying on the bed in the truck, I am more comfortable than Ilona. She is sitting on the seat and her back is hurting now. 5 km/h now, we have slowed down. Our truck driver is also getting desperate. He wasn't expecting this. He is cursing in Turkish. We don't talk, everyone is tired.
Before this trip, I have had sleepless nights from nightmares about Kazakhstan. I have expected us to die in many ways from being thrown into the desert without water to be eaten by hungry wolves. I have never expected us to die out of boredom. This is psychologically very hard. Both me and Ilona are on the verge of exploding but what can we do. We can scream out of despair but what good will it do? You will never experience true boredom until you ride in a truck in south-west Kazakhstan. And believe me, pure boredom sucks.
We stop for lunch at a restaurant. We don't have Tenge, the Kazakh money so we ask if they take dollars. They don't. If we have a six day ride chances are the drivers will not pay for everything.
"You cannot pay?", says the lady from the restaurant, "Come on and eat for free!"
So we have lunch and it is delicious. We eat some miniature georgian xinkhali and a Kazakh version of the thing we got in Turkmenistan from the couple who rode us to Turkmenbashi.
We ride 5 hours more without anything happening and we go to sleep. We are exhausted. Too much boredom is so tiring. We both feel like shit. We just want to jump forward in time. Sleep. Our truck driver says one of us can sleep inside. It's tempting, the bed is soft and the ground hard.
So I make a mistake and I let Ilona sleep inside. Of course she is a grown up and she is responsible for her own decisions but it is my duty as her travel companion to advise her as much as it is in my power. I didn't do that.
Nothing happenned really, but it was a close call. Ilona handleled the situation perfectly and everything was fine. Next time, we'll be smarter.
The next day it's even worse. The road still sucks, there are patches of new asphalt which last for two kilometers and then the road gets even worse. Psychologically it's even worse because your hopes just go up and down. With Ilona we fight over anything because our nerves are just ready to burst. We create a list of subject to avoid in order not to get into arguments. But as the truck bounces on this fucked up road the list of subjects grows bigger and bigger.
I have the seat now, it's even more hell than yesterday. For some time now I am trying to convince Ilona to leave the truck drivers and try our luck with someone else. My idea is to part ways in Dossor where a direct road goes to Aktobe. The truck drivers are doing a circle through Oral, this saves us 1000 kilometers. First Ilona doesn't want to. After a while, she agrees and even wants to leave them as soon as Beyneu.
"You are lucky these trucks took you", says another Kazakh hitchhiker (hitchhiking is common here), "Nobody will take you without money here, trust me. The only way to travel for free is with truck drivers and there is no way you'll get to Kyrgizia before the end of your visa. Take a train."
He just convinced me but Ilona jumps into the discussion: "Let's try now!"
There is one car passing. We wave at it. Oh my god it stops. IT STOPS! They are going to Atyrau. 400 kilometers from here. And they are running 60km/h.
"Sadayte na furu!" He is putting us into the truck. There is a lot of space, they use it to transfer sheep. And there starts a hell of a ride, better than russian mountains on disneyland. Everything is shaking as we race through the desert on the back of truck under the sunset.
Pretty effing romantic.