Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Ruslan

Ruslan picks us up in the evening. We barely have time to fold our tent.
"Come on, quick before the night falls!"
I am even more tired and I feel sick. But I guess I have no choice; if I want to reover, better do it in a confortable place. Ruslan has a big home with a spare room. Usually he saves it for guests who pay. In this part of Issy-keul lake, tourists are common and every second house is a hotel. Today however the room is free for us to stay as long as we want.
"Let's drink tea," he tells us.
We learn that "let's drink tea" in Kyrghyzstan means let's eat. It's an invitation you cannot refuse because who wouldn't spend a minute for a cup of tea. We will later fall into that trap and end up eating double breakfests, double lunches and double dinners.
After eating dinner, Ruslan guides us to the beach to drink some vodka and welcome us to our new home.
He doesn't like vodka, it's obvious when you look at his face each time he drinks a shot. Chances are he even hates vodka more than us but tradition is tradition. We have to drink at least a glass per person and say toasts.
Ruslan talks a lot but what he has to say is intersting. He tells us about the history of Kyrgycy stan. The country is said to be the only democracy in the region. Not hard to achieve when you compare it with neighbours. Around here we have Nazerbaiev 20 years in power in Kazakhstan, the evil Turkmen dictator and should I really start about the so called People's republic of China?
Like every democracy, Kyrgyzstan has been changing presidents and it hasn't really been lucky with the last two. The first one, has fled somewhere maybe in south america after stripping the country of virtually every resource of finance available. The next one has fled to Belarus after killing a bunch of people and accumulating a fair share of money too. There was a revolution and the current president seems to be less of an asshole if you believe Ruslan's words.
There also was a war with Uzbekistan near Osh because the Uzbeks wanted to create a marihuana route through part of Kyrgyzstan.
"The Uzbeks, they're two-faced liars. They'll hug you with one hand and cut you with the other."
He reckons Kyrgyz people are not that way, they're open and honest. I guess the Uzbeks have a different side of the story but until now he seems to be right about the locals.
I still feel bad and Ilona too. We now have the information about the bubonic pleague spreading through the Karakol region. That includes us. We are under quarantine. And I seriously hope that we didn't catch whatever the media is talking about. On the other hand the media is known to talk nonsense, Iran is the living proof of that. So we're not afraid, not even stressed out. On this trip we have come to accept all things as they come and go.
Our plan is actually to get closer to Karakol to establish a base there. We both miss our appartment in Tehran and since there is little chance we someone would give us his or her house in Kyrgyzstan, we have decided to build something; some kind of rainbow camp.
"We'll wait for Theo, and when he comes it'll be a surprise", Ilona says.
"Yeah and we can light a fire made of marijuana because he's from Holland."
But first, we both have to get better.
Ruslan shows us to our room, he gives us privacy. We have all the space and time we want. It's a cultural trait we had in Kazakhstan but not that much in Iran or Turkey where people often forced their presence on us.
Yurt in Ruslan's garden

We sleep till late, our host respects that.
In the morning we have breakfest with his parents. We tell them our stories. I tell that I'm writing a book. Everyone wants to be in it. I write down names.
Since I don't want to dissapoint Ruslan by sleeping all day (because that is my dearest wish at the time), we go to the lake, I even swim a little. There is a Yurt in RUslan's garden. He also has a horse but we don't get too ride it.
We also find the internet. Bad news on there. The chinese just closed all borders for foreigners. You have to be a Kyrgyz resident or have a one year visa to even try to apply in Bishkek. Same problem in Uzbekistan and Taijikistan and pretty much all the stans. Theo is changing his route, he's going through India. I guess that's the route all tourists are supposed to take. Nobody wants us to make our own improvised itineraries through Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang. Everybody should behave nicely, enter from india and visit Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Ilona has had enough.
"This trip is wonderful but I'm turning back. Sick from all this visa hell!"
It's a hard decision, one I just can't make. And I feel how difficult it is for her. We both have signs of depression. Fucking chinese!
As for me, I have moments of panic. I might end up alone. The idea of Nata joining me was someting I was curious about at first. Now however, it seems more important than ever. If she doesn't come, I'll be alone. I might find someone on the long run but nothing is certain. But I also know such fears will pass.
Ruslan finds us a local sim card. We'll spend a lot of time here so we surely need one. He'll check on us from time to time.
I am getting more and more sick, I'm just waiting to put a tent somewhere quiet and sleep for a year.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

We are so tired

We leave Bishkek in the morning after a good breakfest. I feel tired, so tired altough we have slept in the best possible confort. There was a phone ringing all night so maybe that was it, who knows.

Our friend drives us to a good hitchhiking spot in the direction of Issyk-kul lake. We still don't know the region is experiencing a case of bubonic pleague but even if we know, I guess we wouldn't care. Two Kyrgyz are going straight to the lake, to a village called Tamchy and that is all we asked.

Two rough but happy looking Kyrgyz take it on themselve to aquaint us with the local traditions. One of them has married not so long ago.

"I abducted my wife", he tells us with a peak of pride in his voice

"You mean you asked for her hand, you dated right?"

"Kind of, then I abducted her."

"You mean against her will?"

"It's a tradition. I come ride to her, abduct her, she cries a little and but I hold her down firmly."

Yep, she cries, that was the word, we made it repeat several times. Appearently the long tradition of old nomadic Kyrgyz tribes hasn't evaporated completly. The husband doesn't ride a horse anymore, he comes with a car. He rides towards with beloved beaty and literaly kidnaps her. I figure he might get shot in the process by angry family members, these people don't wear gloves in physical communication. As we will later learn, carrying a gun is common practice and considering to use it on someone who hurts one's pride also.

After abducting his fiancee, he drives her towards his family home where the Babushkas, the grandmothers wait to put the traditional color-bright scarf on the wife-to be.

She will later learn to live with her kidnappers who forced her into the bridal outfit. She will become friends with them and live a happy life. And appearently she will manage it because women don't seem sad here. I can't say I understand the mechanics of the Kyrgyz culture but I wouldn't say women seem to overly suffer on the long run.

"I couldn't look my husband's family in the eye if they had done that to me", says Ilona. I also agree but we postpone judgement. This is still a country we do not understand.

Maybe that is what the Kazakh warned us about when they say Kyrgyzstan is dangerous.

What about the law? Our drivers tell us the law heavily condems this kind of practice but "if they call the police for me, I'll shoot them up like chicken", says the other Kyrgyz.

And I believe it wouldn't be the first time he would hold a rifle and wouldn't hesitate to defend what is, in his mindm rightfully his. From any european perspective you are now imagining us driving us with scary killers. We are not. We are driving with two caring and helpful guys. They reassure Ilona she will not be abducted, she is a tourist. Ilona replies that she will abduct a Kyrgyz guy, he won't know what's happened to him. They laugh, they have a sense of humour. They are start and honest guys, if we do not them any wrong they will not harm us, on the contrary they will do everything to help.

They keep a distance to make us feel safe. They respect our privacy, contrary to what people did in Armenia, Iran or Turkey. They are democrats.

They drive us to a local restaurant, we have to try horse milk, kumus. It tastes weird but allright. Some tourists throw up at the first taste, they say. We don't. The Kyrgyz are satisfied. It would be better if we did. My head starts spinning, I can barely walk. It has been spinning even before but now it's getting worse. Maybe it's the sun, maybe a reaction to the water, maybe the milk. Who knows.

The car races through the mountain roads. Nausea. We stop near the road. From both sides of the road the same plant grows. For meters, kilometers.

"Do you have that in europe?"

"Do you have that in europe?"

I really home Theo from amsterdamland will come to Kyrgyzstan. We could welcome him with a marihuana fire.

Of coursem, it is illegal here as it is in many countries. But it grows so naturally as a weed all around the country that banning marihuana would be like banning clouds from the sky.
We exit the car near the lake. Beatiful. Like sevan like but the mountains there, all 4000 meters. Snow on tops.


"Is this heaven?" Close enough. 

Our friends leave us here and Ilona build a tent. Thank god for her, I can't do a thing. I just pull out a mattress and sleep. Sleep and sleep. We have some bread, some fruit (apples growing everwhere and a watermelon) and enough marihuana for a global anestesia if we wish. But I'm not hungry and I don't want anything. This is as far as my energy can get me. Curtains close.

Crows over our heads

Monday, August 26, 2013

To Kyrgyz without registration

Little do we know that when crossing the border with Kyrgyzstan, a case of plague has appeared near Issyk-Kul lake. Some fifteen year old boy ate some grilled meat and died. A lot of other people are in hospitals. Czech Republic advises all tourists to evacuate the country and when complied to stay there, to avoid the region of Issyk-kul lake, especially the surroundings of Karakol which will be put into quarantaine.
But we know nothing. We cross. Crowds of people are crossing into Kyrgyzstan like sheep. They are compressed like cattle into a formless crowd and are pushing forward. Police is there pushing backwards. I feel like a youghurt on a processing line. And I will be processed.
It will take a little more time to process me than to process a yoghurt because we are entering without registration.
We just didn't have the time and will to registrate at some office with a bunch of byrocrats in a big city. We might even had to pay for it. And we were kind of curious what will these idiots at the border do when we appear there with a soon invalid visa and without registration. They can't keep us otherwise we overstay our visa and they can't send us through because of their stupid byrocracy so what will win?
Children posing near the border
At first we hope they just won't care but they do. They ask for our registration and my russian level suddenly drops to zero. What a shame! A pattern begins to emerge, my language skills dramatically decrease at borders and passport checks. I can barely hold to my english.
Ilona is more stressed out than me on the border. She hoped we would pass without any checks but as we see everyone in the crowd holding their registration she is starting to doubt it. I am not afraid because I live in a country which breeds the most stubborn and annoying byrocrats the universe will ever know and no Kazakh, especially not this one in the passport control window will ever match the french.
"Davayte regystracyu"
"whaat?"
"Where your registration?"
"Whaat?"
"This thing." He shows me the same piece of paper the border guy gave us when entering Kazakhstan.
"We don't have. It's been less than a week"
"The limit 5 days. You must registration"
I'm amazed by his english by the way and yeah, I know it's 5 days but what can you do. Just let us through please. He sends us with our passports to some office where more happily looking officials explain to us that we should have registered but OK, it's not the end of the world, they'll let us through.
We go back to the passport byrocrat. We pass the message from the other officials but he says no way: you are not getting through without registration.
He makes us wait with our passports, he takes them, processes lots of people in front of us just to test our patience. But this game is a poor demonstration of a limited power. Had we been in france we would have been sent home or at least to the capital with a big fine and an obligation to register in the following two days or so.
After a while of not losing patience the evil byrocrat lets us through. We proceed to the Kyrgyz side where we are processed in two minutes. No visa needed, welcome to Kyrgyzstan.
border, kyrgyz side, a big mess
The sun is shining, it is burning.We are so tired. We want to stop but what can we do. We have nothing. No money, no food, just a little water. My head is spinning I don't know why. Ilona is feeling down too.
"Let's put a tent somewhere and sleep"
But there is no way to go, civilisation everywhere. It's not the endless steppes of Kazakhstan anymore. And the Kazakh have warned us: hide your tent, Kyrgyzstan is dangerous.
We get a ride to Bishkek, an entrepreneur who started from nothing and built a sewing company. You know the clothes that you wear and that are massivly imported from Asia? That's him. Two years ago he made his first investment and now he has about 40 machine and the same number of workers.
We felt like guest reviewers in a classroom when he opened the door for us and we saw the benches. Women are sitting there and sewing, sewing adidas sportswear.
Sewing adidas sportswear
Obviously you cannot afford such working force in europe but here is cheap.
 Our host seems a good kind of guy, his employees like him. He still has feet on the ground, he repairs broken machines, everything is well organised nothing goes to waste.
Children playing in the sewing atelier
At night, he brings us to his place, to his family. His wife seems to be a little taken aback, she doesn't want strangers in the house maybe. The children are really welcoming to us though. There are two babies and our host's brother. He is 14 and really likes us. He shows us gagnam style, kyrgyz version.
First time in Kygryzstan, nobody will kill us. We sleep comfortably but what will happen tomorrow. This is the end of the pathof deadly trinity. We are to stay two month here. There is no further direction. What will we do, what will we do? We have arrived to an intermediary destination, safe and sound but we are lost. I start feeling a little sick.

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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

This is Kazakhstan

We race through the night under the stars. Everything is shaking. There is a stink of sheep under us. We lose our truck drivers, out of sight. In about 30 kilometers a paved roads starts. It will continue all the way to Benyeu.
the cars speed up to 90km/h. The sensation is unbelivable. We are flying under the full moon.
In the city they separated us into two cars. I am a little suspiscious but Ilona is allright. She comfirms she's allright. Ok then; I hope this isn't a second mistake.
Our drivers are all tough guys. They carry a gun in case they're attacked because they also carry money. Each of them is fluent in martial arts. Seriously, don't fuck with the Kazakh, don't try to manipulate them. These people eat a russian for lunch and an armenian for dinner. Don't be confused by the slanty eyes, these guys aren't obediant chinese.
They like to make jokes, to test us. You have to keep a face. As we saw on the border, the Kazakh have a very well developped sense of humour. They don't offer anything as turkish, armenians, even georgians, they wait for us to be prepared to pay for it. They expect a fair behaviour. Then they give.
This way, they invite us for lunch. No need for unnecessary politeness: "If I don't want to invite you then I wouldn't help you. So be quiet and eat"
When a Kazakh says "be quiet", it means be quiet. It doesn't mean more or less. It isn't an attack. They tell what they think. Briefly and directly.
They ask us smart questions. Why are we doing this, what is our goal. They nod on the reply, it makes sense to them. They will help us.
I think they like us.
"Why are you just sitting there? Take a photo of that camel! Do you have camels in your country? No. So take a photo of that camel!"
This way of communicating without any packaging throws you off balance sometimes. But we learn. You have to be strong, give in to reasonable demands, reject the unreasonable ones. It works the other way around. They expect to be hospitalable to us but we are expected to say what we need. If we can't express ourselves then to hell with us, they don't read minds.
At nightfall, we slept in a a village more than 100km after Benyeu. So fast. We slept in a tent in front of the house.
"What the fuck do you think do you think you are doing here?", says the house owner. He is joking of course, testing us, but for a time, I could hear myself breathe.
We got water because we asked for water, we got breakfest because we asked for tea. We didn't get a shower because we didn't ask and our newly found frinds were amazed what pigs we are not to ask for a shower when there is one inside.
The tea is amazing. It's a new kind of tea. They pour cold milk in a bowl, they complete it with tea and then pour boiling water inside. It is delicious. I can't get enough of it which is fortunate because they drink it over and over.
We start to connect with our newly found Kazakh. They are running a sheep business. They breed them in Atyrau and sell them in Aktau. They are a big happy family, tough as hell but smily faces. The youngest one is 21 years old and knows how to say "je t'aime" in french. In Kazakhstan me and Ilona are brother and sister, it makes us laugh. And it's not far from the truth as I said earlier.
I can't feel completely confortable with them. Something about them is dangerous, something throws me off balance. I kind of have trust in them though. Maybe I just feel too soft compared to these people.
Yermo is asking why I didn't sleep with any georgian girls. He also asked about how do we make sex in europe. He just tries to test us, he's a sweet guy otherwise.
He brings us to Dossor where a small but direct road goes directly to Aktobe without taking a huge detour through Oral.
If we catch a car there, he says, we'll be there extremely quick. we also get some food for the road. It's some delicious potato fried tingys. We eat all of them for lunch. We hitchhike about 20 kilometers in the direction of Aktobe but then the roads gets awful and empty. Plus, people are warning us about this region, not to stay at night. Ilona is getting a little upset, I don't know why. She gets this ironic smile indicating that any minute she will explode. And of course "nothing's wrong".
I get the path of deadly trinity is psychologically hard, I just hope we will make it.
We decide to turn around, we hitchhike back. The guy goes directly to Atyrau. He says that here, everybody belongs to a mafia. When I ask him what mafia he belongs to, he just laughs. He says if they catch a guy, they might rob you and beat you. A girl is safe. They have some ethics. If I travel wtth a girl, I should be safe. The amount of should probably depends on the amount of vodka these people drink. But against all stereotypes we haven't seen too much alcohol in Kazakhstan. Not a drop actually.
From Atyrau we get several more lifts towards Oral. A lot of people warn us to leave this region: Bandits, kidnappings, whatever.
A family going in the opposite direction stops for us two times. They beg us not to sleep outside, to ask someone to put a tent in their garden. They go and find us a cardboard with the city Oral written on it: "This might help you but please, whatever you do, don't stay outside at night".
The desert looks peaceful, I don't know where the danger comes from. But we've got so many warnings that something must be true.
We decide that if we sleep there, we'll walk as far in the desert as we can until we're hidden by the horizon. Cobras and scorpions are less dangerous than people.
Sagindik, a father in his fifties turned around to pick us up. He's calm, kind, with a sense of humour and you feel the Kazakh direct way of communication. No bullshit. Even though he is in his fifties, we don't feel the generation gap. We talk a lot, in russian, I feel like we are having a connection, I trust that guy.
"Do you need a shower?" he asks.
This could sound offensive in a lot of different situation but our answer is clear and without artifice: Yes!
Our skin is greasy and full of dust, we still smell of sheep and my fingers are dried to the bone. He drives us to a river. It's beautiful. It's reall wide yet not deep. I can almost cross from one side to the other without losing ground.
Ilona slowly goes into the water. She has this expression on her face, ready to burst.
"So far so good but if we talk about it, yeah, I'll explode"
Ok, I'm letting that go. Maybe this is about Armenia again, maybe she wants to return there. Or maybe, after 3 months, I have started to annoy her. Time will tell.
Sagindik takes us home to eat something. Oh my gosh the food is delicious! We eat horse for the first time! Yeah here people eat horse meat and whatever it's so good, Ilona is a little taken aback but I am too busy eating to think about what I'm eating. Butter also is amazing, I eat it like cream, loads of it. And a million other things I have never seen before. I want to eat them all!!!
And tea, oh my god their tea is great, I won't survive in europe, I have to keep making it when I return home. Kazakh tea with milk.
The family is composed of Sarabanu, his wife, a teacher of Kazakh literature.
"Do you know some interesting Kazakh authors?"
"Yeah, Nazerbaiev"
"Your president? Really? Did he write something of note?"
"Yeah. The constitution."
When I tell you the Kazakh have a sense of humour. They reckon it's a democracy though. Nobody bothers you in these endless steppes.
We meet Shamara, the mother. She doesn't like me much but she likes Ilona. He has a son and a daugter. She is as beautiful as it is possible for a woman to be. She is Nata, style, asian version, slightly more photogenic, borderline perfection.
She doesn't talk much. She is a doctor, an epidemologist. Sounds wicked. Their son is 4 years old, he doesn't talk. Sometimes he speaks words of english. It is very strange, the parents are helpless, no one knows what happened and what to do.
Shamara sees my friendship bracelets, I have five of them now. She asks me if I am some kind of shaman, maybe I can do something. This reminds me of Alexandra David-NĂ©el who used this lie tons of times to get to Tibet. But no, I am not a shaman, sorry, just friendship bracelets. Pretty powerful ones I might add but still.
Ilona says he probably has Autism. It can be diagnosed at 2 years of ages but where can you find a competent person to handle it in the steppes of west Kazakhstan?
"He lives in another world". Babushka isn't shoked or anything, she accepts it quietly and with pride. She is a proud woman.
Sagindik takes us to the lake. He reckons we must see it and he is right, he is so right. I have rarely seen something so beautiful. Crystal clear water with crystals of salt converging into the endless and calm surface of the salt lake. The sunset reflects on the water in a slightly orange shade. Orange, that sounds familiar and for the first time I really miss Nata. I kind of wish she could see this.
Lake with sunset

I wonder what she's doing, what is she feeling. It's so strange to wonder about other people's states of mind, it's so far from our imagination. I wonder what Orianne is doing. I wonder how is Claire, I wonder how Pedro is organising his trip to Iceland. This lake takes me far away.
Soon, we return. We have a room, we have our privacy. The Kazakh don't force us into ridiculous room separations because we are of different genders like it is in Armenia. And we take a shower! Actually they don't have a shower, they have a sauna. This is such a luxury. We are desperate for a shower and we get all this. First time I see a sauna!
Ilona plays the traditional guitar a little. Shamaran, the grandmother who doesn't like me says: "what are you doing just sitting there, don't you see how wonderfully Ilona plays? Take a picture!"
So I take pictures of her and of Ayem too. Then, by a miracle, Sagindik says he has internet. This is our first aquaintance with uncensored internet since Armenia. It feels weird but it is more than necessary. I have a ton of blog posts to add, I write them on the way into my computer, waiting for the ever rare wifi.
Weird thing I just thought about Nata, she has written to me and what she writes doesn't reassure me. She will attempt something very difficult, at least in the first few days. Actually maybe she has already started. She is one of the most resourceful person I know, nevertheless; I have the same impression as if she had left me climb Damavand. But I don't think I could have done anything in this case, it is beyond my control. Whatever people say or have said about Nata, she is brave. I think this trip isn't one incredible story, it is a web of incredible stories and we are just one of them. So god speed Nata, I really bealieve in you.
By the way, Kazakhstan radio is tune to frequency number 15.

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.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

48 hours of Turkmenistan

We wake up at six, Ilona almost didn't sleep beacause of mosquitoes. But we are alive and we are not discovered. I am glad for this. Today is going to be hard. The border guy told us to reach the border in three days although our visa says five.
We also have to sleep in a particular hotel in Asgabat otherwise we'll have problems with police. By sleeping in this dump we just broke this one rule.
Getting to the border the day after tomorrow seems easy by bus and taxi by paying an insane amount of money but it's a real challenge by hitchhiking.
Maybe they'll forget about this 3 day rule and they'll really give us five days as they wrote on the visa and maybe they'll also forget about that hotel. Let's hope.
Anyway if we have to make it in time, we have to reach Balkanabat or at least Berket tonight. Turkmenbasi would be a miracle. Maybe we'll have to hitchhike at night.
So at six we walk. The road is good, I am surprised. I thought it would be awful, unpaved and all. This is a highway. It's empty but it's new and well maitained. A car passes. We are afraid to hitchhike, we are afraid to be seen, we are afraid of everything because we could be reported to the police and everything is forbidden here. Or at least that is what we understand from what the border guards told us.
The only thing that is allowed and expected from us is to race likes crazies towards the Turkmen border, sleep in hotels and take taxis.
Anyway, we have to start hitchhiking at some point, we cannot cross 700 kilometers by foot so as Gazelle says, "don't think about it, just do it!". Without this saying we would never had the guts to cross Turkmenistan.

"These people are so distant, we can forget about invitations here", says Ilona.
I can't believe that because I have read that book about two czech people who have cycled through Turkmenistan and were also invited. But it was twenty years ago and today it seems that Ilona is right.
Ashgabat,futuristic view

But hitchhiking works. The guy seems sad and bored, he doesn't talk much. Actually, the correct word would be: depressed. He is a taxi but takes us for free. He is going to Asgabat and lets us out at a roundabout in the directions of Abadan, our next city. I start to talk in turkish but he speaks russian, that makes everything much easier. No huge language barrier like in Iran.
People are also starting to have slightly slanty eyes here. This is weird. It's like we have taken one small step towards china. There is a huge difference between chinese and turkmen. Turkmen have a darker skin, like turks but their eyes are slantier than turks or europeans. Just a little bit. The eyes of chinese people are much slantier. I didn't think there were levels of slantiness but then again not many people have seen turkmenistan.

Back to our taxi driver, he lets us out in the south of Asgabat. Shock. This can't be real. Countless shiny white buildings clean as newly washed porcelaine. Everything is new and the weird architecture of Asgabat makes it possible to see a maximum number of constructions for afar. When the buildings are not similar they still seem to respect some kind of pattern, as if they belong to the same family.
All buildings look the same


If I wasn't sure this was reality I would have thought to be in a video game.
I haven't seen anything like it, the closest city in my memory to the asceptiscised Asgabat is Singapore. But there were people in singapore. Asgabat is empty. A huge shining new ghost city. It looks like it has been computer generated. How can people live in that? This doesn't make sense to human mind. It's not ugly, it's not pretty, it is disturbing. Maybe it is also beautiful in a weird sense of beauty.
It seems to be a great cosmic joke.

Since there are so few cars we decide to hitchhike inside the city. It works and it works very well. We go to the center and then on the road leading to Abadan. Nobody has reported us to the police (for doing what? no idea but everything can happen here) and the police doesn't seem to care much when they see us. This is fortunate because there is police everywhere.
KGB police entrance

We make it out of the city quite easily. The road is still awesome, I am starting to think these rumours about bad roads in turkmenistan were just propaganda like the stuff about Iran. We hitch several rides, each for only a few kilometers. Hitchhiking is pretty straightforward, people stop, we explain taht we have no money, they usually speak russian, everything goes well. Sometimes they refuse to take us without money but usually the second car stops. The only downside is the heat which is getting worse whith every kilometer and also we are only getting 10 kilometer rides.
After a while we are running out of water and Ilona is exhausted. We are merely 80 kilometers outside of Ashgabat.
"So much work for so little?", she says

Turkmen woman with baby also hitchhiking.
However, she probable will pay for transport.

I am still fine with it, it's merely noon and I hope that we reach Bereket if we hitchhike into the night. Ilona hopes for Turkmenbashi but I think it is too optimistic.
We are starting to get a little insight into this big unknown that is Turkmenistan. As always the information you get in europe is scarce and usually biased. Yes it's a dictatorship, second only to Norh Korea, I really can't say. People don't seem scared anymore as the women from the border. Most of them aren't interested in politics and don't really care and therefore don't judge the ways and means of their leader. However, they appreciate the results. "A few years ago, Turkmenistan was a country of criminal and drug traffickers. Our president put a stop to this."
The roaads are also improving. The awful unpaved roads which were here during the soviet union are turning into huge uniform pathways, flat and clean as glass.
Same with buildings, new ones are emerging, all white and shiny.The same way us europeans are proud of our old historic monuments, here they take pride from everything that is new. We make compliments about their nature, they are not receptive: "We have many new buildings, go look at them!"
Each time we go somewhere, people point us to new buildings. It is a sign of development.

Even though hitchhiking goes well, people here are definitly more distant than in Iran. Not much physical contact, almost like in europe. And they just don't see any point of doing what we are doing. We try to explain for a long time that we are hitchhiking to be in contact with people, that we like not knowing what will happen tomorrow, that we want to see how far we can get only be relying on the kindness of people.

"This still doesn't make any sense to you, does it?", says Ilona after some time of explaining
"Honestly... No", says our driver, "but hey, do whatever you want!"

Turkmen family
Our driver is a young guy who speaks english. He has taken us into his car in Bamy. He and his girlfriend are going all the way to Turkmenbashi. This is at least 500 kilometers! We are now 150km from Ashgabat and this will take us about 200 kilometers towards the Kazakh border, this is a miracle!
Maybe Gazelle's prayers worked! I am starting to think we might get to that border in 3 days and tell them that we were so fast we didn't even have to time to get to that stupid hotel we were supposed to sleep in.

We are picked up by Ruslan


The guy's name is Ruslan and he works at an oil company here in Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has a lot of oil rigs, so many that each citizen gets about 1000 liters of free gaz each year. Electricity is also free and so is tap water. No wonder a lot of people don't want to overthrow the dictatorship. Actually most people don't consider it to be a dictatorship. On a personal scale, you can do whatever you want. You can drink, you can go a club.
Kat, Ruslan's girlfriend is of Armenian origin. She can dress normally, actually she dresses in a more liberated way than most girls in France.
"There are clubs but you can only go there if you're a foreigner", she says to Ilona.
This makes me think that some people don't want to tell the whole truth because it could damage the reputation of the country. This is understanable. On one hand, Turkmenistan has a lot of features of a dictatorship, on the other hand the media likes to take those features and put all the focus on them, discarding all the rest.
Ruslan and his girlfriend and me

I am starting to wonder wheather this leader, despite being quite full of himself, wasn't such a bad choice after all. Some authoritative regimes tent to push some countries forward, at great costs yes, but still. I wonder if the current situation with Turkmenistan couldn't be compared in some aspects to the situation in Turkey when Ataturk was in power. Nevertheless, there are insanely big differences between Ataturk and this clown, nobody could deny that.

Anyway, we are starting to realize that we have misdjudged Turkmenistan at the border and the situation is obviously more subtle than we thought.
Ruslan points out that while you have to be extremely lucky and have connections to get a good job in this country, nobody actually dies of hunger or is homeless. Society just takes care of you somehow. I just hope that somehow doesn't include summary execution.

After sleeping in a dried river in the desert, even I stopped believing in Turkmen hospitality. And believe, it takes a lot for me to lose hope in hospitality. And since we almost didn't take any food because we hurried too much from the moment we left Tehran (and there was nothing there) and also no money, we were more or less prepared not to eat anything in the following several days. Plus, our water was running low and digestion consumes too much water anyway.

Little did we know that our cute little couple would invite us to eat a Turkmen speciality. I have forgotten the name but it wwas so great, there was meat in it, something like georgian Khacha-purin but with meat instead of cheese.

19:00 hours, we arrive in Turkmenbashi. An hour and a half before nightfall, that is unbelivable. The couple gives us two bottles of water and we get another one for free at a local luxurious restaurant. Our stay in Turkmenistan is turning into a quest for water. The worst desert is yet to come as we will enter the 200 kilometer emptyness between Turkmenbashi and the Kazakh border.



Caspien sea in Turkmenbashi
My map shows a very small, almost imperceptible raod going through there. It will take forever, if there even is a road. But I will never know until I get there, I wouldn't have found a better map anyway. my electronic map is about the best you can get.

Some children beg us for money.
Seriously? I don't think that we look like tourists at that point. My pants have a big hole on my knee because of the awful night we spent yesterday. We just asked someone to give us water. Do you really think we have money just because we're strangers?

We walk in Turkmenbashi, in the direction of Kazakhstan. We have a lot of way to cover, better start as soon as possible. On our way, Ilona takes a heavy watermelon from the trash.

"It's a little too ripe from the inside but if you eat only the corners that should do it." So we carry the heavy watermelon. A car stops. "Do you need a taxi?", he speaks english.
Everybody always tells me to discard the taxis but I like to give a chance to people. I ask him if he's going and he tells me that he can bring us two or three kilometers towards the road to Kazakhstan. That sounds good to me so we go.

Slam is a fireman and is going to work tonight. His good friend he met in the army is driving him.
"It's not every day that we meet tourists here.", he says.

They show us a part of turkmenbashi that looks very different. It's like being in Ashgabat again but with more people. An enormous fountain is shooting giant geysers of water towards the sky under a shining moon. This is amazing. I am not sensitive to tourist attractions but this is truly amazing. Light works are shining into the water while the music of "mission impossible" plays.


Fountain in Turkmenbashi

Dadesh, Slam's friend, invites us home. He lives with his parents in a nearby village. Take that stupid Turkmen authorities! You're giving us tranzit to get the hell out of your country in order to see and hear nothing, in order to stay away from the local population, sleep in hotels you choose for us and only see what you want us to see.
Well that is a fail, we are doing the exact opposite.

Dadesh is a great guy, he has a sense of humour and makes videos with his friends. His acting skills are not bad actually. Some of the videos are quite funny. He got married not so long ago and yesterday his wife gave birth to a child.
Dadesh has such a beautiful wife, you cannot imagine. She has dark long hair only asian women can have and eyes just slanty enough to have this beautiful asian charm but wide enough that you can see them shining. She's so beautiful in every aspect that you wonder how such a subtle combination of aestethic is even possible. And she isn't the only one so blessed. Forget georgian girls, go get them in Turkmenistan! Unfortunately, you'll have to pay the heavy price of living in a dictatorship. The only spot on the otherwise spotlessly perfect beauty that is Dadesh's wife was her name: Ogurlgul.
What the fuck? What were her parents thinking? How can you give birth to such a divine creature and then name her Orgulgul? I would understand if she was a goblin or a mutant cobra but in this case? Come on just call her Vanessa and be done with it!

Unfortunately Vanessa (forgive me, I just can't call her by her real name, it would be a sin) wasn't there so we made a video for her. Actually I made a video because Ilona was to shy to appear on camera. Ilona wrote her a note instead.

We ate an amazing dinner. Oh my god that was good. I can't believe we were prepared to be hungry for two days. The exact opposite happened. We drank milk from camels, there are plenty around. Amazing taste! And turkmen bread, best ever.

Dadesh

And last but not least, we slept in a safe place, our beds made out colorful hand made turkmen carpets. They might kill us in this weird country but maybe we are in heaven already.
According to Dadesh, it is not that bad. He reckons this country is a democracy. He can do whatever he wants, he doesn't fear to get into trouble. The streets are safe and that is also important. I, for one, can't say that I feel safer in the streets of Rennes in my home country.
Dadesh's opinion bears weight. He is smart, he has a sense of humour and therefore is able of criticism. This country is more complicated that is seems at first glance.

The next morning, we have an amazing breakfest. The tea is really great, they drink it from bowls. First they pour it into a first bowl with some tea leaves compressed into small balls. You are then supposed to pour the first bowl into a second bowl to get rid of the impurities.

He then buys us bread and chocolate for the road. We also get lots of candies. He drives us to the spot where the only road into Kazakhstan starts. As most roads in the desert, as most roads leading to borders, as most roads in Turkmenistan, this one is empty. Empty, empty, empty.

He films us as we walk away. Thank you Dadesh, you have changed our experience of Turkmenistan. Farewell!

Emptyness towards Kazakhstan

We hitchhike a small truck towards the closest police control. There are very usual in this region because of multiple oil sources. There are about three small villages in the 200 kilometers between turkmenbashi and the Kazakh border, each of them has an oil source. We see the fires burning.

Not many cars on the road and they are getting fewer and fewer as we approach Kazakhstan. The road, which was very good at the beginning is in a poor state now. But it is still paved, that's more than I expected.
We've got one 100 kilometer ride from a Turkmen guy who would like to live in russia. He doesn't speak the local language and complains of racism towards foreigners. He says it's hard to live here but when I ask him what he thinks about how the country is ran, he says he isn't interested in politics. That makes sense, a lot of people from the former soviet union reason like this, including myself.

Our next ride are two guys who wanted money but finally took us for free. They ask if we know some self defence before we enter Kazakhstan. Lucky for us, Ilona is a kickboxer.

Passport control again, I lost count of the checks. Where are you from? The police guy writes our names into a big log book. No computers. I say Czechoslovakia because it's too tiring to explain what Czech republic is. So we're oficially registered as from Czechoslovakia, a country that doesn't exist for more than 20 years.

The landscape is dry and desertic. Salt planes appear because of the dried out caspian sea. I see sea shells in the desert. There was sea before and now there is nothing. The sun is shining like crazy. No cars. We are still carrying a good supply of water and the huge watermellon. i would love to throw it away but Ilona wants to keep it."It's not that bad,", she says, "just cut the central parts and throw them out,we can eat the rest".

We make it to a lonely shelter next to the road. Misha is living there. He is Azerbaidjani, he is here all the time. All alone all day; day after day. Sometimes truck drivers on the way to the Kazakh border stop by and by some food and water for the road. We have no money so he offers us tea. Tea is excellent. He makes tea for us again and again.
He's very kind, he helps us finding a car. But almost no one drives by for hours and hours. The border closes at 7 he says, we still have a little time. He tries to negociate with cars to take us but they are all full. Most of them are jeeps who drive people all the way to Aktau for probably a huge sum of money.

The other cars are going to the lake, 16 kilometers from here. They are building something there and there is probably nothing there, nothing but the desert. We are much better of with Misha who is good to us, makes us tea and has electricity.
He says there are cobras in the desert, to be careful. That is ironic onsidering the picture on my left shoulder.
After more than 4 hours, me and Ilona are bored. We have decided not to drink water anymore but to eat the watermelon instead. It is so huge and e just cannot finish it. We organise competitions of watermelon crust throwing.
Ilona tries to convince Misha to also eat our watermelon from the garbage. Misha refuses politely.

He makes us more tea. "We will drink your tea if you eat our watermelon", jokes Ilona. So poor Misha who was kind enough to make us wonerful tea ended up eating watermelon from the garbage with us.
"We'll drink your tea if you eat our watermellon," Ilona says


At last, he stopped a minibus. It was empty. I didn't have much hope but the bus driver was smiling: "Misha! He's an old friend of mine! Of course I'll drive you for free!"

We race towards the border at 60 km/h. You might think this is slow but actually, it was a crazy ride. In about 5 kilometers the very bad road stopped being a road at all and we were racing through the desert like Paris-Darar riders with dust everywhere. Up, down, to the side, the old minibus almost burst into pieces a dozen times. I was sitting in front so I was quite allright but Ilona was having a hard time at the back.


There was a shoe under some seat. For a while she thought it was a part of a dead body. Weird how strange things may seem possible sometimes. It was just a shoe. Our crazy ride stops at the border. I have hidden some of my stuff that may seem suspiscious to Turkmen authorities. Like SD cards, I heards they mght ccheck them or my pepper spray and especially my GPS beacon.

At the border, we have to declare our stuff. How much do your bags weight? Do you have any religious books? No. That's a lie, Ilona has a bible. Do you have high frequency transmitters? Nope. That's also a lie, my two GPS beacons fall right into that category. They decide to check our bags. Shit.
That's when the sight of the border official slowly turns towards our watermellon. We still have a good half of it and if you ask me, the thing is starting to rot from the inside. It's dripping its disgusting juice on the floor and flies are flying around it like crazies, as it was a piece of crap.
"Just take that thing and go", says the border official. He doesn't want to find another abomination like this inside our bags and he is right to do so, my socks aren't very far.

We have almost crossed. Ilona is in a very happy mood, she laughs all the time. She also wants to pee but I guess that makes he laugh too. I am stressed out, the only think I can think of is if they are going to bother us beause we didn't go to that hotel in Ashgabat like we told them.
"What do you think they'll do? They just want us out of the country, the worst thing that can happen is that we'll get banned from Turkmenistan." I know she's right but I am not able to get into a happy mood just yet.
"Regulate your russian!", I tell her, "we still can use our lack of language skills for our benefit"
"Don't smile too much", "don't talk too much", "don't talk about politics!" I am so annoying.

At last, they find a border guard who speaks english.
"Where are you from?", eternal question, "And are you married?"
"Czechoslovakia and No"
"Are you family?"
"No"
"Why?"
"Because...", says Ilona with a brilliant smile, "we were born in different families"
And she bursts into laughter. I think my heart is gonna explode, don't fucking make fun of turkmen officials in a dictatorial regime! Come on are you high?
Nope, and everything works fine. We transport our half of dripping watermelon accross the rest of Turken border and cross to the Kazakh side.
The idiotic picture of their leader says goodbye to us one last time.
When turning back towards Turkmenistan, the Kazakh border writes in big blue letters: "Good Luck". I wouldn't have written anything less.
But this is good, that means Kazakhstan has a sense of humour. Maybe I should say the same about my french phone operator who writes me a welcome message for every country I cross into.
Today they wrote: "FREE welcomes you into Russia"

Quotes

Azerbaidjan, to tupyj narod jest. Tough guy with bandana, Sevan lake, Armenia.
Give me your money, Ara! Rainbow
Ice cream!, signifies someone's an asshole, Nagorno Karabakh
It's okay, it's ok!, Jay, rainbow quote
No pushing, no pulling. Jay
Zajec! Chto djelat?! Moj padrug zeni se!, Nata, Georgia
Don't think about it, just do it!, Gazelle
Most people don't die. Myself
Is it because I is black?, Theo
Life is about no regrets, Jay
I believe that the pure lie comes from darkness, Jay
I need my morning sex! Poly
Iranians are like onions. Don't judge from the first impression. Ali from the border
Each Iranian has a bit of Ahmadinejad inside, Ali from the border
You never know what goes through the mind of a russian. Border patrol guy, Georgia when talking about snipers shooting people in abkhazia.
Cha-cha ara!
Before you start to to travel you are afraid because of everything you hear on TV. When you finally are on your way you slowly lose that fear and that is when travelling becomes dangerous.
No problem - this is Iran!
Life box!, Emran, describing a TV
It's so difficult to leave home but it's so amazing to be on the way!, Theo
Don't worry about Ilona... she'll kill everybody! Nata, after Ilona has gone and I started being paranoid.
Me? I'm a democrat!, Zurab, first georgian we ever met
Tam guljat nelzja, tam tygr jest!, fat brainwashed lady at the border TKM/IR

Equipement

Just as we prepare to enter Turkmenistan, it is time to take a look at the state of my equipement so far and judge what choices were good or bad.

My tent was definitly a good choice. It's light and small and still in perfect shape. Taking an inflatable mattress, that was such a good idea. It's so confortable and doesn't have a single hole in it. It's supposed to be auto inflatable but that's bullshit, it doesn't work that much, I have to blow into ut manually, never mind. Many people advised me not to because humidity could accumulate inside but that seems to be bullshit too, eveerything is OK.

My sleeping bag seems to be allright. It got really wet from transpiration the time I was sick in tbilissi. Now it's OK though a little stinky but I don't have a sense of smell so that's Ilona's problem. It has lost some of its isolating power though.

I have lost all of my warm clothes, two on Aragats and a guy from the rainbow didn't give me my only warm t-shirt back. Never mind, I got another T-shirt in Yerevan from Sarkiss. It has short sleeves so I can use it more often in this heat. I got a sweeter from a bielorussian guy in Armenia. It's heavy and not waterproof obviously but it keeps warm. I've lost my hat the first day the sun started to hit. I still don't have a hat but I am getting used to it.

I also lost my microfiber towel when running away from the guy who wanted to beat me in Armenia because Nata is my wife.
I don't have a towel now but I manage without it, everything dries quickly in this heat, including myself.

My 32 GB micro SD card was bad from the very beginning, I threw it away. I still have all of my other electronic equipement though. My GPS beacon is still running on the same batteries as those it started from home. The signal is getting less reliable though, maybe I should change them.
My other GPS beacon remains unused but I still have it on the bottom on my bag.
My camera is still there and I still have a backup battery.

My solar charger isn't very useful. It doesn't work very well. Sometimes there are bad contacts, it doesn't charge anything. When it charges, it doesn't have much power accumulated. I still carry it around though. A car charger would be more useful.

My tablet rocks! I don't treat it like a princess, it got heated to 50°C on the sun on 4000 meters, I had silver spots on the screen from the heat, it got dragged into mud and water, it got rained on and it still works. It's not a special tablet, not waterproof or anything, just an asus t300 hybrid with a keyboard. Sometimes it freezes and needs a restart for no reason but I can live with that. Wifi and GPS still work just fine.

My phone is still there and allright but I don't use it that much. The battery isn't that good and it gets depleted faster than expected. The two functions I use the most often on my phone is the altimeter and the flashlight.

We didn't use any medecine from our stocks so far. At least not for ourselves. We've used it to help others though.
My knife is fine but isn't as sharp as before.

My grey-white t-shirt is dirty beyond repair. My black t-shirt with the little prince sawn on it has lost most of its color. It has a weird shade of blackish green on the back. The little prince is still there though.

My pants are repaired on at least 5 places and torn down around one of my ancles. But they are still great, I'll keep repairing them until they die completly.

I still have my twoo sunglasses and my spare normal glasses.
Money wise, We should still be under 2 euros per day per person but I have no idea how much exactly.
My bag is still there and doing great!

Last but not least, my trekking shoes. I thought my Salomon shoes were any good but I am dissapointed. They are starting to be used from the bottom and after descending Aragats, they even started falling apart. The sides started to open, it didn't look pretty. I had to repair them, now they're OK for a while. Very surprisingly, Sylvie's shoe implants which I use to correct my posture are still in an amazing state. I didn't give them more than a month, yet almost three months later, they're still in great shape. Ironically enough they might last longer than my shoes.
This is crazy. Thanks Sylvie!

That is all for now, see you in another three months for another equipement check.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Racing through the desert

Written in a air conditioned car on the way to turkmenbashi. Seriously with this stay of road, this car wil explode before we reach the city!
Yesterday we said goodbye to the neighbours.
"Don't look for excuses for not having climbed Damavand", said the neighbour. "every alpinist who goes there and fails says it's because of bad weather."
It makes me smile; he's right. Me and Nata were just looking for excuses and we found them.

Now we're not. We say goodbye to Theo, he cycles away from Tehran.
"I figured out today that we are actually people who take the responsability for their own happiness instead of putting that responsability by a second person." he says.

We leave at 12, we must hurry. The metro from Mirdamad has a friendly feeling of home. But now it's going to take us to hell. We arrive at the south of tehran and we try to negociate a free bus to Mashad. Fail. We walk. I thought I mastered iranian hitchhiking well enough to do it without stress but after all those days of rest in Tehran I have lost touch a little. We get a lift outside of Tehran and another a few kilometers to the next city.
this is too slow.
We are already Friday the 16./08 and our tranzit visa starts tomorrow. Don't forget that Turkmenistan borders close at 17:00 and we don't even know which time zone!
It's aboiut 900 kilometers to go part of which is through the mountainours roads and we have to be there tomorrow fairly early. This is tight. We have to cheat. We stop truck, and hope for a long distance.
"Neyere gidiorsun?" Where are you going?
Turks! Turkish! At least a language we can understand! We can communicate! I would have never thought when I first entered Turkey that I would welcome Turkish as a language I can feel safe with.
"Biz gitmet Mashad!"
They are not going to Mashad, they are deviating to the Turkmen border before going to the city! Awesome! Fucking awesome, this is our miracle, let's take it!
desertic landscape

The truck drivers are awesome, they laugh a lot, they give a bracelet to Ilona. They are respectful, they've been in georgia, they are democrats.
Turkish truck drivers that means dinner. And good portions. Meat! I miss meat, I'm sick of being a fucking vegeterian for the last week because meat is too expensive!

They throw all their garbage from the window. Ilona can't look at it, I take it as a neccessary evil.
"Problem yokh, burada Iran!", (No problem, this is Iran!) says our driver as an explanation and laughs loudly. He means he wouldn't do that in his country.
We pass through a mountainous and desertic landscape. It's endless and unreal. So different from what I know.
We stop at midnight somewhere in a parking and build a tent next to them. Departure at 9:30 local time, 8:00 turkish time.
Luckily we leave at 8:30 and in about 16:30 we arrive at the last intersection before the border. They are going right, towards Artyk, we're going straight, towards Ashgabat. We can't continue with them, we wouldn't make it.
Just 40 kilometers left and 30 minutes to go before closure. We are not going to make it. And nobody is going towards the border, it is empty. Empty, empty, empty.
It must be closed already, they are not going to make it. Three people go and talk to us, they give us figues. They look like the worst of drug dealers, I am expecting acid in every figue they gives us and methamphetamines in each of these sunflower seeds.
They said their leader, Ackbar, whom they call Ackbar-leader will take us to the border to drink vodka and smoke pipe which probably means opium.
It's not a time to get high. We stop a taxi who even speaks a little english and accepts to take us for free.

I proved Ali wrong by often accepting rides with Taxis. It works. They are just people like you and me, they are not stuck in an unbreakable money circle.
It's 17:30 already. The taxi rider senses our fears and rushes it 170 km/h through the mountain roads without safety barriers. I am happy and even Ilona doesn't complain. I guess she's vaccinated against fast rides now.

We are passing Oasis, this is so beautiful. Rough desert and then bright green. What the fuck?
I am stressed out. Maybe the border will still be open. Turkmen officials are lazy but sometimes they don't respect their own rules. For example, the embassy which was supposed to be opened from 9 to 11 actually opened at 12.
"I'll pray for you", writes Gazelle and actually it means something to me. Please do, we need every support we can get, real or abstract.

My contact in Ashgabat decided to go on holiday so we are running without safety net here. And god knows we need that safety net, we need it so bad. I so hate myself of not having negociated a backup contact.

The border is open!

The iranian side of it is cool. The young guys discuss the big bang theory with me and other american shows.
"Bazinga!" They shout as a goodbye salute as we enter Turkmenistan.

We are greeted by a picture of their asshole leader smiling and looking like a real idiot. They say there are pictures of him everywhere. The border lady wants us to pay 22 dollars as a passing fee. This is normal but I have only 40 dollars in 20 dollar bills (from theo) and I am sure she doesn't have any change. The bitch is just gonna keep my forty.

I tell her that I only have a 20 dollar bill or 50 euros. She says it's not possible but what can she do with me, she wants to screw me over but she also wants to go home so badly it's written on her face. She exchanges our 50 euros against dollars and gives us the change: 38 dollars. That's about the best scenario, we don't need euros anymore, nobody wants them.

So we have 58 dollars in total when we enter turkmenistan.
We're the last people crossing the border at 6:00PM and the other side is empty. We cannot hitch anything. Anyway they wouldn't let us. There are armed soldiers everywhere with cowboy hats. They are several people with a ton of carpets coming back from iran.
There is one road going away from the border. Can we go there by foot? Of course not? Why?
The big fat lady official with slighty eyes (they are starting to look chinese here) tellse me:
"Tam gulat nelzya, tam tygr yest". You cannot go there on foot because there are tigers.
How many times have I heard that. Don't go there, there are wolves, there are bears, here there are tigers. Sligthly more original but not less stupid. Over time I've learned that excuses about wild animals are usually linked to some bullshit reason to keep us under control. It was so with the armenian assholes and it is so here.
"I bet the only living tiger here has his self-conscious picture on the wall", says Ilona. I can't agree more but we have no choice.
We have to take a bus from the border to somewhere on the road leading to Ashgabat.
I ask the people here how to avoid this. "It's not possible, not possible, talk to the man in charge, not us"
It is amazing, I have never seen anything like that. These people are brainwashed, you can actually see it in their eyes. They are not proud and self-aware like those of Iranians, they are empty and scared. Yes, these people are afraid.

We now realize that Iran isn't a dictatorship at all; the government may try to make it so but none of it is real. The islamic republic of Iran is a joke.
People who label their country a dictatorship in europe should think twice. When you have a authoritative regime, you can feel it. Turkmenistan is a real dictatorship, there is no joke there and you can feel it in every stone.

We try to go away from that bus without paying but the bus driver is such an asshole. He wants 10 dollars per person, our weekly budget. I take Ilona by the hand and guide her away. "Sorry, no money". They guy goes berserk. He threatens to report us to the police, they'll catch us as soon as we set foot in Asgabat. Bullshit you asshole, there is police 50 meters from here, we just had our passport control; if you had any power here you would go to them. SO fuck you!
The lady we spoke to at the border looks more and more scared. We asked around if 10 dollars per 40 kilometers is the normal price here. They say yes. Maybe they are just afraid to say no. We end up paying and the asshole bus driver goes away, no problem. But now, we really have no money. 38 dollars for backup and that is it. Nothing else. We can't even pay emergency transport if we are too slow. If we don't make it in 5 days, we are fucked.

The lady tells us it is dangerous to stay here and it is also dangerous to sleep in a park in Ashgabat. Everything is dangerous and everything is forbidden. This country is fucked up. The tiger is watching us. She drives us about two kilometers and then turns around: "hide in these trees. Don't make a fire. Don't turn on lights".

By trees she ment a patch of small trees loosely growing in the desert. Because it is the desert here, flat patches of dry land under a shining moon. Beautiful but had to hide. And we have to hide. There is a trench from a dead river. Dry as hell but we are hidden somewhat. It is unconfortable. Ilona thinks about putting up a tent but I am fairly against it. I want to know what's happening. Usually it's the other way around. Maybe my experiences with Nata and Poly have changed me.

I also remember that with Nata, we were discovered every time. Fortunately it was always in countries where you got a second chance. Even Iran, especially Iran. I have a feeling that if we are discovered in Turkmenistan, there will be no second chances. Each time I hear a car, each time I hear a door slams, each time I hear steps I just pray there really are wild tigers to scare those people away. I am sure I am more qualified to negociate with tigers than with Turkmen.

If you are reading that blog for quite some time, you'll find out that I am a person very open to negociation. Too much maybe sometimes. But with those people, with brainwashed people, I just see no way to negociate.
"Tam tygr yest". What can you say to that?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Welcome Theo!

Let me start again with less emotions this time. After Nata left, Gazelle called to take us to the city. Theo also will be here in a couple of hours.
Theo is the cyclist we met in Tabriz by the good grace of Hamed, the saviour of lost tourists.
Then, I didn't want some dirty cyclist who has probably lost his social life ages ago to bother our trio. I talked to him only because Ilona seemed to find him interesting. But he turned out quite allright. He's the guy who will tell you the worst thing just to see the shocked expression on your face. Cool! Plus, he's cycling from his hometown to indonesia.

He went looking for Ilona the night she dissapeared when looking for the internet and for that he already has my respect. I am still ashamed of that moment when I gave myself up to the easy thoughts: "nothing will happen". She's my sister, I must take care of her; never again.

Theo is now crossing the last mountain patch before Tehran. He is 15 kilometers from us and now the way is only down. He'll be there in a couple of hours.

Meanwhile, we visit the city with Gazelle. She strikes me as a true artist, the one who can draw from voices from other dimentions and transform into a dragon. She's a photographer actually. Her life story is disturbing, unique, brave and kind of beautiful, are all rainbow people so unique?

We explore the bazar and then Theo comes. He's cycled trough the coast of the Caspian see, it's beautiful there. So much variation in the landscape. Nata should have a great time.

Me too, I am climbing tomorrow. I'll contact Jon and we'll make another try at Damavand. This time, it will work.

The lock is jammed, we can't open our appartment. Theo is exhausted, this is not a time for fate to do bad jokes. Worst case scenario, we sleep at the neighbours place. Lucky we have such great neigbours. But Gazelle prays for a miracle and she probably has superpowers the door just opens.

We talk a lot. I need it. Theo goes to sleep and Gazelle is my personal therapist for a while. I don't take a habit of opening my heart to people but these are special condition. Meeting her while halucinating under weed transcends my trust issues. And I'm reassured when she tells her story first.
Just to reassure you Nata if you're reading this, I didn't get into any details about you.
"Oh my, we're both losers", says Gazelle, "but this is a sign".

Actually I don't even feel like losing that much but I agree about the sign.
Gazelle sleeps at our place, and the day after we go meet Mahan. He has a joint in the palm of his hand and starts to smoke it in front of a police station.
V., a peroxide blond with a hijab accompanies him, she has some class, I like the contrast. I ask Mahan about how he feels about smoking a joint in front of the police station and he tells me in his ever-relaxed voice:
"Maan police nooo problem. Weeed is goooood."
I think this is kind of funny as long as I don't smoke too but Theo is losing patience a little.
He goes over the corner to buy some peaches: "I don't want to hang out with drug addicts". He is slightly angry. Come one, you're from Amsterdamland, I bet all of your friends are drug addicts and I hope you're reading this!

Me and Theo are getting along fine. He's also getting along great with Ilona. They go to the Ouzbek and Turkmen embassy together, Theo is supposed to get his Uzbek visa and ask for his Turkmen visa and Ilona is there just for confirmation that the visa was sent to Mashad as planned. I read somewhere that sometimes the embassy forgets to send the visa to Mashad but I don't really think that will be the case.
They return with good and bad news.

Good news, Theo got his Uzbek visa! He holds it proudly in his passport. Bad news: Not only did they forget to send our visa to Mashed, they completly forgot that we applied for one. Maybe good news: The guy was so confused that he told Ilona to come back tomorrow and he'll just hand the visas to us.

That would be great, we expected the visas on monday, maybe on sunday if we're lucky. If we get them on thursday then we can leave tomorrow and we'll have 3 more precious days to cross Turkmenistan an Kazakhstan.

I didn't mention this but actually, we are in a hurry. To be more precise, we are in a fucked up situation. Our Iranian visa and our Kazakh visa overlap. Why? Because the Kazakh assholes have put precise dates on our visas. We have to enter Kazakhstan after 01/08/2013 and exit the country before 30/08/2013. Rumours say, the penalty for overstaying the visa is prison. Since we spent way more time in Armenia than we intended, mostly because of me wanting to travel with Nata to Karabakh, we entered Iran the same day we were supposed to enter Kazakhstan. Therefore, each day we spend in Iran is one day that we cannot spend in Kazakhstan.

With our visa due one Sunday in Mashad, we have 12 days to cross both countries. 11 days if we get there on monday which is more likely. Crossing Kazakh takes 8 days if we hitchhike like crazies so that leaves 4 days for Turkmenistan. It is tight, very tight. Actually, we need a few miracles. And actually, I am counting on miracles in my plan. I count on them the same way I would count on provable facts. This is crazy.

According to that plan, I still have time to join Jon and climb that mountain. But with that new information, I have to cancel. Not only should I be at the embassy tomorrow but every extra day counts and it would be stupid to put our freedoms at risk just to climb a mountain I can climb in Kyrgystan anyway. If we get the visa, we go, that's a no-brainer.

Besides these worries life goes fine and calm at our appartment in northern Tehran. We live there in peace and harmony, we make tea, we cook, we laugh with our neighbours, it feels like home. Leaving Tehran will feel a little bit like leaving Brno in our home country.
Sometimes, Ali visits and gets stoned at our place. I think he likes Ilona a bit. He's nice too, always stoned.

The next day, I go with Theo to the embassy. I don't really believe they will deliver our visas. I'm sure they will forget about us again and we'll just have to ask again. In that case we'll never make it to Kazakhstan in time. In that case, we'll have to extend our Iranian visas and ask again for Kazakhstan and then for Turkmenistan. Visa hell all over again but more time to explore Iran.
If they refuse our visa extension then we have to go back to Armenia. These times, Ilona is very easy going, I'm sure she would survive but I'm less sure about myself.

The consulate is supposed to open at 9, it opens at 12. There is a million people in front of the small window. Two french people also travelling towards Kyrgyz. I don't like french travellers usually but I like these two. The girl had to come back to work so she seemed a little from another world but she was so sweet. The guy didn't strike me as the classic french know-it-all, he didn't judge our hitchhiking, I really wish him well.

Then there was Sol and Ana, from Iran and Croatia. They were applying. Actually Ana was applying and Sol was there for moral support. Go to the turkmen embassy, I'm sure you will need it.
"So did you fly here?", asks someone. Plenty of time to talk when waiting for 3 hours for the embassy to open.
"No I'm hitchhiking"
What??? "Hey hey! I'm hitchhiking too! Look at me!" I would have waved the hitchhiking flag if I could.
"Are you looking for a hitchhiking partner?"
Oh my god is Gazelle all-powerful or what? That just might be the wish I did when she gave me that friendship bracelet. Not that I believe in that bullshit but still, nice coincidence.

I must confess dear readers, for some time now, I haven't been completly honest with you. From the time we entered Kacheti, the georgian region more than a month ago, Ilona and I have decided to separate in China. We have discussed this decision multiple times, changed it, confirmed it, whatever. The truth is there is a high chance we will part ways at Iktresam pass, border between Kyrgyztan and China.
What then? Should I travel alone? Maybe. China is the first safe country with low criminality, I guess I would survive. After that, Korea will be just like home.
In Georgia, I almost panicked and started searching someone on the internet. Unfortunately, no one replied. Then I accepted that I'll go alone. At some point in Armenia, Georgia and even Iran I hope has risen with Nata. When Ilona leaves, I could continue with Nata. It doesn't seem like a good choice granted all the arguments we constantly had but some time before she left, for the first time I had the feeling that I can handle her. Not as good as she can handle me but the concept of handeling Nata is a miracle in itself.
So deep down, I would love to let my worries go and just hope to meet Nata somewhere in the Kyrghiz mountains and then go east, east, east.
However, in light of recent events I don't think Nata will come to Kyrgystan. She will continue to Turkey, she'll meet so many people and who knows where they will go. Plans and mindsets change so quickly in journeys like ours that it would be crazy to count on a word given a month ago.

So Ana travelling to Kyrgyz and then China, she's from heaven sent. The dates don't fit exactly but hey who cares. Some Gazelle magic and all will be well.
The embassy opens. I have my visa. Unbelievable! Theo pays for me because they only want dollars and I have forgotten my money anyway. I give it to him back in euros but I sense that from now on, euros are becoming useless, there is nothing like an U.S. dollar.

I hug Theo, I hug the french people, I even hug Ana. She must be 2 meters high or at least a head and a half bigger than me. Her hair is so long that no hijab could hide it. I am curious to travel with her just to see how she manages to take care of that on a hitchhiking trip.
And also.... Croatia! This is almost home! Ante! Petar! I feel homesick for just a few seconds.

I get a reply from Tess too. She was robbed in Tirana after the greek rainbow but would like to go in the direction of Kyrgyz and China. That would be great but money is the issue here. I just feel that options are opening, maybe I should just let destiny have her way.

Later with Jon, Emran and the other cyclists we go to Ararat, the Armenian club. Only armenians are allowed there, it's forbidden for iranians, especially for muslims. It's a fortress, a huge complex inside of Tehran. Inside, everything is in Armenian, it's like a small country in the city.
We manage to pass by flooding them with Barevdzes, Vonzeg haper, chatlaaav and the girls who actually spoke armenian.

"Where is Natacha?", people ask. Eternal question. I am starting to have a prepared speech. "Natacha went to the caspian see, she is safe, everything is allright."
"Is that the effect you have on women?", says Jon. I realise that everyone actually thought me and Nata were a couple; the party must have been so humiliating for me but I didn't care because I was stoned anyway.

Obviously, we are not leaving Tehran today. We'll do it friday morning. Theo is sad and so is Ilona. Not as sad as I was when Nata left us maybe but still, shitty feeling. I will also miss Theo, I wonder what he does now, alone on his bike.

We promised ourselves to meet each other again in Kyrgyz. So many people decided to meet there already. I wonder what will come of it. Will we really see Theo again in this mountainous country? Will the french make it? Will Ana be there? And against all odds, will Nata really hitchhike accross Russia and Kazakhstan to get there? Will S. meet us there too? Only time will tell but one thing is certain, we should prepare for one hell of a story!