“I began talking to myself on the roadside as I waited for a car to stop in the thin traffic. This is one step away from madness, but as long as I didn’t start a two-sided conversation with myself, I would be fine.”
I received an unbelievable amount of kindness on my way to Almaty. The old capital was 500km from the new one, Astana.
I had been left just on the outskirts, where I camped. The green North, adjacent with Russia, was now blending into sandy beige, like the colors on a paint palette. Consequentially, the land was much more exposed and I could not hide my tent. I had walked about a kilometer away from the road but would still have been visible to anyone wanting to look in my direction. Police cars had stopped on the roadside twice during the night, but I took comfort in the fact that there were no better spots around.
The sun rose and I wanted to sleep more, so I knocked my walking pole down and slipped away for a while longer until the sun heated my tarp to the point that I wasn’t able to keep my eyes shut.
On the roadside, I breakfasted on the pastry I had bought the evening before in preparation for the walk out of Astana, which I didn’t have to eat because I had been taken from outside the shop.
I could not even finish it before someone pulled in, having seen me there with my backpack. The man could only take me a few kilometers before he had to turn off, but he gave me enough cash to get some lunch.
Next came a construction worker in his truck. He said nothing at all, but he did shake my hand when we said bye. He took me to the outside of Karaganda – one third of the way to Almaty. Now I had to find a lift to take me all the way through the city; it was a big one and would take too long to walk it, as I often end up doing because most of the traffic going into cities stays there.
I stopped for lunch to find that a beer can, which I had bought to boost morale after last nights walk-to-be, had opened itself inside my backpack. I now not only smelled like an alcoholic, but my power-bank and Kindle were damaged, and my brother’s DSLR destroyed.
A woman and her mother picked me up next. Although they were only going into the city center, they wanted to take me all the way to the other side. As well as that, they took me to a supermarket and filled up my backpack. Why they did this for someone they have only just met and will never see again still does not make sense to me, and when they left me, I had to walk off the road for 15 minutes to recompose myself.
During that time, I felt homesick again. I knew I didn’t want to quit, because I would regret it for the rest of my life. Then I realised that if I had a visa for China or Russia, then I would be enjoying my time. The visas were the center and cause of my distress.
I woke the next day, after 12 hours of sleep, and realized that I tiredness had played a huge role in my mood. Rest, food and water seem to be the three things that control my mood now, and I think the same is true for most of us in normal life.
Whenever I feel down now, I first ask myself if I am tired. If not, then I ask if I am hungry. My mood has never been affected by anything else, apart from apparent sources such as visas.
Back to the roadside and feeling overwhelmed, yet again someone stopped without me having my thumb out. He was a Muslim, and wanted to reassure me, over and over, that he was not a terrorist. When he heard I was from England, he said ‘Prince Charles’, ‘Princess Diana’ and other royal names. It was a good conversation.
His car broke down after a few kilometers and we waited in the middle of nothing for a rescue truck to come and take his car back to Karaganda. His friend picked him and me up from the barren road, where I did not want to be left, lest I die, and took me to a café and bought me dinner. ‘Welcome to Kazakhstan’ they said as they turned my money down to help with the bill. I would be hearing this phrase quite often during my time here.
In the middle of the steppe and half-way to Almaty, he left me to camp. Apart from the small truck stop, there was nothing around me but small, crater-like, isolated peaks which made me feel like I was on the moon. The stars looked like grains of sparkling silver on a bed of powdered, purple-black charcoal.
The change in my mood the next day was astonishing – after 12 hours of sleep I felt capable of anything, and very hopeful for the visa situation working out. I felt good about myself, and I was happy to be where I was and doing what I was doing.
I began talking to myself on the roadside as I waited for a car to stop in the thin traffic. This is one step away from madness, but as long as I didn’t start a two-sided conversation with myself, I would be fine.
It was 34 degrees, according to the gas station behind me, but I did not feel it in the dry air. I drank a lot of water though. I restocked at the gas station and made the mistake of using the toilet. Never in my life have I smelled something as evil as that – I thought that my brain would destroy my sense of smell. Even with my face scarf on, the smell still penetrated. ‘Next time, I will hold it in’, I told myself.
Back on the road, after 10 minutes, Vladamir stopped in his 4×4. He took me the final 8 hours to Almaty. The road condition deteriorated the further from Astana we got, before getting better approaching Almaty.
Statistically, the most likely cause of death to me on this trip would be a road accident. Therefore, I was now in the most dangerous country of the journey so far.
At the worst point, for about 50km, it was better to drive off-road. The potholes were so deep, that apparently in the rain, it is like driving a boat. I feared for my life as he drove like nihilist. I asked why he didn’t go slower, and he said that with more speed, there are less potholes.
He lost control of the car twice, and I realized that we could well have been killed.
We made it, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. He drove me around the city to find me a hostel before heading off.
Tom’s Big Hitchhiking Adventure
On 01/06/17, I left the UK to hitchhike around the world. Currently in: Kyrgyzstan
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