June 28, 2008
Greetings from Kazakhstan! This has been the first chance I've had to really write much since my arrival, so I thought I'd let you know how things are going. I'm sure that I won't be able to include everything that's happened, but I hope that this gives you some flavor as to the trip so far.
The journey to Taraz, Kazakhstan took about 24 hours from door to door. I flew to London, then Amsterdam, then Almaty. My flight from Amsterdam was delayed, so I was a bit worried that my luggage wouldn't make it. As soon as I got off the plane in Amsterdam, I raced to the other terminal where my next flight was already boarding. I boarded without any trouble and ended up sitting next to a very nice Kazakh lady who gave me a few tips. I did manage to get some sleep, but not a lot. The six and a half hour flight landed on time in Almaty at 5:10 AM. I got through Passport Control without any trouble and headed for the luggage claim area, hoping that mine had made it. As it turned out, mine had already been offloaded and was sitting on the floor. I suspect that it was one of the last bags on the plane and therefore one of the first off. I was told that after I exited customs that I would be met by a driver. I pressed my way past a herd of taxi-cab drivers all insisting that I ride with them. I was looking for someone that was holding a sign with my name on it, but I saw no one. Maybe he was late, I thought. Just before I got to the door leading outside, a guy approached me. "Mister Steve?" he asked. He was holding a piece of paper. I pointed to it and he unfolded a printout of my photograph and some telephone numbers. He didn't speak English, but we managed to exchange pleasantries and he lead me to his car. The parking lot was jammed and people parked wherever they wished. Many of the exits were blocked with cars, but after about ten minutes we managed to find our way out. I was told that the ride would take anywhere from six to nine hours. After about thirty minutes, we found ourselves in fairly flat and not so scenic territory, so I layed down in the back and thought I would try to get some sleep. The roads were extremely bumpy and full of potholes, but I was so tired that I managed to fall asleep for a bit. After a couple of hours I sensed that we were pulling over, so I sat up. We were at a roadside restaurant. He led me inside the rather large outdoor seating area and he ordered from a menu. I had no idea what he was ordering for me, but hoped that it was nothing too "exotic." First, some bread and tea arrived. He swished some tea around in our cups, splashed it onto the concrete floor, then poured me a cup. He also wiped off our silverwear with a napkin. A few minutes later some soup arrived. He told me that it was "rooskie borscht." Having been to Russia, I recognized the beef and vegetable soup and was happily enjoyed my breakfast. We also took a restroom break at the restaurant. The concrete building was full of "squatty pottys" which were nothing more than large slots in the floor, and I was relieved that my task there required only standing! We continued our trip, with me doing a bit more sleeping. I was suprised that I arrived we arrived in Taraz in record time, no doubt due to the significant amount of passing we had done on the bumpy two lane road. Now you know the real reason I was lying down in the back!