self portratit at 15,000km- half way point to Greystones
I left Almaty on Tuesday and arrived in Bishkek yesterday. My time in Almaty was mixed. I enjoyed being in the familiar surrounds of an almost western city was surprised by the level of violence, and frustrated and reminded that this was not yet Europe by Bureaucratic efficiency.
As Si mentioned a few posts ago, Almaty is a thriving well designed and affluent city. Its planning and architecture feel European, maybe its just that after three months of swooping eaves a western angled apex feels like home, or maybe its the bread, and simple un-spicy food that gives it a familiar feel. But I think its the chocolate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned during the last year, its that good chocolate is hard to find, and its absence leaves a gaping home shaped hole that’s difficult to fill. Kazakhstan has chocolate in spades. Lion Bar, Twix, Lindt, even Ferrero Rocher.
It also, like most big cities has an ugly under belly, which I saw up close. In my first three nights, I saw two beatings, one with a metal walking stick, which was broken over the back of a customer in a cafe by the patron, for some reason that I didn’t care to ask. After the table beside us noted our shock, they motioned us to join them and help them polish off a few bottles of vodka, shrugging that “iz Almaty, iz normal”. Then they refused to let us pay for our meal, offering to take us hunting and fishing for the weekend. Bad impression/good impression.
Unfortunately, I had to decline the offer. Instead. I had to sit outside the Uzbek embassy for a day to be told that could only pick up my visa in Bishkek. So I spent $120 on a Kyrgistan visa, so that I can pick up my Uzbek one!
The second beating I witnessed was pretty sinister. I was walking home alone after another night of revelry when I encountered a group of “lads” on a dark avenue. I put my head down and walked on through them, putting on my best mike skinner “out there, I don’t care glare”. I walked on 50m, and heard a commotion behind me. I half heartedly turned to see the 6 or so “hard men” kicking a guy on the ground. They held nothing back, jumping and kicking like animals. It lasted about twenty seconds, all I could do was watch. After they felt they’d done enough damage they fled like meerkats. I ran to the guy on the ground who lay unconscious on his back, gurgling blood, and put him in the recovery position and checked that he hadn’t swallowed his tongue. As I was doing so, one of the hard men ran back, and stole his phone! A throng assembled and eventually the guy came to, I’ve no idea the extent of his injuries, and the those that stopped to help him didn’t take to kindly to me either, one saying that ” …this nothing to do with you, you not from Almaty, shut up…”. Nice.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression though the Kazakhs have been eh “VERY NICE”. For example; on the road to Bishkek, I cycled past a family butchering a cow. So I stopped and said Hi. They gave me some meat, and asked if I was hungry. I was fed some freshly fried cow and bread. I say cow, as the flesh was still warm, and the blood not yet congealed so, although dead, the meat had not yet made the transition from cow to beef. I ate with the tasty beast’s head rocking at my feet.
Armed with a ripper tailwind I made great time, and beat my own personal speed record breaking the sound barrier at 67kmph. Evil Si Knievel’s record of 72kmph is safe, as I don’t intend breaking 60kmph ever again. Unfortunately the tailwind blows from Siberia, and is the same one that will bring the snows to the Tian Shan mountains if I don’t get a move on. So I’ll be picking up my Uzbek visa later today and off again on Saturday.