Saturday, March 23, 2013

March 22, 2013

I got up before my alarm went off and set out to finish packing my bags. For some idiotic reason, I decided against carrying the bulky backpack I had brought from the States and to just use my small carry-on bag. Once I finished packing it, my laptop would not fit in and I had no time to reshuffle everything into the backpack, so I had to carry my laptop in my hands.

Max was waiting for me at the corner and we boarded a taxi to get to the bus terminal under cloudy skies and a threat of more rain. The terminal was practically deserted as apparently most potential passengers were still sleeping off the effects of the previous day’s partying. We found an empty marshrutka and negotiated a price for the two front seats immediately and then stood there waiting for it to fill up. It was only 7:20 am and we had to wait until 10:30 for it to depart.

Thankfully, I had brought two pieces of pastry from the Beta stores and my water bottle filled with juice and thus had something to eat while waiting. We traveled through an area I had never seen and once past Kara Balta, we went through the border. The process was relatively pain free as we only had to wait for about ten minutes on the other side before the driver pulled up to the curb to pick us up thus giving me enough time to use the public toilet nearby.

It was another pit toilet with the usual pestilential smell where you have to hold your breath while using it. We then rode for another three hours until we got to the city of Taraz. We were famished at this point in walked into the first restaurant we found where a single server was trying to run the bar and tend to the single table occupied by a large group. Few items were available despite the lengthy menu, so we settled for plov and water.

After using another odoriferous pit toilet nearby, we crossed the street and boarded a marshrutka to get us to Shymkent. This one had rickety narrow seats, worn out floor, missing roof vent and zero ventilation. I was able to doze off at times and Max slept a good portion of the ride. It took another four hours to reach Shymkent and the desolate bus terminal had no place to make a phone call or access the Internet.

I saw a well-dressed young approach us and asked him if he spoke English. He did and informed us there were no Internet cafes nearby while offering to take us to another part of the city where foreigners usually gathered. When informed we had forgotten to write down either Holly or Bill’s phone number and that our phones didn’t work in Kazakhstan, the young guy asked us to get inside his car, pulled out his smart phone and gave Max his Wi-Fi account number. Max used his Notebook to access my account and presto we had them.

Once we had Holly’s number, he made the call and we let her know we were at the station waiting. We offered to pay for his services, but he declined. Holly and Bill showed up half hour later and we boarded another taxi to Bill’s flat where we met James, Valerie, who had arrived earlier in the day, and two local women. Another taxi ride brought us to a dark and ugly building where Holly shares a three-bedroom apartment with two other American women.

 The place was a warren of little room, run down kitchen and tiny bathroom. The whole place looked decrepit and unsafe. I was given the privilege was sleeping in the enclosed balcony area where I was dismayed to learn mosquitoes roamed at all hours of the day and all year round. Valerie was going to share Holly’s bedroom.

I was hungry again and one of Holly’s roommate told she had some turkey rice soup in the fridge and I heated it up on the stove top as there was no microwave and ate it standing there as I saw no dining room either.. After taking a shower, I promptly went to bed only to be kept awake by the damn mosquitoes buzzing in my ears and biting every exposed part of my body.

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