• Bob Taylor

Musings - Day 10

Day 10 – 5th January 2020

Just fantastic the responses and messages of support and good luck wishes. Please keep them coming as they are so inspirational. To all the donors and new followers a huge thank you. Cheers Bob x

Tashkent – Shower, breakfast, collect laundry and Check out!

The taxi arrives and within minutes I am made aware that he is prepared to risk my life. He has either got a wedding to go to, or is suicidal. No seat belt would ordinarily cope with what he put me through during that fifty minute, forty mile journey. That aside it was cheap. It is hard to evaluate safety, when even from the outside, the vehicle looked like a Nascar reject. Of course he wasn’t licensed. That comes as standard in this part of the world, and most certainly uninsured to boot, but I do come back to cheap. Less than £7 ($9) for forty miles – wow! (Injuries and risks aside)

This day will come to be a day of firsts. As F1 wannabe drops me off I realise that I have never crossed a border by foot. Because he didn’t want any kind of recognition camera to pick up the car, he dropped me with about a mile walk to the frontier. Before I could say “Thanks Lewis,” he ploughed into a collection of random chickens on the opposite side of the road, making an almighty squawk and flutter dominated commotion. I found myself, for some inexplicable reason, getting butterflies as I approached the military blockade. The background cacophony was dominated by barking dogs. There must have been a compound within the set of sheds, because it wasn’t any of the five or six dogs present on leashes. It most definitely was not the moment to say, “Hello boy do you want to fetch a stick?” to any of them.

So I am walking towards the first of thirteen times that I have to produce my passport. This is the first of thirteen times that I am viewed with the utmost suspicion. I believe that it is because my passport is red and from the UK, making it not an everyday occurrence. Now comes the first guy to identify that my passport which is due to expire in February 2021 was issued in August 2010. This now becomes the first of thirteen times that I explain that when I renewed my passport there was still six months validity which transposed onto the new passport. Meaning that my passport was valid effectively for eleven years. Oh my goodness me! An eleven year passport who had ever heard of such a thing. This was the first of thirteen times when border agent one called over border agent two, a few “Ying tong poo nahs,” passed between them before I had it returned. In between these inspections were four different bag scans and a camera check. On top of which was a queuing reviewing system that belongs in the last century. Without labouring through the next twelve times, I eventually was allowed back into Kazakhstan after two hours had passed.

After making it through to another land I was besieged by taxi drivers. Get this one for value – Shymkent (where I was heading) was around a hundred miles away and I had negotiated a fare of $10 with a driver. He very kindly placed my heavy back pack in the trunk of his battered Toyota and asked me to take a seat in the car. Ten minutes had passed when I confess to getting a tad irritable. All the time I thought that he was saying goodbye to his grandfather, he was actually negotiating other fares. Twenty minutes made me get out the car and retrieve my backpack. Onto to the next one. Same routine, this time I am twiddling my thumbs for fifteen minutes. So now this is two cars that I have inspected the interior of and collected my belongings from. The penny drops! Because the fare is so cheap, you have to car share making it a collective fare. So now, much wiser I am entreated to join a vehicle that already has two agreed fare payers. Negotiations complete – the backpack goes in the trunk. Ten minutes pass and the other two passengers get out with a round of “Ying tong poo nahs,” followed by their bags being retrieved. What the fireman’s helmet is wrong with everybody?

Finally a replacement guy gets in the back with me, followed by a lady who has just said her farewells to presumably her husband, sat in the front. We are all now in a battered VW Passat waiting for a missing driver who eventually boards. We pull sixty yards out of the enclosure for him to stop the car and beckon us all out of the vehicle. What is this all about? Now this guy (the driver) had the face of a very well worn Tibetan tribesman. He was about five foot six but built in the shape of a Lego man. He individually thanked us all for choosing his car (What?) and then asked us to get back in. He insisted that we all introduce ourselves. Lady front seat was Ik, I was Bob, and the guy next to me was something unpronounceable but it sounded like Rugrat. So we have Ik, Bob, Rugrat and Tang (the driver) – that done we set off. Tang plugged in his smart phone and gave us without consultation his sounds. Quite lively electro beats for want of more clarity of musical identification. Ten seconds later he is giving it the alternate sideways neck jolts in musical time while driving at seventy miles an hour. After ten minutes of mind numbing thumpy thumpy, it had started to grate into my inner psyche. It was like Scott, Aitkin and Waterman left alone in a sanitarium with, a drum box, Stylophone, and a set of petrified piglets.

Forty minutes of the din had worn me down, so I tapped the lady in the front seat on the shoulder, getting an immediate response from Tang, voluntarily turning the volume down on the player.

I said, “Ik, I hope that I have pronounced your name correctly,” She interrupted with a, “Yearss,” and thirty rapid head nods. I continued with, “You okay with this music?”

“Yearss, It fun,” and thirty more of the woodpecker nods.

“Owwwkay then,” I said elongating the first syllable. I indicated to Rugrat at this point asking if he’d mind just tightening up the straps on the straight jacket before we reached nannies house. Waste of time because he was also lost with the groove, going one step further with some bewildering shoulder hops. Not going well, but at least it’s cheap.

We arrived safely, albeit deaf, in Shymkent. The city is actually, although not physically, split into two. Old and New. The literal translation of its name is “Turf Land” and it is the highest populated of the major cities of Kazakhstan. It sits on the old silk routes and has been a popular trading post for centuries.

I got dropped at the main rail station in the old town where I stood in line involved with a manic pushy shovey affair at the ticket office. One woman came at me with the “Ying tong poo nahs,” in reply to which I declared my nationality. A tall young fellow turned around after hearing my voice, to say that he would help me in a minute as he understood my language. After a greeting in English, continuing to purchase two tickets for his mother, he joined me later still getting manoeuvred around no nearer the ticket window. He introduced himself as Ilyassougolymzghan, which for me was like talking with marbles in my mouth, so I called him Kit. He was a language student, in fact quite an academic. Reasonably fluent in eleven languages, he relayed that he was happy to practice his English with me.

Kit advised me that the train was not only sporadic, but very long winded and slow. For less money he pointed me to what is known locally as a sleeping bus. It is exactly as its name suggests. Instead of there being thirty of forty upright seats, there are around twenty bunks. These are used on longer journeys and they charge double the fares in order to balance the economics of them. They provide, a quilt, a pillow, and you have to take your shoes off to enter the bus. I was fascinated by this concept so bought a ticket on the 7pm to Almaty. (12 hours in total) The fare was £14 around $17 U.S.

After saying goodbye to kit, who was great company for a couple of hours, especially after he knew that I supported Aston Villa. Villa by coincidence, happened to be his favourite soccer side, after Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, Wolves, Everton, Leicester and Watford. He left me around five and a I looked around for a place to get a quick beer. That was like looking for a three legged snake in an igloo. So the time passed and I boarded my new conveyance to Almaty, the last stop before China. This bus was really cool – a really novel idea that for me worked magnificently.

Video needs the speaker up loud.

Position: 43°00'29” N 71°48'28”E – Miles completed: 04849

Location: Somewhere between Shymkent and Almaty, Kazakhstan. 23:31 - 5th January 2020 - Journey 10 days 20 hours


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