Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova (4 page)

BOOK: Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova
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Kazakhstan – Astana

The train ride to the new capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, took twenty-four hours. The train was filled with people with lots of gold teeth, a girl from Kyrgyzstan with a moustache and a drunken and annoying Uzbek couple. I arrived in the country of Borat, one of the only countries I had read a few books about since I wanted to be prepared for travelling in a country that was a former Soviet state and had been home to the infamous gulags and nuclear test sites.

Most
Russian and other former Soviet Union train stations have dorms for overnight travelers so it was easy to find a bed. The dorms are cheap and comfortable and you meet a wide selection of characters there.

During
the day I walked around for a bit and in the evening I went to an eating place next to the train station. It was an outside place with a barbeque and a tent built over it. I sat down and ordered two giant chicken skewers and a pint of beer. A few minutes later a Kazakh guy sat down at the same table and started talking to me. He spoke some English and some bad German. He started telling me all kinds of bullshit, like that he was married, except I didn’t see a ring on his finger. He was a schoolteacher but didn’t know anything about teaching when I asked. It was obvious that he was trying to scam me in some way. We talked about girls a bit and then he told me that he was picking up his mother from the train station. He asked me to come with him and he would introduce some girls to me. I said OK and wanted to pay the bill but the Kazakh guy took care of it. We went to the station, this idiot took about a five-second look around for his mother (!) and said “She’s not here, let’s go to meet the girls”.

I
was sure he was trying to sucker me into something I had no interest in and told him no. I went back to the station dormitory, leaving him behind with a dumb look on his face. Thanks for the free beer and food, dumbass.

Beyond looking around, I had some business to attend to:
I needed to get a new Russian double entry visa, and that was going to be a real task to obtain. I went to look for the Russian embassy but couldn’t find it that day. I can’t really say the streets were clearly signed. That night I met two Dutch guys, which was quite a surprise:  next to no tourists at all visit Kazakhstan, so meeting two of your countrymen is exceptional. Koert and Marco were a couple of nice guys travelling around Kazakhstan and Russia. Luckily for me, they also had to go to the embassy to change the date on their visas. They’d met a Kazakh girl who was helping them out with translating and filling in the forms. The Kazakh language was banned during the Soviet occupation, so the spoken language in Kazakhstan is Russian. About 25% of people living in this country are of Russian descent. I don't remember the girl’s name, but she was short and attractive in a cute sort of way.

We
all went to the embassy the next day (Wednesday) only to find out that it was closed. We came back the next morning. There was a long line of Russians waiting at the embassy gates. We stood in line for about four hours: it was about thirty-five degrees Celsius and there was no shade. After four hours we hadn’t even made it to the gates and they shut for the day. So on Friday we went back again and finally got inside. On Thursday, I had bought a new Russian invitation on the Internet.

Maybe I should explain that.  To travel in Russia, you need an invitation from someone already in the country – relative, business partner, travel agency, whatever.  It’s just the sort of thing that’s always gone on in Russia, a country that practically invented bureaucracy and has never liked people being able to move around without officials knowing about it.  These days, though, the system doesn’t work very well, since you can buy invitations on the In
ternet for something like $30.

So
I had my invitation, my passport and money so I thought it would be easy enough to get a new visa. Ha. I soon found out that I also needed to have a train ticket to prove I really was leaving Kazakhstan and entering Russia. So I rushed out of the embassy, jumped into a taxi, got to the train station, stood in line, bought a ticket for some town on the Kazakhstan-Russia border, jumped back into another taxi, returned to the embassy, fought my way back in through the crowd of impatient and shouting Russians, made it to the desk and showed the guy my ticket. He simply looked at it and told me I also needed a copy of the ticket. Even though he had a copy machine right behind him he refused to make a copy for me, even when I offered him some money. This was pathetic. So I raced out of the embassy again, jumped into yet another taxi, rushed to an internet cafe, made some copies – actually, just in case, I copied every piece of paper I had – got back into a taxi, went back to the embassy, fought my way through the crowd of angry and shouting Russians – well, you get the picture. Back at the desk, I was finally able to pay a lot of money – I think it was around a hundred dollars – and we were told to come back the same day and pick up our passports. The other two Dutch guys had also had a lot of trouble with their paperwork. We were all very lucky to have our cute translator girl with us. We came back later and luckily everything was okay this time, we paid and got a new visa sticker in a passport. Normally it’s nearly impossible to get a Russian visa outside your own country, and I was incredibly happy to get it. If I hadn’t, I’d have had to fly to Mongolia and from there on to Japan, which would both be very expensive and mean I’d miss out on the best part of Russia: Siberia and the Russian Far East.

My remaining
days in Astana I visited different parts of the city, taking a lot of pictures. The only bars I saw were very high-end and I skipped visiting them to save money. Astana is a very modern and expensive city with lots of shiny new buildings. The most noticeable landmark, for instance, is the Bayterek tower, a giant shiny golden ball on top of a tall tower. The whole area is brand new and full of massive buildings that must have cost a fortune.

I
didn’t really know where to go or what to see, so I never went out at night, something I now regret. Still, I was excited about being in Kazakhstan and after a lot of hassle about some required migration papers, I bought a train ticket to Almaty, the old capital in the south.

Kazakhstan – Almaty

The long train ride to the far south started with a piece of luck – I was put in a four-person compartment with two young sisters, who were very nice (though one was only 17) and spoke quite good English. I suppose it couldn’t last. The conductor added a fourth person to the cabin, a guy called Nariman. I was a bit pissed-off – there I was, just getting started, and this cock-block shows up, a guy who didn’t even have a ticket but made a deal with the conductor. I wasn’t very happy about this.

As it turned out, though, Nariman was a cool guy
who spoke very good English. He was enthusiastic about meeting a foreigner travelling in his country. It was nice to be able to speak some English again instead of attempting horribly bad Russian.

Aigeriem, the elder of the two sisters, had a boyfriend, and when we arrived he drove me to a guesthouse. It was a total dump and they noticed; within an hour they had found me
a quite expensive hotel instead. It cost forty dollars a night, but after looking at that guesthouse I didn’t care, though I told them I couldn’t afford it for long.

The
room was nice but had no hot water in the shower. After twenty hours on a hot and dusty train I didn’t care and showered anyway. That night I met up with Nariman again, and we decided to smoke some weed together with his buddies. They told me to wait at a crossroad a few blocks from my hotel. I waited for a while and suddenly a big Mercedes stopped next to me. Nariman was sitting inside with two friends and one was quite a big guy. It all looked very dodgy. I asked myself how well I knew this Nariman fellow: after all, I’d just met him on the train, where he’d told me he was a banker and worked crazy hours, but I had no proof of any of that. Still, because he spoke good business English I decided to take a gamble and trust him and his friends, so despite the fact my mother always told me not to get in cars with strangers, I climbed in.

We
drove around a bit and Nariman showed me the weed. It was stuffed in a matchbox and it was the crappiest looking bush weed I ever saw. I asked him how much they paid for it and he said something like twenty dollars.

When
I offered them to pay my share they refused. We all sneaked into my hotel room and sat down. The other two guys didn’t speak much English. The biggest guy started rolling the joints and was constantly talking about the police. He was freaking me out and at one point I told him to either say he was a police officer who was going to arrest me or to shut up about it. They all laughed and I relaxed a bit. Smoking weed in Kazakhstan is highly illegal and they will throw you straight into jail if they catch you, tourist or not. The only way out is a thousand-dollar bribe, and I wasn’t planning to pay that amount of money and go through a lot of trouble just for smoking a joint.

We
started to smoke and got through something like four big fat joints. The Kazakhs were super proud to smoke weed with a foreigner and especially someone from the marijuana capital of the world: Holland. We smoked everything and the Kazakhs were as high as kites, laughing their asses off. I almost didn’t feel a thing; I was still used to the strong weed from the Netherlands. The Kazakhs were very impressed.

T
he next day, Aigeriem called me and told me she’d found a new place for me to stay. I checked out immediately and took one of those big fluffy towels from the hotel to compensate for not having had warm water. The room Aigeriem had found was with an old Russian lady. She looked like she was a thousand years old, spoke only Russian and was half deaf and blind. I paid only forty-five dollars for eight days and had my own room with a bed, television and a table.

The
rest of the week was kind of boring. I spent my days visiting some museums and war monuments. I didn’t have a laptop back then so instead of wandering through the Internet I just learned some Russian during the day.

Aigeriem stopped calling – I guess her boyfriend was jealous or something. Also, she was a bit of a goody-two-shoes and I’d refused to pay a huge fine
at the police station to get some immigration paper they thought I needed, since I’d got my visa back in Holland and knew my papers were in order. The immigration officers even wanted an official invitation paper from the old grandma I was staying. I was like “fuck that, I’ll take my chances”

On
Friday Nariman called me and asked me to go out with him. He said he knew four girls who were dying to meet a world-travelling foreigner. Of course I said yes to this. Everyone found it really interesting that I was travelling around Russia and Kazakhstan without speaking sufficient Russian. People there can’t usually afford to travel abroad, and even if they can it’s a hassle with the Russian and Kazakh governments.

We
all met in a big club and they all bought me mojitos. After the club we went to a smaller bar where we smoked the big shish (water pipe). Nariman had told me he had a crush on a girl working at his bank, and she was there that night.  She was a 7.5 at least. The girl sitting next to me was only a 6.5, but she had an amazing body. Her name was Dana. After we left the bar Nariman and the girls waited for a taxi and I assumed that Dana was going with them, but she surprised me by saying she wanted to walk with me. We were making out within minutes and she got quite horny, but she didn’t want to take it any further. I got home at seven in the morning and quickly fell asleep.

I
had one more date with her and a girlfriend but not much happened that night except for going to a cinema. And that was the end of that. No Kazakh flag, but at that point I wasn’t really bothered with flags or even particularly concerned with getting laid. I was still in touch with both Julias and kind of missed the one from Kazan. Of course, I wouldn’t say no to an opportunity, but I was focusing most of my attention on surviving a trip to unknown places where I hardly understood a word people were saying. Not many people or tourists visit places in the Russian federation other than St Petersburg or Moscow.

A
few days later I took a (Russian) tour to Charyn National Park, the Kazakh equivalent of the Grand Canyon. It was a two-hour drive and I met two Dutch girls in the tour bus. There must be something about Kazakhstan that attracts Dutch people, because weirdly I didn’t meet tourists from any other nationalities while I was there, only ones from Holland. One of the girls was of Chinese descent but had a great pair of knockers. I hung out with them all day while climbing rocks and taking walks through the astonishing natural scenery. The views were amazing and it was nearly forty degrees outside. It was tough climbing the rocks there but definitely worth it. The guides even forced the Russian seniors who took the tour to climb the dangerously loose mountain sides. I needed both hands to climb up and they were even with walking canes (!?) Later that weekend I met up with Nariman again and we had some beers and smoked some shish. The next day I left Almaty and headed back to Russia – a land I’d been interested in that now I loved, seduced by the friendliness of the people, their endless curiosity about foreigners, and the stunning architecture.

Train ride from Almaty to Irkutsk

That being said, the train ride back to Russia and further to Irkutsk was the ride from hell. Welcome back to Russia.  (I love Russia, but like everything really worth getting bothered over, it has its share of issues.)  Let’s start with the first part of the trip, the forty-hour ride to the Russian city of Novosibirsk. Getting the train ticket was a piece of cake this time: the woman behind the counter didn’t ask for any migration papers and didn’t even make a problem when I bought a ticket for a train ride after my visa ended. I did this because I didn’t want to arrive in a major Russian city at three in the morning, which is definitely not recommended if you’re interested in keeping your skull or ribs (or life) undamaged. So I bought a ticket for a later train that arrived at ten in the morning.

BOOK: Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova
9.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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