Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova (5 page)

BOOK: Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova
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ticket purchase went super fast because I got help from an English-speaking lady waiting in line. After I had the ticket she tried to convince me to join a church with a full demonstration of Jesus-freak preaching. Nice of her, but eh, no thanks, I don't believe in fairy tales told by grown men in dresses.

a ride in Kazakhstan is dead simple: you just stand at the side of the road and stick your arm out. So far it’s similar to lots of countries; the only difference is that while there are taxis, any car will stop in the hope of making an extra buck. Then you have to haggle (ten words of Russian and using your fingers for counting) with the locals to get a ride. I’ve taken lots of trips with complete strangers for just a few dollars this way. It’s a win-win situation for the both of us. They get some extra gasoline money in a country where gasoline is dirt cheap thanks to their enormous oil industry and I get a cheap ride to wherever I want.

buying the ticket I went back to my room to pack my bag and buy some food for the trip. I said goodbye to the Russian grandma (who’s toilet sounds I won’t miss) and went to the station. I thought it would be smart to have some money in case I needed to bribe the railway police so I took about 150 dollars worth of Kazakh Tenge out of the ATM. I got on the train and after a while the railway police at some station checked me out. Finding out my visa had expired that day, they started to make problems. I started to negotiate a bribe by writing numbers on my translation book since they didn’t speak any English. At one point they agreed on twenty dollars but told me, as far I could understand, that I couldn’t leave the country. I said I was going to the border anyway, and suddenly they didn’t want the bribe anymore and let me go.

was happy not to pay a dime to those hicks, not knowing what a surprise was waiting for me at the border.

again, the train was filled with all kinds of characters. No good-looking single women, though, that was for sure. Things started to get really interesting a few hundred kilometers before the border, when the whole train wagon came alive. I had already noticed that a few people had enormous bags with them. They started to unpack those bags and out came the t-shirts, jeans and dresses. Others had massive amounts of alcohol with them. You’d think this was all done out of sight of the officials, but no: the train conductor was the great leader in all this. He even tried to stash four bottles of whiskey in my bag. I told him “No way!” Let him do his own smuggling. All the mattresses were lifted and got a pile of jeans under them. All the pillowcases were filled with t-shirts and dresses. This whole process took about an hour, and by the end the whole wagon was one gigantic contraband-stuffed carriage.

we finally reached the Kazakh/Russian border, the train was raided by customs soldiers. They started checking all the passports. I remembered that the officers before wanted dollars instead of their own currency, so I reached into my bag and looked for my hidden pocket. Normally I would wear the money belt/pocket under my clothes but in Almaty it was so hot that I left it in my bag a few times. I found my money belt but the money was gone. I suspect that the grandson of the old Russian lady I stayed with took it. He was a scumbag, always asking me for small change and cigarettes. I often heard him yell at the old lady. Like I said, just before I got on the train I bought some groceries for the long train ride, and didn’t pay attention to my bag. This was probably the moment the bastard stole my money. 165 USD gone.

for him I didn’t check before I left, because I’m not the forgiving type or the average schoolboy backpacker. I would have beaten the living daylights out of him right there in his own house. I’ve been my own judge a couple of times before and I’ve never regretted it, even though I ended up with a criminal record because of it. Anyway, the money was gone, I was hundreds of kilometers away from Almaty, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it.

When a
customs officer looked at my passport and saw my visa was expired, he told me to get off the train. From the moment I stepped off the train there were a few mean-looking soldiers surrounding me. One had a big German Shepherd dog on a leash that was nearly biting me and another soldier stuck his AK-47 in my back. He pushed me in front of him towards a small office while yelling commands I couldn’t understand at me in Russian. I had to walk past the train and absolutely everyone was watching me. The train nearly fell on its side because everyone was pressing against the windows to see me.

the office I was questioned as to why I had overstayed my visa. They wanted to know everything about why I was in Kazakhstan, what I’d done there, where I’d been.  Then they told me they had to send me back to Almaty to get another visa. It sounds ridiculous, to make me take a thirty-five hour train ride back to Almaty jus to get a hundred-dollar visa for a single day. But they were dead serious about it. This carried on for half an hour; four different officers were constantly asking me difficult questions in Russian, making phone calls and faxing my picture around.

Finally, a
t some point an officer from the Russian side of the border walked in, probably to find out what was holding the train up so long.  He had a lot of stripes on his shoulder and a massive hat; he looked impressive, was clearly high-ranking, and spoke reasonable English. He asked me where I was from, and I told him Holland. As soon as I said that he cracked a huge smile and got all enthusiastic. Apparently he was a major Football fan, and he said that since the Russian national team hired a Dutch coach they had started to have some great successes on the field, for the first time in years. I joined in his enthusiasm about the famous coach Guus Hiddink and kept talking about Football. He started talking to the Kazakhs and apparently convinced them to let me go, because that’s just what they did. All I had to do was sign some documents and that was it. I didn’t even get a fine or anything!

got back on the train and everyone asked what happened. The train was moving again and I explained while people unpacked all their smuggled stuff from everywhere in the wagon and put it back in their bags. Some hours later we arrived in Novosibirsk.

At this point
I was running short on time to visit; I had to go to Mongolia before a specific date or my Mongolian visa wouldn’t be valid anymore. The next train to Irkutsk, a mere 1,850 km away, was leaving in a few hours and I bought a ticket for it, just in case I hadn’t spent enough time on trains of late. Because I didn’t end up using the Kazakh money for bribery, and since I was out of USD thanks to that bastard in Almaty, I wanted to change it to Russian rubles. Funnily enough, I couldn’t find an exchange booth anywhere. I tried several banks next, but none of them could or would change it. No bank would take the money, not in Russia, Japan or China.

Hong Kong I gave up, and to this day I’m still stuck with $150 worth of Kazakh money.  I’ll have to go back.

is train ride took yet another forty hours and I slept for most of it. The trains are interesting at first, since they were all made back in the Soviet era, but the Soviet propaganda imagery gets pretty boring after a while. Bear in mind that the trains I took in Russia were never the “real” Trans-Siberian train, an overpriced tourist trap.  These were the real trains that real people took, who always got wide eyes when they saw my huge backpack, since they’d almost never seen a tourist in among them before. They got interested and it was easy to strike up conversations – well, at least as much of a conversation as my limited Russian allowed. Everyone gets their own bed, and the toilets are reasonably clean, though the sink there is the only one and everyone has to freshen up and do their teeth there, which seeing as there are 48 beds per carriage can make for a bit of a lineup.

were a few shady characters in the train wagon, particularly two Siberian truck drivers who for some reason needed to be on the train. One was wearing a black eye patch and looked pretty beat up and the other one was a drunk. Other passengers warned me not to hang out with them but there was no escaping. They just kept sitting close to me and I decided to make the best of it and we drank some vodka together. The next morning when I woke up they were gone but all my stuff was still there, so everything worked just fine.

the girls/women called provodnitsas who work on the trains – serving drinks, looking after passengers, all that – are fucking horrible but this time there was a nice-looking girl working and she was super friendly. She brought me free tea the whole day and we chatted a lot. Her English wasn’t good enough for a normal conversation but we got along. The last ten hours the wagon was almost empty and I was so bored that I actually helped her clean and fold all the sheets and blankets. After almost eighty hours and lots of trouble I finally arrived in Irkutsk. I still have Elen on my Facebook.

Russia – Irkutsk and Ulan Ude

On arriving in Irkutsk I took a taxi to the nearest hostel, where luckily they still had a bed available. I found four guys in the kitchen, three English and one American. We had a lot of drinking fun that night; after my trip I was definitely in need of a shot, or two or three. The guys invited me to come with them to Lake Baikal and to Ulan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, and the next day the five of us went to the train station to buy tickets. I had some doubts about doing this because I thought I might want to stay longer in Irkutsk and go out a bit, but I bought the ticket anyway and we went to Listyanka, a small tourist town next to the famous Baikal by minivan. Lake Baikal is the deepest and biggest freshwater lake in the world; it’s the size of a small country and it’s legendary – there’s a great Russian folk song about it.

walked and climbed a bit along the shoreline and took some great pictures of this endless, clear blue lake. After that we bought some beers and rested a bit on the small beach.

the Russian summer is hot, the water was freezing cold and we only swam for a few minutes.

were two local girls hanging around us and they giggled a lot when they saw me mooning passing boats. Who can resist such a work of performance art? They came closer and I splashed some water on them, and we got talking. One girl didn’t speak any English but the other one, who was a stunning blonde, spoke a little. We chatted for a while until the guys wanted to go back to the hostel.

walked back to the bus stop and ate some delicious smoked fish along the way. Close to the bus stop we were eating and drinking some more and I ran into the two girls again. They said wanted to go to a club with me. “With us?” I asked them. “No, with you” they replied. It was pretty clear they were not attracted by the shy behavior of the others. I still had to say no to them, unfortunately, because I’d already checked out of the hostel and had a train ticket. They were very disappointed. I tried to convince the guys to change the tickets and stay just one day longer but they wanted to go.

went back to the hostel, took our bags and got on the train to Ulan Ude. There’s never a guarantee about anything, but I was pretty sure I could have at least kissed that cute one on a night out.  Oh well.

night we drank lots of beer on the train. In Russian trains, drinking beer is quite normal, there’s a guy walking around with a little shopping cart selling it. We arrived quite early and we walked around the city a bit. One of the guys, the baby of the bunch, was named Chris, and when I found out he was nineteen I told him I was old enough to be his father. After all, I was thirty-two and I first had sex when I was thirteen with an English girl named Rachel. At that he shouted out: “O my god, my mom’s name is Rachel”. I burst out laughing and made quite a few jokes about that, telling him we’d hadn’t been very safe and so it was entirely possible that I’d knocked her up. Actually, I checked, and his mother was older than the Rachel I was with. Still, we all laughed about it, and from that moment I called him son and occasionally had a portentous father/son conversation with him, dispensing sage advice.  Because you really want your fatherly advice to come from a guy who sold his house to bum around the world for three years and pick up girls.

bought some more beers at a supermarket and started drinking again. It was eleven in the morning and we were already downing beers like idiots. We all took a minibus ride to a Buddhist monastery (yes, Russia has those too) and were surprised to see just how poor everything was, while the monks were walking around with mobile phones and gameboys.

night our group went to a Mongolian restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet. The food tasted very good but the next day I was sick as fuck. That evening we went to an Internet cafe/bar/casino where we almost had a fight with an annoying drunk army captain. He was fun at first but got more annoying and aggressive as the evening went on.

night I said goodbye to two of the three English guys. Too bad, because those guys were the most fun in our group. The other English guy, James and an American guy also named James and I went on the train to the Mongolian border and spent the night in the train station’s dorm. We watched some TV series on a laptop and drank a bottle of vodka.

Mongolia – Ulan Bataar

My trip to Mongolia wasn’t without trouble. When I woke up in the dorm at the Russian train station in Naushki I was quite hungover and had to run for the toilet. My stomach was fucked up, either from the Mongolian food and/or the bottle of vodka we drank the night before. The two Jameses and I got into a taxi that took us to the border. There we found a family with a minivan who would take us across for a few dollars each. We cramped ourselves into the van with the whole Mongolian family and lots of bags and went across the border. There we found a guy/taxi to drive us to Ulan Bataar. I think we paid around sixty dollars for it, which in my opinion was way too much for a five-hour drive, but the others wanted to go and I had to tag along.

BOOK: Around the World in 80 Girls: The Epic 3 Year Trip of a Backpacking Casanova
6.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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