Wednesday 24 February
I’ve become entrenched in my own seemingly bottomless pit of procrastination. Quite frankly dear readers I’m really tired. The winter is taking the breath out of me and my knack for finding a decent story, usually derogatory to my own self esteem and pride. Yeah sure I’d woken up in a bar a few times with a blanket over me and slipped spectacularly on the ice again, but you don’t want to hear about that do you? You do?! Oh well alright then. If only because it’s the only self-depreciating tale I’ve told over the past couple of weeks. I must be going soft. Maybe I should hitchhike Afghanistan?
So I’d landed hard on my elbow after watching my feet go out from under me and taken the skin off the joints of my fourth and little finger of my right hand. This was in front of many locals, in broad daylight, and I was sober as a judge this time I promise. Stumbling in pain into an Italian restaurant, I was covered in blood and embarrassment. More with embarrassment. Anyway I’ve ordered a detox smoothie and token risotto while the very kind waiter has tended to my wound with this green antiseptic stuff that makes my right hand look like it belongs to the Hulk. Apart from the size. And pain tolerance. Accompanied by strange looks from Kyrgyz locals, I’m howling with every light dab of the cotton wool swab. Christ help me if I ever got shot.
At some point I’ve also managed to run my first pub quiz since Croatia for an expat group, and break my snowshoeing virginity, both of which went surprisingly well considering. But you’re really looking for the nitty-gritty, the outrageous shenanigans, the near death experiences and utter filth aren’t you, you sick bunch of twisted bastards?! Today I burned an omelette. How’s that? Debaucherous enough for you?! And therein lies the rub.
You see, replacing my wanton desire for mad adventure is a surprisingly simple, if by contrast extremely dull ambition. I’ve been craving normality. I’ve been dreaming about waking up in my own place, with all my long-forgotten stored belongings back beside me, undisturbed by a cacophony of snoring, body odor or someone not understanding the rudiments of a toilet brush. I’ve been dreaming about finally being able to buy Lego again, and spending an exorbitant amount on money on full body, movie-accurate stormtrooper armour. Seriously chicks dig that shit. I’ve been yearning for stability, flirting with the possibility of settling down, and (whisper it) thinking about getting a job. What has become of me?
All this staring out of windows dancing with the idea that I could be a normal human has coincided with meeting a lovely bunch of folk in Bishkek, including a charming American school teacher who just so happens to be in the market for a dishwashing dog walker. The fantasy of reaching the pinnacle of existence has become a reality. I am a house husband. Albeit temporarily. It doesn’t get better than this. What was good enough for my father is good enough for me.
All joking aside dear readers it has been a joy to remember what it feels like to be somewhat cack-handidly back in society. Those who will attempt to convince you that constant, long-term travel is the best fucking thing in the world are only deluding themselves. It’s lonely, it’s tiring, it’s hard work, it’s stressful and it’s lonely. I may have mentioned that one before. Finding a family in Bishkek balances it out, but alas once again the hour draws nigh where I must tear myself away and start all over again. Resting my head on my own pillow I cannot yet do until I finish this mission I so foolishly set out to complete four long years ago. I’m three countries away from completing the hitchhike to India, and as much as I’m slowing down, you’d better believe I’m not ready to quit yet.
And so on a bright morning I find myself saying a (temporary) goodbye to a city I’ve fallen in love with against all odds. Maybe not so much the bricks and mortar as the people. And by people I mean expats. I never thought I’d say that. The border is its usual joke to cross, with the guards yet again stamping an exit date on an empty passport page, leaving me with only two blank pages left to get my Chinese visa. If on the way back some idiot decides to take one of those, I’m royally screwed. I’m going to watch them like a hawk.
Shoehorned in to one of those little marshutka mini-buses I’m thankful I don’t have a lot of luggage as I left it all at my destination. Coming back is going to be fun. It’s the kind of vehicle whereby if someone stands up next to you their ass is just the right height to brush your face. Not bad if it’s a hot Russian chick, terrible if it’s a large, sweaty Kazakh dude. Guess which one it was? That’s even if they decide to offer you the rear end in the first place. Equally disturbing is lifting your nose from literature and getting an eye full of crotch. Sights you can never un-see.
After hours of waiting for the crap bus to follow us across the border, we’re speeding towards Almaty narrowly avoiding a multitude of car accidents, while watching some god-awful Russian crime drama. As far as I can glean, it’s about an ex-military-turned-paramedic-type with a jaw full of marbles and an estranged lover he can never quite shag even though he’s some kind of hero who solves murders, and always finds himself in the hands of goons, only to be saved by his best mate in the police force at the end. It’s shit, but even the non-Russian speakers in the van are glued to every foreign word. I turn towards the window and flit between the brilliant snowy shine outside, and the comfort of a new book. I’m asleep in moments.
In a few hours when I arrive in Almaty two months after saying I would return, I will hopefully discover my guitar and other belongings haven’t been sold, a missing persons report has not been filed and I can continue my application for the Chinese visa. Then a return to Bishkek to bid proper farewells, and finally cross into my 57th country sometime in March. The great dragon awaits. I’m going to finish this hitchhike or die trying; probably from slipping on ice while walking a dog.