A foray into stability and a return to Almaty

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.

Knackered

Knackered

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.

Look at all that space ruined you bastard!

Look at all that space ruined you bastard!

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.

Watch out for fake kids crossing the road

Watch out for fake kids crossing the road

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.

Back to all this shit

Back to all this shit

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.

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Horses, broken backs, goddesses and coffee shop wankers

Monday 01 February

You knew it was going to happen, I knew it was going to happen, everyone knew it was going to happen.  I’m staying in Bishkek.  For the time being at least.  As much as Chinese New Year was tempting, the distance to cover, the weather and the visa are not.  Instead I’m languishing in the capital of Kyrgyzstan having a ball.  Then it all goes literally arse-over-tit.

Two nights of the year that shouldn’t be allowed to be back to back are Burns Night and Australia Day.  It’s just a recipe for disaster.  I can remember where I was on each occasion since leaving home, and on each occasion it didn’t end well.  This time I’m out with my partner in crime Marie, who just happens to be Aussie.  So the two of us do our best to save each others souls over the course of the two days.  Then we find ourselves getting a prayer by the roadside from a Christian taxi driver who drops us off at our regular haunt to continue the festivities.

A few hours and one sleep in the bar later (don’t ask) and I’m offered the chance to do “anything you want” to quite simply the most beautiful girl I’ve  ever met.  In the last hour.  Or ever.  One of the two.  Three sheets to the wind and I lose badly – although I swear I had her on the ropes – which obviously would have been used had I won.  Winky face.  Upon leaving to cry myself to sleep, I slip spectacularly on the ice outside, and crash down hard on the step with my lower back and right elbow.  Two taxi drivers (or Jedi as I like to believe – for they saw the whole thing happening in slow motion before it began) sprint to my aid and bundle me home.  So much for the power of prayer.

And then the curse continues.  I’m bedridden for the weekend, pretty much in agony and barely able to walk.  I’m advised to visit the hospital, but I’m confident I’m only bruised and no lasting damage has ensued.  Missing out on a wild weekend (my rationale for constantly boozing is I suffer from major FOMO), Marie decides to cheer me up by offering an opportunity to ride a horse at her family stables.  Perhaps I have the chance to redeem myself?

Not so.  Now I’m currently sitting in the expat coffee-house being a coffee-house wanker on my hipster netbook, drinking a mocha mint latte and lamenting a spectacular fail riding the back of the beast.  I’m surrounded by earring sporting, scarf wearing, Christmas jumper tragedy bastards with beards and smartphones, all pretending to read posh books and learn Russian.   What the fuck am I doing in here?  Well bollocks to it.  At least I’ve got 20 matches on tinder.

Horses for courses

Horses for courses

I digress.  Marie’s family owns a stables outside of town, and she’s kind enough to allow me to join her to meet the horses and ride for the first time since my horse ranch shenanigans in Bulgaria, 2014.  Alas, for one reason or another she has to sell up, and she’s struggling to find new owners for these gorgeous animals, as by and large they’re sporting (jumping) horses. They’d be unsuitable for the mountains or trekking in Kyrgyzstan, so finding a new home that treats them well isn’t easy.  As horse is a national delicacy in culinary terms too, you can understand why staunchly vegetarian Marie is close to tears.

Look at that face!  I need a home!

Look at that face! I need a home!

But today the sun is shining and following the failure of weekend only happy thoughts are allowed.  After meeting the stable manager (the best show jumper in Kyrgyzstan) and the animals, I’m finally sitting in the saddle after nearly 2 years.  And it immediately begins to show.

Yeah I totally know what I'm doing

Yeah I totally know what I’m doing

Around the ring I initially give a decent account of myself under the watchful eye of such experts, and considering I’ve only ever had one lesson I’m feeling pretty good.  Incidentally that lesson came circa 2005, when – prompted by a break up – I faced my long-standing fear of horse riding from childhood and forced myself to learn to ride.  And also just in case I was ever cast in Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings.  Orlando Bloom you utter cunt.

Preparing to ride out.  Here goes everything

Preparing to ride out. Here goes everything

One lesson in 2005 does not a rider make.  Also I’ve never been thrown from a horse and I’ve been reliably told you’re only a rider when that happens.  Reassuring.  BUT I’VE DONE POLO!!  I’VE DONE POLO DAMMIT!  I GOT THIS!!

I don’t got this.

Within a minute out the gate, my steed turns and bolts back to the stables and I can’t make him stop.  Try as I might he’s intent on going back, and the more I try to control him, the more he bucks.  Now it’s not too violent, but there’s definitely a moment in my head and heart when I felt this was it.  My time has come. Launched out the saddle, foot stuck in the stirrup, never to be seen again.  I manage to stay on and calm him a little, but as we’re let back into the ring, he makes a beeline for the filly next to his stables.  I’m still convinced he’s going to throw me, and I decide it’s definitely time to get off this ride.  I’m doing my best not to visibly shake as I dismount, and the stable manager notices my right hand cut and bleeding moderately.

Seconds before disaster

Seconds before disaster

The puny war wound does little to install confidence that I gave it my all to calm, subdue and control the animal, and I’m feeling utterly dejected as we leave the stables.  Almost inconsolable.  Pride well and truly dented.  Any number of factors could come into play here, but I think he might have breathed in a heavy whiff of my apprehension.  I could feel it myself too.  For one reason or another, either the insecurity from my broken back slipping on ice, failing to land the girl of my dreams in a do or die chess match, still shaking from Burns Night and Australia Day, or that bastard curse the “Christian” taxi driver put on me, it’s just not been my weekend.  So much for my “I love riding horses” bravado.  Pride comes before a fall.  I’ve just had two.

This is how I feel right now

This is how I feel right now

Cleaning my cut hand and checking the bubbling neck rash from my allergy to horses (!), I discover the stress of the last few moments has also begun to sprout a mammoth cold sore.  Ahhhh yes I wondered when this little arsehole was going to shine, and right on cue he arrives.  There to remain for a long week with a paper bag over my head.  But I’m always at my healthiest when I’m ill, so it’s time to sit back, take plenty of non-recreational drugs, drink my weight in water, and eat more than just four boiled eggs a day; because come Friday – literally – I’m going to get back on the horse.

But I’m probably still going out tonight for a drink aren’t I?

FML.

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