Battleship Potemkin

Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Rasputin, Tchaikovsky, Lenin, Trotsky, Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Yuri Gagarin, Laika, Anna Kournikova, Misha the Bear, Dimitri Radchenko, Smirnoff… and I can go on with the list of great Russians for the history. Unfortunately when we think of the country first thing that comes to our mind is vodka, unless you have been there before, in which case is the second. So much I wanted to go to my beloved Russia but I couldn’t. Instead, from Almaty I flew to Ukraine.

From Kiev airport, I went straight to Odessa where I spent a few days. After almost one year outside Europe, it felt very strange being able to enjoy the silence, cleanliness and tidy traffic in a city.

The stairs. Respect
Potemkin stairs. Respect

Beautiful city, good atmosphere and good cheap beer. Many pretty buildings, a big market, nice bars… I like Odessa.

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Something was happening

 

Vodka Blues

(Read with Johnny Cash voice)

This is the story of my phone lost in a quest
Memories are blurry so I will try my best:
Last September in Almaty, Kazakhstan
I was having beer and vodka with a French man

We headed to a dark bar packed with local punks
Folks poured us more vodka till we were drunk
Music was good, but the place became a sausage fest
So a move we made, hoping to find some big breast

I was dancing around trying to get my dick sucked
But more vodka came and I got pretty fucked
After peeing in, the sink I dragged myself out
About my poor condition, there was no doubt

I wandered around a park feeling like crap
I bumped into a bench, nice spot for a nap
Sweet dreams I had till a douche waked me up
“Do I know you dude, tell me what’s up?”

Don’t remember why, but I handed him my phone
For it back, I asked, but the cunt was gone
Slowly I stood up, but I felt down
I tried another time, but again, I hit the ground

I needed to get home, but I was quite far
No other choice but to stop a car
At that late hour, there was no more mashrutka
No one to ask, not even a single babushka

So skilled I am, in Russian I made (almost) a rhyme
Don’t know how to solve this one though… lime?
Back to the story, crawling, a road I found
Lost and sick, I tried my luck around

Suddenly a patrol came out of the blue
All cops are bastards, with me they would screw
They asked for my passport threatening me to jail
Bring on those handcuffs at least there I’ll sleep well!

Pricks weren’t happy, that wasn’t their aim
My pockets they started checking with no shame
One of them took all my cash with his dirty claw
I let my fist fly finding the pig jaw

The other one took me down, again the ground I kissed
Assholes ran away, I was very pissed
No phone, no money, I was in deep shit, you see
I hollered, “Lenin Lenin, have mercy on me”

No clue where I was but my flask I still had
And didn’t get raped, so it wasn’t that bad
For being stupid I paid the price
I can’t forget the day I’ve been robbed twice

Come on you’ve gotta listen unto me
Lay off that beer and let that vodka be

Julio: Cultural Learnings of Kazakhstan for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Galicia

Update: When I wrote this post I forgot to tell you about a movie that may be of interest to many of you. Borat is not the only Kazakh movie. If you want to get more insight about Kazakh nomadic steppe sheep you should watch Tulpan. 100 thrilling minutes observing the difficult yet exciting life of such wonderful animals!. Very likely, if you watch it you will be left hungry for more nomadic life amusement. Then you can check right away this Mongolian one about a camel, very moving when the humpbacked dies in the end. Both highly recommended, think about showing off to hipsters. Sweet dreams.

Kazakhstan is the most developed and westernized country in the region so I guess Borat would rather be Kyrgyz or Uighur. I had less than a week in the country and I was quite lazy at this point of the trip so didn’t do much, just Almaty.

Almaty is another pleasant Soviet city with the usual big gardens, leafy avenues, krushchyovskas… I stayed with the best CS host at her amazing 18th-floor apartment enjoying sunsets, good music, beer, vodka and the company of other nice fellow travelers.

Cathedral in Almaty. Apparently all made of wood  (even the screws)
Cathedral in Almaty. Apparently all made of wood (even the screws)

The only place I visited was the Kazakh “great canyon”. It may the Colorado one, but it is cool. I spent one night camped there and as I arrive quite late I had the whole place to myself and skipped the entry fee.

Canyon
Here you go

I hope next time I have more time in the country to explore its many worldwide famous  tourist attractions such as Astana, the steppe and… wellyou know… all the others.

The pretty steppe, a huge mass of nothingness. In a lucky day you may even find a sheep but don't count on it
Pretty steppe, a huge mass of nothingness. On a lucky day, you may even find a sheep to shag but don’t count on it

One night going out I decided to exchange my second phone for a donkey. OK… that’s not true. I wish I did so I’d be the owner of a cool donkey, but that was not the case :(. I finish my trip without any phone or donkey. What happened that night may fill another post in the future, not sure. For the time being I am gonna leave here the pic of the happy donkey I posted a long time ago

Happy donkey
Happy Donkey

The Horse Shagger

Kyrgyzs have a peculiar way of arranging marriages, bride kidnapping. Seems difficult to believe but it happens. Apparently more than half of marriages are arranged that way being most of them non-consented and it works pretty much as it sounds often including rapes. Here a very recommended documentary on the issue and other local traditions:

In my opinion is a barbaric tradition that doesn’t make a lot of sense in these times. Marriage should be abolished. I agree with the kidnapping part of the thing but why the poor guys that abduct a girl just to have some fun must being forced to marry her afterwards. They should be allowed to return the girl after the business was done. Even if they are thinking about something more stable it would be good to have a trial period, let’s say 2 weeks to check if the girl can cook and clean the yurt properly before deciding if that’s the woman they want to keep in their kitchen for the rest of their life.

Obsolete traditions like marriage lead to a sexual repression that helped by isolation and vodka drinking make a small country like Kyrgyzstan the world leader in the ranking of animal rapes, being horses and fat-ass sheep the favorite targets. Horse whispering can be considered as foreplay here.

Sexy horses
Sexy horses

Sadly it was time to leave Kyrgyzstan and try to find Borat in Kazakhstan. I would strongly recommend Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to independent travellers. I had a great time there meeting friendly locals. The places feel very authentic and mass tourism hasn’t arrived yet. Both countries have quite interesting community based based tourism programs. It is very easy to arrange yurt-stays and home-stays for about $10 including dinner and breakfast). If you pay some extra you can sleep with their cattle if that’s your perversion.  As well horse trekking and other outdoor activities can be arranged at fair prices. I think this scheme benefits tourist as they get a better idea about local life and cultures and the money from tourism gets a real impact in the people and doesn’t go just to a few hotel and business owners. Have to say I almost didn’t use the programs as I was with time I got quite rough and cheap and even that seemed too mainstream.

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After other countries disappointments I was gladly surprised with the tourists I met there and their amazing stories. Among them a couple that bought a donkey and walked 3 weeks in the mountains with him, a guy who bought a horse and was planning take it by land to Germany carrying a viola or another couple that walked there all the way from France. One of the first questions locals may ask you is “where is your bicycle?, why you don’t have one?”, to give you an idea of how hardcore are many tourists that go there.

At this point I am pretty sure no one will check the documentary. Instead quite a few of you are thinking about Googling for the animal rapes rank by country. You sick! Come on, I  just made that up, there is no such a thing.

My "yurt"
My “yurt”

Vodka O’Clock

Previously on anotherlametravelblog… I drunk vodka for breakfast, got in a Gaz and was left in an unpaved road in the middle of nowhere.

After 3 hours with no vehicles a marshutka came. The scenery was amazing and I enjoyed the company who would sing non-stop next to my ear (free showers included) the Kyrgyz traditional music greatest hits.

I slept in a village which name I don’t remember and next morning I aimed for the remote Song Kol lake at 3016m. It’s a 2 days uphill walk but I was hoping to find someone driving that way. It happened after 2 hours. It was a fully packed 4wd and they asked for some money. Of course food and vodka were included. This time the drinking was at 10 am.

Russian Breakfast
Russian Breakfast

Song Kol is a the perfect to observe nomadic life with plenty of yurts, green pastures, horses, sheep… Due to  their isolation, herders here are happy to trade milk, kurut (the stinky cheese balls) and kumys for tea, salt, sex, sugar, socks, cigarettes or vodka, the last one being the most appreciated.

Making friends
Making friends

After hitching/walking around the lake and spending one night in a yurt by the lake next morning I was ready to leave from the other side. On my way a shared taxi was coming and we agreed a fair price. The car was breaking and we have to push it a couple of times. On the way we stopped at someone’s house were I had a 2nd abundant breakfast with orange juice. Kidding, kumys (yeah!) and the almighty delicious vodka. I was quite sick but to be polite I accepted the 5 shots I was given, after all I don’t need to have fun in order to drink. Third day in a row I had vodka before noon, life is not easy.

Yurt, sweet home
Yurt, sweet home

With another shared taxi and a marshutka I made my way to Karakol, a town which not much to see-do but I needed to recover there before going trekking. On the second day I went to Altyn Arashan, a beautiful valley with some pretty hot springs on a kind of cave next to the river with amazing mountain views.

Pretty lake
Pretty lake

As my second pair of shoes was destroyed I borrowed some soviet style boots from the guest house owner and started the trek back to Karakol. One of the most beautiful places I have seen in this trip, especially the lake Al Kol (even the name is pretty). The night at the lake was very cold, the water in the ponds was frozen at the morning. Luckily on the way I met very friendly Germans who saved me from freezing and have a great time with an amazing dinner. The trek was very strenuous and challenged my height fears a couple of times.  On the second night I was extremely tired when back in Karakol and the following day I left for Bishkek.

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In this trip condoms are lasting me more than shoes

More pics

September 11

From Dushanbe to Leninabad is a pleasant journey through a dramatic landscape and the road is not as bad as the previous ones. I managed to get a truck lift quite easy. Yes, mountains, hitchhiking, trucks, friendly people… this blog is getting more predictable than Dr House episodes (it’s not lupus). You know this post will end up with vodka.

On the way from Leninabad to the Kyrgyz border, I was picked by a rich man who invited me to the posh restaurant he owns, the kind of place I would never visit otherwise. After that he took me to a police checkpoint where again the officers did the job for me.

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Luxury breakfast. There were even forks!… wine and beer too

The road from the Kyrgyz border to Osh goes through a Uzbek enclave where tourist are not allowed. They are supposed to pay some extra money to a shared taxi driver to detour around. I chose not to give a fuck and start hitching the usual way instead. The truck driver who too me told me to hide in the bed at the enclave entry checkpoint. It worked, they didn’t see me. I was for about 20 min illegally in Uzbekistan and when about to leave we saw a bunch of soldiers at the road side. They stared when passing but I guess they were too surprised to react in time and stop the truck. The driver told me he was very scared when he saw them. I am not sure what would have been the consequences but the bribe required to sort things out wouldn’t have been a small one.

It was the third time I went through Osh without visiting the place. From there I got in a shared taxi to Jalalabad. No vodka on board, only beer this time. Pussies.

Nothing to see in Jalalabad but it is nice to hang out with the friendly folks. When I went to the cheapest hotel listed on the bible only single rooms were available and I was not willing to pay for one. There were 4 kind tourists (probably the only ones in town) who told me I could try to sneak in their room. The hotel staff caught me climbing to the window: “Not good, not good”. Next plan was pitching my tent at the hotel garden. They saw me again. “Not good. I know…” – “No, no problem but you tell us before” -“Thank you guys”. Next morning I went to the bazaar where a tea house owner wouldn’t let my pay for my breakfast.

This friendly babushka fed me on the way
This friendly babushka (Russian for grandma) fed me on the way

Once my stomach was full I went back to the hitching routine. Among the lifts I got in the remote unpaved road to Kazarman I got another Gaz truck (I love them!), this time sharing the back with two locals, two donkeys and a horse. In Kazarman I camped at the football pitch but this time I asked before.

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My first vehicle next morning was another Gaz and the guys invited me to have breakfast at their where they opened a vodka bottle. Nice way to start the day, I was never a coffee person.

Next lift was on a Rolls Royce. Dream on, kidding… again to the back of an old Gaz. This time I shared with 3 locals, one having a gun. Probably inspired by my energetic breakfast I thought about starting a terrorist cell. So far we count with 1 gun, 3 men, 2 fat-ass sheep, a donkey and lots of kumys (fermented mare milk). Unlike Sadam we posses chemical weapons, my socks, and unlike Bin Laden we do exist. And we made some draws to build a lethal weapon, a cheese balls launcher.

We still don’t know whether to join a big armed organization (Al Qaeda, The NATO…) or go for freelancing jobs. We would need to think about a name, our goals, what we will fight for and all that shit but in the meantime we could kill people that are clearly bad for this world: Paulo Coelho, Mourinho, reggaeton singers, surfers…

P1030743Once the vodka effects were over the idea didn’t seem that good so the cell was dissolved and  I went back to the road.

All In

So finally I got to Dushanbe, a pleasant spotless clean city, full of parks, trees, fountains… and where all the action seems to happen around one long street.

The day I arrived there was a kind of festival in a hill that overlooks the city so there I went. Not many people there a stage with some cheesy Tajik pop singers a camel. Not very exciting but I met some friendly locals that would ensure a pint of beer would be always waiting for me before I could finish the one I was drinking. Despite its friendly folks, the city seems boring.

One the second day I went to the bazaar. When bored anywhere in Asia bazaars are the best call, always plenty of food, weird stuff and interesting characters. There, in a bar, I was allowed to pay my beer and was amazed by the price: 2 Somonis!!! ($0.40, 0.32 euros, 0.27 pounds, 14 rubles, 53 pesetas, 64 escudos, 108 drachmas). Unbelievable, probably the cheapest draft beer in the world. I found something to keep me busy there as I don’t need to have fun in order to drink.

Later on, two women asked me to join them in a bar for beer drinking. I felt something dodgy about them, but more people were there and my hotel just a 3 min walk so I thought nothing should be wrong. One of them offered me to stay at her place, but I knew that wouldn’t be a wise move. A guy warned me as well of possible trouble so after 6 pints I decided it was enough, time to go. Note that all conversations were held in Russian so I understood about 10% and said Da, piva to the rest. On leaving the girls followed me and one grabbed my arm intending not letting me get in the hotel. The security guy had to help me get rid of them. When in my room I heard a lot of screaming and everyone was looking to the street from the room windows. Apparently they start hitting on the hotel staff and police officers had to come. I acted as you would expect, not giving a fuck I went to sleep like a child, a drunk child…

Troublemakers
Troublemakers

When I waked up next morning and was going to leave, downstairs, the hotel manager was waiting for me with a policeman. The piggy was talking with the manager and writing a lot, like 6 papers. What for? I don’t think he has a blog. He asked me a few questions in Russian as well. They were friendly, but the officer was keeping my passport, probably he would want a bribe. They took me to the main police station where they locked the girls for the night. They took all of us (the manager, the girls and me) through different rooms were different officers keep asking questions (always in Putin’s language). I decided to change my strategy and go for I don’t understand instead of the usual yes to all. I kept claiming my passport back… and they ignoring my request. At some point, they brought the guys who know English. He was able to ask me where I am from, my name and if I like football. Then happily he named a few Real Madrid and Barcelona players. Difficult to say whether his English was better than my Russian. Probably he got the job because he wrote he could speak English on his CV, well-played mate. Then they took me back to the hotel ad put me on the phone with a guy who actually could speak good English. He told me to be back in 2 hours to testify and he would be there to translate.

OK, I went to the bazaar for breakfast where I couldn’t resist grabbing a pint of the World Cheapest Beer. Locals brought me 2 more. I back went to the police station in a good mood. There the translator told me I was required to testify at a trial and remain in the country for 1-2 months. I knew they were bluffing and told them it was OK for me to stay there, but they should cover my expenses as I didn’t have money. Definitely not the reaction they were expecting. They asked me when my flight was leaving and what was my next destination. I told them I was going to a village 50 km North and planning to hitchhike to Kyrgyzstan, not flying. They realized they were wasting their time so the translator left me alone with the piggy. No much talk needed to finish the business. The Smurf asked me money to give me back my passport and close the case. – How much? -$100. I put a $10 note one the table. – Good?. He gave the passport and I left. I regretted giving him the $10. I should have played the wild card of pretending to call the Embassy. Against a bluff, a good player should raise and not check as I did.

Time to go to the Russian Embassy, always good fun… Come back on Wed at 3pm with all the documents and invitation and maybe you get your visa in one week. I didn’t want to spend another 10 days in Tajikistan so goodbye Russia.