Kazakhstan Part 5 – The Almaty Chronicles

DAY 3 in Almaty

Dom had been whining about not having gone paragliding in Georgia for some weeks by this point. Rousing the team at 8am he announced that he had committed us all to a session paragliding. Collected from our hostel with sleep in our eyes and reluctant limbs, we were driven 40km outside Almaty to a big hill. We then proceeded to jump off the hill, strapped to monolingual bearded men, to float around for about 30 minutes each, our only instruction being “RUN RUN RUN” pre-take-off (Health and Safety gone mad!) A whole day spent waiting to look at the ground from slightly higher up (and paying £50 each for the privilege). Ollie got quite close to some Kazakh birds (eagles or similar) and Dom took off backwards. Steve went pretty high and Jack went pretty far. All in all, I think we all agree we would have preferred to stay in the dorm and watch The Wire.



Our guide, however, was very interesting. Working for a paragliding company, he couldn’t tell us anything about it in advance of our flights because he had never done it himself. We learnt from him about Almaty’s split personality between winter as a ski resort and summer as an adventure site for hikers, climbers, bikers and so on. We learnt about the deep pride that the Kazakhs have for their multicultural tolerance and acceptance of all religions. About their preference to marry young. About their unique diplomatic position, in having fostered positive relationships with China, Russia and the West. About the differing attitudes of people from the city and those from the countryside. About how Bob Marley’s music can put children to sleep.

We wanted to walk to the bazaar, but at this point there was, again, about half an hour until the Bazaar closed before we remembered.

Dom had been whining about not seeing much of each place we stayed in, ever since we had driven directly through Hungary without stopping. To shut him up, we looked up some “areas of interest” and walked around them a couple of times. We saw a park and a church thing. The most interesting thing about them were the use of old Ice Tea bottles as sprinklers to revive the balding, anaemic grass. It was nice, but it was not quite driving. Then we went and ate at a “Chinese Restaurant”. This was just a Kazakh restaurant with a sign saying “Chinese Restaurant” outside. It had pictures of approximately 8 different meals outside, only one of which we could order.



We then went for a couple of drinks at an unjustifiably expensive bar before heading back and watching The Wire. Finally.


DAY 4 in Almaty

Unable to motivate ourselves to move, we stayed in bed until it was almost too late to go to the bazaar. But then we did actually go to the bazaar. The bazaar’s meat hall alone is the size of a normal supermarket. Add two warehouse-sized indoor sectors, an outdoor sector quadruple the size of those combined, laid out over three floors, and you have no trouble losing Dominic first and then Jack. Ollie bought a blanket, we tried and failed to buy a chess set for the 15th country in a row and got out-bartered by half a dozen stall-holders whilst trying to buy Kazakhstan t shirts. We did manage to buy a ‘Good’ drink, its logo eerily similar to Google’s.

We could all feel the trip slipping away from us. We were so close to Mongolia. Our visa dates for Russia were starting to slip, Dom was running up against the number of days he could stay in Kazakhstan without a Business visa. Every day spent in Almaty meant accumulating inevitable expense: there was no way, by this point, that we would have either the money or the time to do the ‘Western route’ through Mongolia; the reason most people even bother doing the Mongol Rally. The Western Route is a roadless expanse of nomadic wilderness that is the closest thing (that you can drive to) to the end of civilisation. Imagining the limousine crossing rivers and getting stuck, its wheels falling off in the midst of Yak-inhabited steppe, was the real comedy behind choosing it. We were fairly down about the wrecked suspension and the delays.

So there we were, watching the world Volleyball championships and eating garlic croutons, our litres of beer served to us by Fraus in traditional Bavarian dress, in a German bar in Almaty, Kazakhstan. We stayed like this until we had finished the free garlic croutons and caught a taxi back to Dastarkhan, where we knew the beer was marginally cheaper.


Little did we know the margin by which it was cheaper. When we ordered 4 litres of beer, it was served to us in a ‘tower’ at a steep discount (averaging out at £1 / Litre). We were met there by a pair of American ralliers who had valorously opted to do the Rally in the tiny Daewoo Matiz. We merrily drank our way through several towers. Dom fell asleep. Jack excused himself to the bathroom. Once there, carefully surveying the room, he opted, after a slight pause, to throw up into the sink. After some time at this activity, Jack (with dismay) noted that the discharge was not going down the sink. A bouncer arrived at the door. “Hello!” Said Jack cheerfully, giving the man a nod and a wink. Turning back to the task at hand with utter despair, Jack begun using his hands as surreptitiously as he could, under the supervision of his new friend. He used his finger to poke the larger chunks of part-digested garlic crouton through the narrow gratings in the sink. He was, overall, hideously unsuccessful. We all soon left – never to return.


The walk from Dastarkhan to the Hostel takes approximately 90 seconds. Dom and Steve decided to spice things up, bored as they were, by taking a new route back. They arrived back at the hostel more than an hour later after having got lost walking round the corner. The saga continues.


DAY 5 in Almaty

The situation was thus. Dom, being the least organised of the group in the run up to the trip, had delayed arranging a Kazakh visa for so long that Kazakhstan had repealed the visa requirement for British citizens. He therefore had 15 days visa-free in Kazakhstan whilst Steve, Ollie and Jack had a full 30 days on their visa. This 15 day quota was running thin due to the delays with the drive shaft. With no available information on the new arrangement, Dom peeled himself from bed, hungover, pre-8am, and set out in search of the British Embassy.

Standing in the address that Google Maps had given him, he could not help but feel as though something was not quite right. There was more greenery than he was expecting, and fewer walls. The British Embassy appeared to be a disused lot with some old children’s play equipment rusting in it. Checking his facts online, he was redirected to a nearby hotel. There was a picture of the hotel on the British consular section’s website. That was how Dom knew he was in the right hotel.

“They have moved”. The stony receptionist told him adamantly. “I don’t know where they have gone”. After a couple of phone calls, she had an address for him. On the opposite side of Almaty, Dom found himself in the building that also housed the US embassy; this seemed hopeful.

The foyer was split into two halves. On the US half sat 6 armed guards in full uniform, set up with a pair of PCs and a full walkthrough metal detector. On the British side sat a
Kazakh teenager in a fake Gucci t shirt playing on her iphone. She stared through his passport with glazed eyes and directed him up 8 floors. Dom, following these instructions, arrived in the offices of the British Council, an organisation for the promotion of British culture and the English language outside the UK. They have absolutely no dealings with Visas, but the staff there had a tip as to where he ought to go next. The directions took him back towards the centre of town to a complex that was approximately 3 minutes’ walk the Hostel. After walking two laps of the complex, Dom eventually realised that his destination was a set of closed shutters adorned with precisely no information as regards opening times. Dom would later discover that August bank holiday applies to British staff working in Almaty. But even if the place had been open, it would have only helped him get a visa for Britain, being the British visa service for Kazakh citizens.

In a nearby café, Dom phoned the number listed on the British embassy website. The number rang through to silence three or four times before someone answered. “Hello, this is Happyland Almaty!” Bewildered, Dom borrowed the café’s phone. “Happyland Almaty, how can we help?” came the beatific response.

The British embassy in Almaty is not where it says it is, and there is no information at their previous address as to where in fuck’s name they’ve gone. The phone number on their website sometimes rings through to what we can only assume is a child’s play centre or a well-disguised brothel. When you email them, you receive an automated response. More than a week later, they send you a canned response telling you that they cannot advise you on the visa conditions of other nations.

After lunch, Dom and Steve begun another wild goose chase. We did learn an important lesson. When all seems lost, travel agents will try their very best to help. They will make phone calls, print things, give directions and speak English to you. The one that we tried sent us to the (admittedly wrong) immigration police office.

Talking to the single police officer we found there, wedged under a flight of stairs leading up to an apartment building, we were overheard by a short, rotund civilian. She rattled off a couple of phrases in broken English. Nodding in oblivious agreement, we climbed into her car.

At the other end was the correct police station. Our guide/kidnapper melted silently into the crowd. The office looked a little bit like a British post office, except one wall was lined with a cage full of police (the naughty ones, we guessed) and the queuing system involved significantly more ramming than you might find on your typical UK high street. The police there moved us from one queue to another for a little while, sort of how you might shift food you don’t particularly want around your plate, after sadistically hearing out Dom’s tediously long and certainly incomprehensible Russian explanation of why he was there. Eventually another complete stranger told us Dom could only extend his visa for business purposes. Or perhaps he could leave and come back and everything would be fine.

Back at the hostel, we finally managed to get through to a British consular office in Astana. A confused individual, ostensibly working in the visa office for British nationals in Kazakhstan, explained “I am not sure about the visa rules for British Nationals in Kazakhstan. Either way, it is the policy of the British Embassy in Kazakhstan not to give advice on the visa rules for British nationals in Kazakhstan. Unofficially, you could probably leave and come back”.


Having pursued the topic for an entire day and beginning to understand how gristle, doing circuits around the human digestive system and enduring peristalsis and stomach acid, but ultimately remaining undigested, must feel, Dom ‘decided’ he would just go to Kyrgyzstan the next day anyway. At the worst, the car would by 60kg lighter. At the best, we would be shot of Dom for 24 hours.

Sitting listlessly in our hostel room, hitherto our exclusive sanctuary, we were disappointed to receive news that two more guests would be sharing with us. We opened the windows, put our shoes out of the windows, put our socks out of the windows, binned the remnants of sausage and cheese that littered the floor and generally tried to skim off the stench that was churning around in there. The two men who entered were vaguely familiar. After several minutes of conversation we realised that we had met them before. They were the pair of Israeli hitchhikers we had met at the port in Baku more than three weeks ago. They had caught us up!


There is something amazing about this pair. They fought as though they had endured 30 years of marriage together, carried everything they needed on their backs, did what they wanted to do and went where they wanted to go whenever they felt like it, met incredible people wherever they went and were constantly imbued with restless, cheerful and yet critical energy. They urged everyone around them to explore more, to be more interesting, to get more from their situation. For instance later that day, at a music store looking for strings for their ukulele, they befriended a Kazakh and his girlfriend and stayed the night with them, even though they had paid for the hostel.

Hugely relieved that they had left us to grow mildew in our damp squalor once more, free from the pressure to have adventures and such, we brought the shoes back inside and closed the window, loaded The Wire onto the laptop and sunk into the midst of West Baltimore’s most exquisite traumas.

Continues in Kazakhstan Part 6

Kazakhstan Part 4 – The Almaty Chronicles

DAY 1 in Almaty
The three adventurers awoke to discover Jack’s kebab lay, untouched, in its protective packaging. Kicking him awake, they sought answers. They had risked arrest, (almost) fought a man from China, disrobed in an upmarket nightclub, jumped off a moving car, walked at least 6km and carried a rather pungent kebab with them, complete with onion to garnish, for some 6 hours; all in order to satiate Jack’s hunger. And this was how he chose to repay them.


This was the day our shiny new (second hand) driveshaft was supposed to arrive. We checked the tracker. It was in Leipzig, Germany! That’s 11 hours of flight time, with one change to get to Almaty. Barely checking our stride, we pushed on with the day through hangovers so dense you could tile bathrooms with them, so debilitating we could speak only out of the corners of our mouths and so aromatic we’d render any given space Kefir.


When we eventually left the hostel, we were immediately confronted by a particularly busy road. A road that we had been assured ad nauseum was inaccessible. A small ring road was either pointlessly circuiting the hostel inside the obstructive ditch, or the train of 4x4s and people carriers was coming from somewhere beyond the territory it marked out. Crossing the moat, we also noted that the deserted street, which we could not by any circumstances park on the night before, was encrusted with vehicles (in places three cars deep). We had lost our antenna in vain, and now our car was stranded in a dank side alley. Reluctantly, we elected to leave the car where it was until the shaft had arrived and we could actually do repairs. Given our best idea of the arrival time of the shaft, this was not felt to be a substantial risk.


We had a complete list of errands and Jack, typically the best-prepared of the group, had meticulously created a route map for us to tick these off. We needed a mosquito net, insect repellent, a roll mat, coffee and wanted to see Almaty’s bazaar. Jack had also located Burger King and KFC and knew the fastest route to that area of town. Probably still feeling a little uncomfortable about our 100% McDonalds record in Tbilisi, we ate at a small local bistro by popular objection. Four twenty year olds standing awkwardly at the counter, pointing hesitantly through the reinforced safety glass (are they protecting the food from us or vice versa?), whilst aged, bemused locals look on. It was as though, looking for a British secondary school canteen, we had accidentally invaded a central Asian retirement home kitchen.

Almaty’s bistros are not especially complex and follow a fairly standard pattern. You can see the food, you have a tray to put the food on, and there is person behind the counter who does the work in between. However, to the bistro-neophyte who does not speak Russian or Kazakh and who attempts initiation into this ritual through an alcoholic haze, the process can be fairly lumpy. Firstly, seeing is not necessarily understanding. Kazakhstan’s opaque soups and miscellaneously meaty stews obscured by thick oily glazes introduce an element of chance and guesswork. Are those brown lumps some kind of gelatinous vegetable or are they the flesh of something, long-dead, which once had eyes? Are those orange bits flecks of oil or carrots in the final stage of disintegration? Is the beige, grainy mound, rice, bulgur wheat or fine, watery sawdust? In the swirling maelstrom of that yellowy soup: what animal lies submerged in wait to ambush your naïve taste buds? Gird your loins and clutch your wet wipes, dig deep and politely ask for your food to be microwaved for a few seconds beyond the standard 4 seconds (apparently the Kazakhs like their soups a shade colder than lukewarm, their pre-cooked stews ‘bleu’: moist and cold.)

All of this said, Ollie rated that first meal in Almaty amongst his all-time favourites on the Rally. The portions were generous and filling and probably a shade more nutritious than a Whopper Meal.

We traipsed on. The heat allied with Steve’s footwear woes (blisters) to retard our expedition. Almaty is just the wrong size. Too big to comfortably get around on foot, too hectic to cycle through, too small for the absolutely stunning, tragically underused underground metro to have been worthwhile. In common with almost all of the Central Asian cities we had visited, save Samarkand, Almaty is a disciplined grid of low rise buildings. Unlike Nukus or Shymkent, it does have several nuclei, which takes away some of the diffuse hopelessness of the place and makes it feel more city-like. Nevertheless, everywhere you ever want to go in Almaty is at least 2km away.
This was also the case with the camping shops that Jack had spotted. With a roll mat and mosquito repellent purchased and after an over-long sit down in the comfiest folding fishing chairs that Kazakhstan has to offer, we picked out a café. There are two things in Almaty that you never have to walk far to reach: Karaoke Bars and cafés. Korea meets France.


So there we were, in Kazakhstan, supping whipped cream and chocolate concoctions in a shady courtyard, playing chess. Waiting for our drive shaft to arrive by aeroplane and trying to decide if we could ever walk again. Not having a limousine is so much hassle.
At around 4.30pm we contemplated going to the bazaar. The bazaar closed in 30 minutes. It was a 40 minute walk. We wandered back to the hostel. We picked up pizza on the way home, bullying the staff there to stay open an extra half an hour to make us pizza. Steve and Ollie ate the renowned Kazakh delicacy: horse pizza. Then, caving to exhaustion, we began something that would ultimately signal the end of adventure, which would suck the ambition and energy from us and render us room-bound for the next 9 days. We began season 1 of The Wire.

DAY 2 in Almaty

The drive shaft was starting to grind. It was a spear, plunged deep into our flank. It was a spike anchoring us to Almaty. It was such an unwieldy, awkwardly shaped piece of metal that at Leipzig, Germany, highly qualified staff had failed to fit it onto the plane and had sent it back to the East Midlands. Apparently, when they had looked at the 50cm x 15cm x 15cm box-shaped box containing the drive shaft, and then looked back at the 8,000cm x 1,000cm x 1,500cm freight aircraft they just didn’t think it would fit inside. Not even under the pilot’s seat. They had tried to chop it in half using a Rover suspension set they had lying around but hadn’t quite managed it. “You told us it was a Volvo drive shaft” they had hollered down the phone to the flustered East Midlands staff who had sent it on. East Midlands had in turned phoned DHL. A staff member there, reading through the email which Dom had sent them thanking them for saving the trip, with the addendum “don’t screw up”, had, in his intense distress over the incident, smashed himself repeatedly over the head with the telephone until unconscious. This incident resulted in the reclassification of the drive shaft from “car part” to “weaponised customs obstruction”. There would be further ramifications down the line.


We took the news quite badly. It is fairly expensive to repeatedly ship shards of hardened steel 8,000 miles on the fastest possible schedule with the best known delivery company available. To this point, we had swallowed the expense as pertaining to the only breakdown we had encountered: we knew the car was going to break down at some point and were prepared for the resultant cost. But we had bargained on the Rover, rather than delivery companies, causing us the problems.
Meanwhile, the first drive shaft we had ordered showed no obvious sign of having progressed.


No longer happy with the location of the limousine, curled up in its thief-infested, CB Radio-aerial-hungry cul de sac, we set about trying to tow it to the hostel car park. Ollie and Steve had discovered a back route circumventing the moat along which the car could be towed to safety. Even though, as the crow flies, the limousine was only 300m from the hostel, in line with Almaty Standard Distance (ASD) we would have to tow the car over 2km. We splintered into three tactical squads to set about commandeering a local to tow us. Whilst Steve and Jack sat on the car and looked bewitchingly in need of help, Ollie went one way up the street wielding a tow rope and Dom went another. Steve and Jack drew first blood, receiving an offer from a group of friendly road workers who were repairing pot holes without safety equipment nearby. They had at their discretion the ricketiest truck Almaty could produce. The wooden shit-wagon was probably itself mostly held together with tow rope and there was no way the driver would be able to see the limo being towed behind it.


Politely postponing a verdict on the offer, Steve and Jack also befriended a local who took Dom into a nearby basement. There, in the dank, unlit passageways, he gave Dom over to second man who showed him into what looked like a cross between a surveillance cell and a recording studio, strewn with wire and synthesisers, with two aging Kazakh men nestled inside. The shorter of the two directed for Dom to wait outside the room, before leading him to a padlocked door, gesturing unintelligibly and turning him back out into the daylight. After 20 minutes or so, Dom returned to the car. Encountering the first local there, he was lead back into the basement. Enquiring with the second local (aged synth guy), he was brought back to the padlocked door, now unlocked, containing locals three and four. Three was a young, English-speaking woman called Alyona, four was her rugged Russian-speaking friend.


These wonderful human beings assisted us in moving the limousine to a secure car park only 20m away. Ollie reversed the limo downhill the whole distance, in neutral, directly into a parking bay. Little did they know that we would milk their kindness like a Mongolian Mare-milker desperate for a glass of its sweet, sweet milks.

The second part of our two part plan to settle in Almaty was to find a cheaper hostel. We sniffed around the street, seeking the distinctive reek of customer dissatisfaction. We found two travellers who could not have been more disappointed with their hostel. They had been charged twice at twice the quoted price, propositioned by prostitutes, bothered by cockroaches and drug dealers, bitten by semi-wild animals, hung, drawn, quartered and finally beheaded, their eyes removed and replaced with glass by an amateur taxidermist and their formaldehyde-soaked, rigid corpses placed in compromising positions in the window of a backstreet erotic trivia dealer. We arrived at the hostel to find a kitten playing with a puppy in the lobby, were served free tea and coffee and given an 8 person dorm of our own. Ollie got a cut price blow job and Jack had his legs preserved for posterity (we were glad we had brought what was left of them all the way from Turkey). I guess some people are just unlucky. The Hostel bore the mysterious moniker “Hostel 74/76”.


We obtained dinner round the corner at “Dastarkhan”, another of Almaty’s Bistros – it would be a haunt of ours for some time due to its low prices and convenient location. Until, of course, Jack would ruin it for everyone. More on that later.


Relatively tired but keen to do something, we searched for somewhere to play pool. When we finally made staff at Dastarkhan understand what we were talking about, we were directed 5km away into Almaty’s underbelly. The building, when we found it, also housed a bowling alley; through the window we could see that it was under plastic wrap for redecoration. Walking up winding stairs away from those obscured pine lanes felt like walking into a secret mafia hideout. Debouching into a sparingly lit, open room full of plush felt tables did nothing to quash that impression. Neither did the clientele: men wearing slicked back hair and tall, too-skinny women on their gold-strung arms. So there we were, in the midst of a Kazakh gangster money-laundering operation, supping cold beers and playing pool. For the record, Ollie won the tournament before we called it a night.

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Continues in Kazakhstan Part 5

Kazakhstan Part 3 – The Almaty Chronicles

We arrived in Almaty early in the morning, more or less on schedule with our original plan. Tired, tipsy in places and a little delirious from the traumas of the day, we struggled to find the hostel at which we had planned to stay (and where the drive shaft was due to be delivered the following day). The map showed the address we had as being the location of “Almaty Backpackers Hostel” whilst our sources informed us that the hostel was actually called “The Park Inn Hostel”. Before this could even become a problem, however, we had severe difficulties finding the address in the first place. Asking a group of youths playing basketball lead us in the wrong direction for some time, whilst inviting a stranger we found on the street into the cabin of the tow truck resulted in our prompt arrival at a Holiday Inn.

Finding the right street, we sent Ollie down back alleys to see if the hostel was nestled somewhere inconspicuous. After being chased by wild, rabid dogs the size of (small) horses (dog-sized horses), Ollie found the place. He returned to the limo to discover it had a small, playful kitten inside of it.
(KITTEN PICTURE – Jack’s Phone?)

Because it would have been just too easy otherwise, the hostel had a 6ft, impassable rock and gravel moat surrounding it on all visible sides, preventing us from leaving our car in the Hostel’s fenced car park. The night-duty staff member, after Steve had badgered him on the topic for some time, was adamant that there was no road leading from the other direction by which it could be accessed. Additionally, the road opposite the hostel ran past the local police station. This meant, our Holiday Inn-loving local informed us, that we could not, under any circumstances, park on the street there. Unwilling to leave our gentle limo vulnerable to the night, we hid it as best we could down a back alley 5 minutes from the hostel. The solution was far from ideal but it appeared that we had very few options.

We threw down our bags in our room. All of us were exhausted, triumphant but above all, starving. We were so hungry we even considered cooking something for ourselves. Mercifully deciding against this, we launched ourselves frenetically into the early morning in search for something devoid of any nutritional value, something steaming hot and dripping with viscous orange fluid, with big chunks of meat and cheese. We left Jack engrossed in the rediscovered joys of moderately fast WiFi, promising to return within 20 minutes.

The part of Almaty we had stumbled into appeared to be a business district of some kind, utterly unsuited to pedestrian transit – it was miles of gracefully rising concrete concourses running up to 50 floor hotels and shopping complexes. We walked indefinitely in several directions and found nothing but bus stops and dormant white, monolithic buildings. And none of them contained processed, melted cheese that we could access.

We doubled back and eventually found an open air restaurant/bar with a BBQ. Unable to decipher the menu, Ollie took the initiative and dived head-first into a group of young Kazakh men nearby, pushing a menu in front of one of them and asking for recommendations. And so it begun. We had sat down with a group of friends, several of whom were brothers, and whose ages ranged between 15 and 28. We had just enough money to buy 4 Shaschlick Kebabs (we had one carefully packaged in specially designed heat retentive material for Jack). The Kazakhs bought us a round of beers to welcome us to the country.


(Jack’s luscious Kebab)

Several beers and another kebab later, the toasting began.
“To Kazakhstan!”
“To Nazarbayev!”
“To Almaty!”
“To Steve Jobs!” said the business-savvy business-suited businessman of the group. He had his own business and gave us business cards so that we might take advantage of his business.

“To Kazakhstan!”
“To aubergines, TWICE as big!” said Steve, encouraging our new friends in the face of their unspoken but clearly implicit hopes and fears for the future fecundity of the nascent Kazakh aubergine sector over the next 36 years.
“To Steve Jobs!” we said again. And again.


The night quickly spiralled out of hand. After retelling the fable of how DHL had saved the limo in a way that probably did not make it across the language barrier, we began chanting “DHL! DHL! DHL!” and “Steve Jobs!

Stevie Stevie Jobs! Steve Jobs! Steve Brace! Steven Brace!” Ollie promised to play badminton the next day.

One of the men, Isthkander, punctuated the ‘dialogue’ with what sounded like very convincing Borat impressions.




For some reason, after several people had thrown up (including Steve and Isthkander), we climbed into a car. Not all of us fitted into a car, so Dom caught a taxi with two of the group. Before the car full of Kazakhs could leave, however, Dom decided to climb onto its boot. As is natural when drunkenly driving a fast car and finding a drunken companion on the boot, the driver accelerated. As is natural when the fast car you have grabbed onto accelerates in a seemingly determined way, Dom let go and bounced off the tarmac, mainly unscathed.

We all arrived several minutes later at a nightclub called “Fridays”. It was Thursday by this stage in the proceedings, which seemed to be close enough, as the club was busy. Dom, Steve and Ollie were sporting the classic Mongol Rally look; sandals, shorts, filthy t shirts and a dishevelled, “I fought a snake this morning” look about them. However, the regular clientele of this establishment in general diverged from our particular stylistic strain by washing regularly and wearing nice clothes. We pleaded with the door staff in vain. When they objected to our shorts and sandals, Dom obliged their request and removed these items from his person, to no avail. Ollie subjected them to his best puppy dog impression and ate someone’s wallet. This did nothing to assuage their (evidently baseless) concerns. Just after Dom had almost started a fight with a guy from Beijing (“he was looking at my sandals funny”), we left in search of more alcohol, stopping at several shops before we gave up on the evening.

Heading back, we were pulled over by the police. The police found four inebriated young men without seat belts crammed into seats fit for three. They found a (sober) underage driver who did not match the documentation provided, sitting next to the individual (drunk) who did match the documentation. A policeman climbed into the driver’s seat and twisted around in his seat to say something in Russian to the four bleary backseaters. Dom and Steve dosed, untroubled, throughout. Eventually, the owner of the car told us that “you should get out of the car.”

We did so, only for the car to be driven off by the police officer without any further explanation. This being our first night in Almaty, we were relatively unfamiliar with the city, which is Kazakhstan’s largest. After consulting a map, we discovered that we were 4km from the Hostel. The roads and bus shelters were silent. Isthkander, who had been the fourth person in the back with us, stumbled away down the street in a seemingly purposeful manner. We left him to it and went about getting home. Slowed by our alcoholic stupor and the excessive length of our day by this point, we took over an hour and a half to get back to the hostel.



Dom took a detour to the car to pick up water. This took around 30 minutes of walking in circles through the maze of identical alleyways that concealed the limousine. When he eventually found the car, he also found three of the Kazakhs they had been enjoying the company of earlier that day. They had their car and seemed in good spirits. One of them clutched our severed CB Radio aerial. It was now 6am. “We found thieves, they cut off your aerial. We chased them.” They grinned, heedlessly pleased with themselves in the midst of the longest day of all time. Dom, nodding mutely, weathered the conversation, promised Ollie’s attendance at the badminton game the next day. Then they asked “have you seen our friend, Isthkander?” Alarmed in a noncommittal sort of way, Dom assured them that if he had made it home, he was sure Isthkander was fine too, and slouched back to the room. And so it ended.

Continues in Kazakhstan Part 4