This sleeping in beds is becoming something of a luxury and was the main reason why I left late this morning. Ordinarily I find myself waking up at 6:30 or 7 in the morning and therefore setting off around 8 at the latest. However I didn’t wake up until 8:30 this morning but I guess that just meant I needed the extra sleep.
The horrendous road into Kobda thankfully improved out of it; not for the motorists mind. I was fortunate enough to be able to push my bike over another large mound of sand and onto the new unopened section of road. The two roads eventually joined up but not until I’d enjoyed part of the road all to myself.
The roads while now smooth tend to go up and down and it seems more up if I’m not wrong but nevertheless I’m finally getting some good roll out of them,
After about 70km I came across a café. I’d been flagging for most of the morning and I really felt in need of a cup of tea. The café however looked closed for business and there was a sign on the door explaining something in Russian. I walked around the back to investigate further where an old lady spotted me. She said something in Russian and I gestured to her whether tea would be possible. Ten minutes later I was sitting out front with a lovely pot of hot milky tea. It was only then that the woman once again directed me to the sign on the door while at the same time making a cross hand gesture. It was clear now that the café was in fact closed. I apologized profusely and made sure I went inside while I had the chance to purchase more water. She was good about it to her credit.
The 'closed' cafe
Before I left for this trip I made sure that I bought some water purification tablets and in the last few days I’ve been topping up my empty bottles with tap water and adding a tablet to each. The result is some very rough tasting water which in the case of an emergency you’d drink but otherwise not.
After 110km I came across another café, it was getting late so I decided that I was going to try and make this my base for the night. It was run by a mother and her two daughters’ one of whom spoke okay English. I made sure that I got some water first before going straight for the kill and asking if I could pitch my tent out the back.
It was after about half an hour that two guys in their late twenties or early thirties pulled up. They looked like they’d had a couple of drinks already and immediately set about ordering another six bottles of beer, they beckoned me over, and reluctantly I joined them. I declined their offer of a beer insisting that I’d prefer to stick to water.
I have to say on this trip that I’ve not had any trouble with any people but right from the get go I could tell these two were going to be a problem. They acted in the rather schoolchild way in which they wanted to see everything you had. One of the guys was particularly interested in my mobile and managed to grab it from my hand. After about five minutes I was able to grab it back off him. It was all getting rather annoying. They joked with another couple of guys and as they were speaking in Russian it was impossible for me to understand but it seemed the jokes were being directed at me.
I was beginning to wonder what to do. I wanted them to leave because I’d obviously earmarked this place as a decent place to stay for the night but they showed no signs of going. One of the guys got up and went over to look at the truck of another guy who had pulled in and was having some mechanical issues. I took this as an opportunity to go over and play with my bike.
After about five minutes the other guy who was sitting down, now with another bloke called me over. He indicated to me that he wanted me to buy him two more beers as they’d run out. I just laughed and in English explained ‘why should I buy you beers you buy them yourself.’
He wouldn’t however let it go and as the alcohol kicked in and topped up his level a bit more his request became more aggressive and he indicated with his fist what would be coming my way if I didn’t get him his beers. He wasn’t joking. I decided enough was enough, went into the café and said goodbye to the girl before calmly getting onto my bike. He starred at me intently as I rode off making sure I gave him a farewell wave as I left. I don’t think I was ever in any real danger but it had turned nasty quickly and had the potential to turn even more so. I wasn’t prepared to take that risk.
Like I said and I reiterate it, in over four and a half months I’ve not had any trouble from anybody and likewise in Kazakhstan I’ve only met extreme hospitality. You’re going to get people like this anywhere and at anytime especially when too much booze is involved.
However it now left me with a tricky situation, it was getting darker and I was suddenly back out on the road. I suppose part of me also had these visions of them haring off down the road in pursuit of me. I knew I needed to find a place to camp and quick sharp. I pulled off the road a couple of kilometres down the way and wheeled the bike across some rugged mud tracks and behind a line of tree. While in the process of doing this the heavens opened. It was then a mad rush to get everything out I needed and get the tent up as soon as possible. It was all a bit of a nightmare to be honest and I thought how differently things might have been if those two clowns hadn’t turned up.
I managed to get the tent up pretty fast but I was still wet as I got inside. Thankfully it only turned out to be a passing downpour and I was able to sort things out after ten minutes. I could see however on the horizon a storm brewing and immediately knew that I’d be getting some of it later on.
As the sun went down and I lay in my tent, the air filled with that muggy feeling that comes before a storm and it was extremely hot. In addition all number of different animals started to gather around the general vicinity of the tent to have a good old poke around. When I’ve been riding in the day you unfortunately from time to time happen upon some road kill so it gives you a good idea of what lives out here on the steppe. Most of them are mice, hamster like animals and rabbits so I guess that’s what was scratching around my tent for most of the night. No more howling I’m pleased to say!
I managed to drift off to sleep but was woken but the storm at I don’t know what hour. The wind really picked up and battered the side of the tent. The sky around me was just a constant blaze of white and then black like someone flicking a light switch on and off continually. Once again all I could do was huddle up in my tent and ride it out. I suppose at some point you just fall asleep and that’s also what happened here. I was woken in the morning by the croaking of a toad who’d positioned himself next to the tent. All in all it was a pretty bad night’s sleep but I was just pleased to have made it through the night. The joys of camping!