It’s 4pm and we are strolling through the streets of Beyneu. It’s quickly becoming the hottest part of the day, and I want nothing more than to get off the bike.
The streets are wide and the curbs high, and mounds of sand fill the road. I am now running on fumes. Apart from the brick of stale bread I nibbled at over the last 20km, I haven’t eaten for a while.
We come to a halt outside a hotel, and I step inside to begin the negotiation process. The usual sticking my head around various doors, tutting and inspecting random items to bring the price down as low as possible.
The main conclusion, it smells good inside. I step back out to the remainder of the group, who are sprawled out in the car park resting. As I do so, the gentleman who was translating for me – appearing now to be a tourist; follows. He tells me of another hostel that is much cheaper down the road.
It doesn’t take much to convince me, and so I head over with Dan, whilst the others decide that they are comfortable there.
Little did I know that this was the start of a very bizzare evening. A white building sits back from the road, the words motel spread across the front. We enter a small canteen adjacent to a dorm building. A metal service area sits at the back of the room infront of a kitchen. It has that school dinner ladies feel to it.
Staff appear from the back wearing medical scrubs, as if they have just come from theatre. I’m unsure whether they are moonlighting, but I am sure I don’t want to know the answer.
Taking refuge in an America style red leather booth, we sit and eat lunch. A bowl of soup with meat and noodles. Splashing out, as the translator had just got us a significant discount.
Its not long before a rowdy trio enters, seated in the booth next to me. It later transpired that this is in fact a popular local watering hole. The three kazak men take a keen interest in my presence, as they chug away at short wide beer glasses.
Occassional glances develop into pointing and laughing in kazak. I’m used to the attention by now and although aware of it, im grateful that I have not been included in the conversation.
The loudest of the three – late thirties, black hair, clean shaven and with a pair of sunglasses on his head; sits opposite two other men. It is evident that he is the leader of the group, short but excitable, with a powerful belly.
He proclaims that he is the sheriff of the town along with the athletic man opposite right. The third man, slightly wider and less energetic than the others, is a boarder gaurd.
There is a lull in the conversation and he places his hand across the table and firmly onto my wrist, as he shouts “hello, where are you from?”
He turns his head away violently and motions to the nurses. His large hands straddle a fourth beer glass, which is brought down with a thud in front of him. I’m dragged out of my booth and into his, where he demands that I join his pose.
I am honoured and oblige. After the steppe I could use a beer, but I still feel uneasy simply taking from these people. I know not of his name nor of his life, he knows even less about me, yet here we are, with a beer in front of us. He introduces himself as Camat.
After a few minutes it is apparent that this is a meeting that will not end quickly. Dan inocently re-enters the canteen and instantly has a beer thrown his way. A group of three men enter at the back of the room and the mood changes.
We are thrown into a playground mentality, as they snigger and point at the men. “Administration” they laugh. They begin to get louder until one of the men notices the pose and greets them. They are inferior to Camat’ s gang and he makes no attempt to hide his feelings infront of the men. Sniggering and repeating “administration” in front of them.
I begin to think of a way to exit the conversation and relocate back to my booth. A trip to the administration table does little for the cause. It only provokes Camat to shout at them and demand I return to the better table.
A further three beers are produce and myself and Dan are lead outside to a table, covered with a clear plastic sheet and surrounded by five chairs. The air is warm but comfortable as the cloud protects my skin from the sun.
The medical staff arrive again, this time with a plate of salad and a bottle of vodka with three glasses. Im dehydrated and tired. Hit now with the realisation that a heavy drinking session is about to commence. It’s unavoidable. Despite my protest, a vodka shot in an egg shapped chalice, is placed infront of me.
My glass held high above the centre of the table, makes contact with Dan’s and Camat’s as we toast to Kazakhstan. Fortunately the next toast is between the Kazak men only.
10pm and all attempts to leave have failed. In part because of the aggressive requests of the supposed town sheriff, but also his kindness. They had placed a meal before us and we had not paid for a single drink all night. They were interested in our stories and shared with us tales of their own life and culture.
Camat lit up when we depicted our journey through the steppe and into Aktau by boat. He was proud of his country, and we respected him, even with his increasingly bullish drunken behaviour.
Camat decides it is time that we inspect his proud car. Before we knew it we were on our way to his house. His insistance was hard to challenge, and at the time, accompanying him seemed like the lesser of two evils. Stay and upset and aggravate him, or get In a car with a potentially drunk man.
On one hand he had been very generous to us both, and we had recently been invited Into a Kazak home in Aktau. There was two of us, so we weren’t alone, and in the words of Alastair Humphreys “Accept detours and spontaneous invites”. Not sure he had, getting into a car with an intoxicated policeman, in mind at the time. On the other hand, we didn’t know him, and he had certainly put a few drinks back
I would like to say that being the sensible young men that we are, we weighed up the pro’s and con’s of this excursion, and made an informed decision.
In a split second, Dan and I looked each other in the eyes, and with an overwhelming surge of excitement, jumped in for the ride.
A short drive later and we are greeted by his young sons and daughter in a lovely family home. We have a full tour and a water melon is laid out for our arrival. We sit on the floor around a long table draped with a red and gold table cloth. Dan puts away his second camel milk of the trip. This is first drink of the night I manage to dodge.
Ushered back into his car, we feel extremely lucky to have shared the evening with our new friend. Who evidently confirmed his sheriff status with a glorious screen saver on this laptop.
Relaxed and humbled I lean back into the front seat of his clapped out Toyota, dreaming of the bed in my dorm and excited to share this evening’s antics in a blog post.
The car skids out of the driveway and comes to a sudden halt in front of a building with the words “Elite” propped up on the roof. Pulled out of the car, we are lead into what appeared to be a wedding venue. White table cloth with a purple ribbon in the centre, and around each chair.
Yet more beers appear and Camat repeats “kazak national dance” over and over. The two of us have no clue what he is on about and politely nod our heads. This does little to satisfy Camat, so he approaches the dance floor.
Hoping we are about to witness the drunk policeman dance, we lean around the podium. In horror, we watch as he attempts to pull two young woman out of their chairs to dance. The first stands quickly, aware that in doing so she would be left alone, whilst he focused on the other. However the second women was defiant, and Camat struggles to move her.
Dan and I glance at each other’s mortified face. These woman were being harassed on account of Camat’s two western guests with whom he wished to dance. We take to the floor instead to dance and show that we are unphased by their rejection. Hoping he would relinquish his attempts. Not before we briefly discussed jumping ship.
Camat loses interest and we are bundled back into his car once more. After a drive around the block, convincing him we need to go home, he gives in. The night comes to end as we bid our new friend farewell, watching his car lurch out of the carpark- from the safety of out hostel.
We are still alive, well fed, didn’t upset the local policeman, and had free beer all night. Successful evening.
If you enjoyed reading this post or have anything to add, please leave a comment below.
If you haven’t already, please visit the charity fundraising page and make a donation towards Meningitis now and Macmillan Cancer Support