Posting Aug. 13, 2017—I guess we can’t travel around the world for two years and not have a fun story like this. On July 13, Dave and I crossed from Russia into Kazakhstan. The border crossing went well and we were enjoying less chaotic roads through peaceful farmland.
It was getting on in the evening so we pulled into a small village, stopping at what looked like a hotel. Dave went inside and they informed him it wasn’t a hotel but they pointed next door so Dave walked over there. He was gone for several minutes so I thought maybe he was looking at a room but he came back and said we were to follow a white car.
Hoping the white car was going to lead us to a hotel and not to our demise, we stayed on its tail until it stopped in front of a three-storey building. A man got out while we rolled to a stop behind him.
Immediately, a small crowd formed and before we could get near the building, which may or may not be our hotel for the night, several people started fishing cell phones out of pockets to get photos with us and the bikes. They were speaking Kazakh to us and all Dave and I could do was stand there and laugh through the gritted teeth that only photo after photo will freeze on your face.
Finally, everyone wandered off with their digital memories of strangers on motorcycles. The driver of the white car stayed with us as did two other guys. They were friendly, young guys and they wanted to do everything they could to help us get settled for the night. For some reason, Dave and I, the three guys and two old ladies, who I guess worked at the hotel, stood outside for a long time discussing the price of the hotel, before we could even go in and look. In fact, we nearly handed over money but I wanted to see the room first.
I followed one of the old ladies up a set of creaking, wooden stairs. She seemed wary of me clobbering around behind her with motorcycle boots on. She opened a door that creaked so exhaustingly on its hinges, I started to wonder if the last guest to have stayed here was around the time my 103 year-old grandfather was a hundred years younger.
I looked at the beds; two single metal skeletons on which the mattresses taco’d in on themselves. What I really wanted to do was turn on my boot-heel and walk out before I breathed in any more ancient dust from this place, but I pretended to be interested in where the bathroom was. She walked me down the hall and opened another door that actually popped before revealing a hole in the floor. Dave and I were getting well-accustomed to hole-in-the-floor toilets all through Russia and now Kazakhstan but there was no way I wanted to stay here. I had a feeling we could do better. When you’ve been on the road a certain amount of time, you get a little more choosey about your rest haven.
Outside, I shook my head no to Dave and we played charades again to communicate we’d like to find another hotel. The guys said the next hotel was 100 km (60 mi) down the road. It was 7:30 p.m. and we were pretty tired but we decided to go for it. Kostanay was a big city with more options. After a few more photos, the guys gestured for us to follow the white car again so it could lead us out of town. This was such a cute gesture as the village was small enough to see the highway off in the distance. Back on the highway, we waved to the white car and rode off.
Around 8:30 p.m., now starving and needing a shower badly, we pulled up to a hotel that had shown up on Dave’s GPS. There were many cars out front and a crowd of well-dressed people outside smoking and laughing. When we pulled up, some of the crowd moved over to us. We were instant celebrities again as people whipped out cell phones and took photos of us. We didn’t even have time to compose for the shot. In one photo someone has on their phone, I’m in the middle of removing my helmet surrounded by some beautifully dressed women with their arms around me.
There was a lot of chatter in Kazakh but then a voice above it all said, “Where are you from?”
We looked over to see a young guy in white pants and a navy button-up shirt coming through the crowd to us. We answered Canada. There were some ahhs from the crowd.
“We want you at our party,” he said
Darkhan took us immediately under his wing.
“Are you hungry?”
“Do you eat horse?”
“We do now!”
Darkhan told us to leave everything on the bikes, they were safe for the moment, and he ushered us inside into a huge hall area where the loudest Kazakh techno music ever was playing. It was a great beat and I was surprised to see it was live—a woman on-stage belting her lungs out.
Darkhan led us over to one of the circular tables where some more really good-looking people were seated. I felt about as unattractive as possible in my road-stained riding pants, sweaty t-shirt and dishevelled ponytail. Dave had dirt smeared on his cheeks and a good streak of back sweat going on. I really wanted to get a room in the hotel upstairs, shower and change into my one and only dress that was getting a little faded but was at least more flattering than my riding pants. But Darkhan had plans for us and it didn’t include hygiene anytime soon.
Darkhan kicked some guys out of their chairs at the table and sat us there, front and centre facing the bride and groom table at the end of the room. Hands appeared from either side of us, delivering plates piled high with food and someone kept pouring us different kinds of liquid until we had no less than five drinks of various colours stacked in front of us. Darkhan ordered us to pick up the small shot glass filled with what we assumed was vodka. He yelled out a toast over the music to the table’s 10 or so patrons, who then cheered loudly and jammed their glasses together with ours.
After two more shots and some experimenting with different cuts of horsemeat, (the pink, sliced deli-style stuff was not my thing but the roasted meat on our plates with noodles was delicious), Darkhan asked if we wanted tea. Figuring that would be a good complement to the vodka and horsemeat we said yes. He stood and asked us to follow. We were confused to be leaving the table, but we followed him past the singer bursting at the seams with her techno band and then into the quieter hallway, which lead to an even more quiet room. Here there were platters stacked with cakes, cookies, chocolates and other delicacies. Darkhan went to fetch us some tea and a handful of young guys stood behind mine and Dave’s chairs, asking us questions in English and taking our photos.
Finally, now an hour or so after we’d arrived and feeling a little lightheaded from all the excitement (surely not the booze), Dave and I were allowed to escape upstairs to clean up a bit before heading back down to the party for, as Darkhan insisted, more food (but we were so stuffed already) and more vodka, god help us.
Now less disgusting, we sat back at our table and talked with various super nice people who came over to introduce themselves and practice some English; the father of the bride, the groom’s brother, Darkhan’s cousin; my cheeks were killing me with all the smiling.
We were no longer tired and we could not stop laughing. What a contrast to earlier in the evening when Dave and I narrowly escaped being killed in our sleep by a decrepit old hotel that likely would have caved in on us during the night.
I tried to politely decline dancing with a drunk uncle but he eventually caught me and I wound up on the dance floor. Normally, I would have been all over shaking some life back into my numb rider’s booty with the great music that was playing earlier but as it happened there was now some sort of awkward song playing that I couldn’t quite catch the beat to so I buried myself into the middle of the dancing crowd so as not to stand out and tried to copy with the other women were doing. I’m pretty sure Dave avoided looking anywhere near me for fear of embarrassment.
Later, there was a somber moment as tradition dictated for “passing off” the bride. The crowd stood on either side of the room while the bride walked down the middle. It was custom to cry. It was the last thing I felt like doing after such an exciting night but I was amazed as I watched some of the ladies crying a lot, as though at a funereal. It was explained this is a sad moment as the girl leaves the family, so I guess it made sense to close family members.
As the bride walked up the aisle, it appeared the women were all kissing her on the cheek so when she walked by me, I did the same, though I had to sort of reach for her as she was breezing beautifully by. Darkhan later told us everyone was very surprised I’d done that. Horrified, I asked if it was okay or if I’d insulted the tradition. I envisioned newspapers the next day with headlines like, “White Girl Insults Wedding Guests And Scares Bride By Planting Sloppy Kiss,” but Darkhan said it was totally fine and that people were just happy I felt so comfortable. Phew!
Sometime around one in the morning, Darkhan announced we were all going to a night club. Dave and I politely but firmly declined. We were absolutely shattered. We walked up to our room and fell asleep still laughing about our luck that day.
Next post: our travels continue with Darkhan.
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