Across Continents

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The Wedding Party

“Think to the future, live for the moment”

Dinner was something of an improvisation. Bread, by now quite crumbly, cheese and cooked meat. Smelt fine. Map case for a plate, the food to be shared between myself and the petrol pump attendant. An ice cream each from the local magazin – shop – for dessert. I’d offered beer as well but he was working, or at least indicated he’d get this throat cut if he drank, so we settled on some soft drinks instead.

A short while earlier I’d reached the village of Kongyroleng, the first settlement for perhaps eighty miles. The wide plain I’d crossed to reach it offered little chance for wild camping, concealment for curious eyes difficult at best. So I’d decided to try my luck in the first place I came across, a few hours of daylight left if I needed to press on.

Petrol station

Stopped at the petrol station to ask the attendant if he knew where I might be able to camp or find a bed for the night. He indicated I could sleep inside, on the spare bed. In return I’d explained I’d a little food I could share with him.

Station bed

I’d left Saryozek that morning, heading east towards the Chinese border. Good road, gently rolling at first, then later, long drawn out climbs for the most part, gradually ascending the Altyn-Emel Pass at over five thousand feet. A small cafe a little short of the summit. Lunch.

I’d emerged from the cafe to discover a strong cooling breeze, not unpleasant after the heat of the morning, but rain approaching. Push for the summit before the front came through. Then a rapid descent, steep, winding road, a brief stop to don my jacket as the first large droplets of rain started to fall. Tasted, smelt fresh. Past another small cafe, people beckoning me in. I waved in gratitude and then was gone.

Gradient tailing off, a wide plain ahead, mountains, or just hills, beyond. Difficult to tell. Distances very deceptive. But closer, a storm – just a squall I hoped – edging across the open steppe. Curtains of rain being slowly dragged off to the west. Forbidding. I pressed on east, catching just a brief heavy downpour. Cold. First time I’d felt this in Kazakhstan. And then it was gone. The incessant heat quickly returning.

Open space

The weather had brightened but I suddenly felt very alone. The odd house recognisable only by the trees around it, presumably to provide shelter. Little traffic. Any sense of distance lost in the openness, the nothingness, I found my mind soon wandered. The innocence of childhood. How’d I ended up out here? Friends and family I’d lost. I cried a little.

Then, beyond a slight rise, a few Mercedes parked at the roadside, festooned with coloured ribbons. The Wedding Party. The Bride in her dress, the men in tuxedos, the women in brightly coloured outfits. Elegant. They watched as I passed, quickly alone once more.

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