Getting on the road a car stopped with a young kid driving and an extremely drunk man in the passenger seat. Adamant we would die without getting a lift, the drunk guy chatted for a long time, calling himself a terrorist, saying he had guns at his house that we could buy, and naming himself as Bin Laden. All as a joke, but at times it was hard to get.
In the ridiculous heat the meat we carried had pretty much rotted and become inedible, and the bread had molded into uselessness. We had only a few biscuits left, but in a fortune turn of luck, we came across the main road 15km and a day earlier than expected, and at the junction were a couple of cafes. The road we joined was tarmac, smooth and flat, an extremely welcome change, and though there was a town more than 25km north, one of the cafes was kind enough to sell us some basic food, saving us the 50km+ walk. The rough roads previous had given Arjun a noticeable heel pain, and seeing as the thermometer inside a cafe read 32C, yet it felt cold compared to outside, we stayed for a good portion of the day, watching a dubbed Korean drama show on the tv.
They changed the tv to a music channel after a while, and we left as Cher Lloyds Swagger Jagger came on. Outside two men came over to chat, one of them a qualified English teacher, though he and the other man, who turned out to be his brother, drove products to and from Turkestan and Aktobe. They gave us a telephone number and offered a nights rest in their home once we made it to Turkestan, really kind guys who we saw a handful of times on the road, stopping to make sure we were ok and occasionally giving us a cold drink.
The heat was only getting worse, so bad that one day we just stopped in the shade behind a broken down truck for an escape, uncaring as to the drivers reaction. The driver however was a young man, again from Turkestan, who rather than ask what we were doing, asked if we were ok and offered water. We chatted with him for a while and he, like the two men from the other day, offered us a night at his when we made it there, gave us his phone number and some of his water.
Another advantage to making it to the main road was that every other day we’d come across a lay-by with a couple of sheltered benches. The days we found these we stopped in them for hours, unable to handle the heat, waiting until past afternoon and into the evening before we could continue walking. During one of these stops we met a Polish group driving across Europe and Asia for the sake of travelling, and occasionally a family or group of men who had pulled up, who usually asked for photos and gave us water.
We meet a lot of nice people on the road, as we have done all through Kazakhstan, a stark contrast to the people we’ve met in a lot of the villages and towns during our time here.
Stopping to beg for water on the roadside one day, various cars and trucks collectively gave us 12 litres, and though the “you will die on this road” talk had stopped, most were still eager to give us a lift to the next town, still days away on foot. One car that pulled up was insistent that we share a shot of homemade vodka, which he said required a large cup of water to wash down. Having the shot, it was clear it was above 40% proof, dangerously above 40% proof, and without the water immediately afterwards would have caused breathing difficulties… We thanked him, and then set up camp after he left, our throats on fire.
We came across what was marked as a cafe with a couple sat outside who refused to serve us anything, so sat in the shade and watched as a Russian couple pulled up and were served hot drinks and soup. We went to try again and though the lady was extremely dismissive and rude, upon explaining what we wanted the man smiled and took us inside where there was a makeshift sort of shop. It only sold snack food and drinks, but the drinks were cold, a rare treat considering our water bottles on the cart heated up to the point where the water was almost too hot to drink and most water given to us was warm as well.
The heat of the day was obscene, and unlike in Europe where midday quickly gives way to cooler afternoons and evenings, the heat stayed pretty consistent throughout the daylight hours, if anything feeling it’s hottest between 3pm and 6pm.