Walking into Aral’sk it was quite a bit bigger than expected, and so we talked to an older gent who was happy to show us to an ATM, and then offered to take us to a hotel as well. Excited at the thought of wifi, we agreed and followed him through to pretty much the other side of town. The hotel didn’t have wifi, but they told us of an internet cafe not 2mins around the corner, and because a room was cheap and everyone seemed nice, we decided to stay the night.
We didn’t have anywhere near enough time to blog or do videos, so we used our time at the internet cafe working out routes, distances and timescales, doing a bit of forward planning and organising. In the evening we treated ourselves to a restaurant meal over the road, where as we ate we watched numerous groups of women head upstairs. A bit confused, a couple of men came down, bought us a beer and sat with us to chat and explain what was going on. One was Korean and spoke English, the other Kazakh, and they invited us upstairs to what felt like a women only wedding party. They explained that Aral’sk had no clubs, and that the cafe occasionally put on a dj upstairs and substituted as one, tonight was one of those nights, and all the women in the town came to enjoy it. Great guys, they bought us a few drinks and we spent the night chatting and getting drunk enough to dance.
The next morning we felt terrible. The room was hot, we were starved and tired, and we hadn’t drank alcohol previous the the night before in such a long time. We checked in for another night, bought basic food, and did nothing for the entire day.
We woke up the following day and got ready to leave, we left the room with everything ready to go on the cart, and attempted to do some shopping. Unfortunately as we left the hotel, a man came over to chat who we neglected to notice was drunk until we were in conversation. Although meaning well, he was drunk enough to grab Arjun by the arm and forcibly drag him to a cafe. The drunk was refused service as he tried to order a round of vodka shots and beers, and went around the customers asking to loan a mobile for a call. We tried to leave as politely as we could, but each time it visibly angered him, and the efforts of other customers to placate him fell on deaf ears.
The drunk, through charades and a little English, tried to convince us to live with him and teach his son English for a year, offering to pay us and explaining that the schools apparently don’t teach it properly. Eventually we got frustrated enough to just get up and leave, pushing off his attempts to grab us and take us to another place, and went to hide in the internet cafe. We met a French family who had been driving all around Asia there, and got into conversation for a large part of what was left of the day. We managed to do shopping, but knowing the size of the town and how much light we had left we thought it would be safer to check in for a final night.
We left the next day and the wind kicked up ferociously, forcing us to tuck in our clothes and don makeshift balaclavas to protect from the horrific sand storms it kicked up, so bad that it created static sparks off the cart handle. We gave up at one point and sought shelter in a cafe, where Kieran began to feel a bit ill.
Once it let up a bit we head off, and not far out Kieran needed to stop. We met a French motorcyclist as we rested going to Mongolia, and the Korean guy from the restaurant/club stopped and gave us water. We continued on for a bit and found camping, sheltered as we could find against the wind, but it was no use. That night the it all kicked off again, the tent whipped back and forth on the verge of breaking, and the fine sand got through both layers of the tent fabric creating a couple of cm sandpit inside the tent, ruining our bedding and forcing us to completely cover our head and faces to protect from it.