On the road we had a minibus pull up and initially seem quite friendly, until they started asking for gifts. Seeing Arjuns knife they got quite persistent about having it, and after multiple rejections actually got quite angry and got out of the car. Holding our ground, the one who seemed most frustrated walked right up to us, and for reasons unknown (though he was smaller than we expected) changed his mood. He left back to the car smiling and shaking hands, but the whole situation conjured images of Yuheis story. Not 10mins later another van pulled up and gave us bread and milk, a dramatic contrast in hospitality!
One day we had a change in the weather, and over a couple of hours watched a lightening storm roll over the landscape, bringing hot rain and a stark awareness that we were the tallest things in the landscape, pushing a steel cart and sleeping in an aluminium poled tent. The storm lasted all afternoon, evening and into the night, but fortunately we were fine. The scenery had returned to desert and the road became varied, with sporadic stretches of tarmac closed off to the public but accessible to us.
We began to start receiving watermelons in place of water, and watched as cars drove past loaded beyond safety with the things, one guy pulled up to share one with us and inquire about UK immigration laws, and one rather muscly trucker gave us what watermelons he had, explaining that during the muslim fast he didn’t eat or drink anything during the day. How the man goes without even drinking water in this heat is incomprehensible.
Arjun began to feel ill, but we we got to within sight of Baikonur and managed to camp in the shade of an abandoned garage. On the walk in we fashioned a short cut across the desert to a small village just before the town, a huge mistake which didn’t really save any time, and once there were told that without permits we would not be able to get into Baikonur. A bit of a blow for Arjun, as it was his birthday and upon hearing it was a Russian town was hoping for wifi and a celebratory day off. We shopped in the village, and continued walking, stopping in a cafe on the way out as a celebratory compensation.
We saw the spaceport on the way out and stopped under a large construction sign for shelter, surprisingly made good distance and Arjun was feeling better.
On the road we got stopped by a kind truck driver who cut up watermelon for us to eat with him on the roadside. As we were chatting we saw a man walking over, and the trucker gave us a watermelon to put on the cart. Once the walking man finally arrived, it all got a bit awkward; nothing was said, the man just crouched down and started helping himself to the truckers watermelon. We tried to ask in our Russian if he was a friend or something but neither seemed to want to answer, they just said nothing. The trucker then awkwardly said goodbye and got in to drive off, and we walked off leaving the other man to finish what was left. Very strange.
One morning outside a town we were woken up by police, who didn’t ask what we were doing or for any ID, just if we had any guns and were gay. Walking into the town a lot of traffic stopped to ask questions, all friendly, one man in a car even returned back out to meet us after emptying his boot to offer us a lift! We were given iced tea and water, and by the time we got into the town we only really needed food. We stopped at a cafe where people asked for photos, made it to a shop where the staff gave us free ice cream, and then went to a cafe where we were given more free water and offers for lifts. On the way out a van pulled up and an English motorcyclist got out, worked month on/month off on an oil rig and spent his spare time cycling Asia, nice guy, and lovely to hear a British voice.
The further out of town we got, the greener the landscape became as the road winded closer to the major river, still out of sight, but with various streams branching off from it to the road we were on. It would have been pleasant, were it not for the sudden decline in the quality of the road, the continuing lack of shelter and the now horrific amounts of mosquitoes that gathered in the evenings.