Fisticuffs at 2am

Nothing like a bit of Kazakh Idol music to wake you up in the morning. I have to say I’m quite enjoying all the music on the bus. Every now and then everyone breaks out into song the camaraderie of which is a nice distraction on such a long journey.

Still, I am well and truly over it now. My fingernails are black ad my hair greasy beyond recognition. I need a shower. Everyone else looks exactly the same as they did when we first left. How do they do it?

One woman in particular continues to looks stunning – hair perfectly straight, glowing skin etc. She made for an interesting sight at lunch though when she started devouring a stick of polish sausage like a savage. She was ripping through those fatty chunks and slopping them into her chai like no one’s business. How does she stay so clean?

She also turned up to lunch with a small box which I thought, naively, was a rubbish bin at first until it began to rustle. Stupid me really given the amount of rubbish that has been nonchalantly thrown out the door of the bus at every stop. (It makes my blood boil!) Please don’t tell me I’ve been sitting next to a cat for the last two days? I think to myself until it occurs to me I would have heard a cat by now, Besides the box was probably too small, even for a kitten. “Holy shit, it must be a rat”. Rats are my only phobia. I hate them. They make my skin crawl.

A couple of years ago I was out on my balcony in Melbourne putting something away when I accidentally dislodged two river rats the size of cats hiding behind our bar fridge. They fell onto me torso before scurrying off along the railing to the neighbours. I almost vomited. I didn’t go out on the balcony for weeks.

I was curious as to what was in the box though so I asked to take a peak. It turned out to be a porcupine of all things. Random, hey?! God knows where she picked it up from. I didn’t have the vocabulary to ask.

Twenty minutes after lunch and we were out on the roadside again after the bus driver hit a boulder about 60cm in diameter. The bang was enormous. I’ve never seen anyone move so fast as the younger driver who took about 0.4 of a second from being startled awake, to being outside the bus inspecting the damage after climbing over his dad. The bus hadn’t even come to a stop.

More stops follow. Toilet breaks, then petrol pitstops – Infuriatingly they always seems to be within 10 minutes of each other. Why not combine them??? At one point we cross a lake and the driver revs the bus so hard to get up the embankment on the other side a strong burning smell permeates the air. We stop again.

At about 2.30pm I ask Erkan, who has the best english of the locals on the bus, how much longer. He says 10. I’m not sure it that means we arrive at 10pm – five hours behind schedule or in 10 hours time – 7.5 hours behind schedule.

At 11pm we stop at a house in the mountains. I trade my last bit of sheep cheese from Texel which I have been surviving on for a single Buuz (dumpling). I needed something warm. I also pass round the last of a travel tube of Vegemite for a few of my fellow travels to try. Most screw their face up in disgust. I smile. It’s an acquired taste, I know.

It’s midnight by the time we pile back onto the bus and Rosa and I are assured it will only be another three hours. Erkan starts the bus singing again and at one point the women perform a bit of a solo number which was rather haunting. Kind of like Kasey Chambers’ I Still Pray.

I start to drift off when the man sitting next to me in the aisle starts to head for the door. “Dude can you just wait… you’re standing on my laptop…” But he’s already hurdled over the top of me. There’s movement on my other side too. “Oh shit” I hear Rosa say as she swings under the rail that’s keeping us from falling in the stairwell and rushes out the door after him. WTF? I look out the front windscreen and the younger bus driver is being beaten by four men in the dark. When did we even stop?!!! Yelling, punching, kickings, it was all happening as we pile out of the bus for the millionth time.

When I get out I see a cargo truck with it’s engine still running stopped next to the bus on an angle as if it has tried to cut the bus off. I have no idea who wronged who but it’s clear no one is happy. The four men in the other truck are visibly drunk. Smashed in fact and are stumbling all over the place. How are they even able to drive?

The whole bus is outside. Even the women with the kids. One particularly timid looking woman has no problem getting involved in the conflict, yelling at the men and pushing them along the road back towards their truck. I’m not sure how this is going to play out so I stay back for a while before starting to film it. Why the hell not, right?! That just seems to egg everyone on further and I’m asked to take photos of the numberplate of the truck.

It’s interesting to see them fight. They push and kick but don’t seem to fight to inflict any serious harm. They just try to make a point. I wonder how a similar dispute would end in a country like America or Australia – someone pulling a gun or laying down a king hit that no one gets up from perhaps?

Rosa starts getting in on the act throwing water on one of the drunk guys who decides to start peeing next to us.

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When we finally pulled into Olgii it was 5.10am – only a mere 14 hours behind schedule. (And hear I used to complain when the train to Geelong was delayed by 20 minutes!) The two men who was supposed to meet me and Rosa were nowhere in sight but luckily I had jotted down Ospan’s number and he came and collected us both. I wasn’t about to leave Rosa there in the dark. Seriously she had been my lifeline these past few days.

When Ospan arrived I immediately liked him. He speaks no English – well very little – but he has a warm smile centred around a large gold tooth.

It was too late to go to the guest house I had booked for the night so he took us back to his home where he wife already had the chai bubbling away. All I wanted to do was lay horizontal after five says of sitting up – remember I had two days on a plane to get here too – but you have to be polite and so I couldn’t knock back the meat and noodles cooked in fat that was promptly served.

When I finally made it to my room there was a bit of a “discussion” with Rosa over who was taking what room. We were initially shown to the same room to place our bags – a small room with a single bed and a TV – so I assumed one of us (insert here Rosa) would be getting the floor.  The TV meant electricity for me and I really wanted to have all of my phones and cameras fully charged ahead of a week or two without electricity. I had gone to the bathroom after dinner and when I came back Rosa had started to make herself comfortable and pointed to the room next door for me. I said, ”it’s ok you take it” and she was like “no I’d prefer to stay here.” I didn’t want to cause a fight so I went to the other room where there was no light and I couldn’t see which key unlocked my backpack. I stood there for a few minutes fuming and thought “you know what, this person is my contact, I’m doing you a favour here since your guy didn’t answer the phone” so I stormed back and pulled rank. I felt bad about it but sometime you just have to do what’s right for you. She got the luxury of the window seat on the bus and I didn’t complain when she put her feet up on the seat to keep her toes warm even though it meant I was hanging into the isle half the time with one cheek off the seat. I’m sure she probably thinks I’m a selfish cow after all the translating she has done for me!






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