Punishment in Kazakhstan

I curse the Kazakhs and then myself. Driving by car through the steppe of Kazakhstan, what a pussy idea! I don’t speak a word of Russian, there is nothing (but really nothing) to see and the local food you wouldn’t feed to your dog yet.

No, the Kazakh steppe is no fun. The through road is usually not passable, and after a rain, you cannot tell the difference between a puddle and a half-meter pothole. The rail line is usually (but not always) the inidication that you are going in the right direction. If you see a camel then you know that some dilapidated tents will soon pass by. True, these simple nomads have their livestock under control.

Swaying, I try to brave the mud road. Somewhere between Aqtobe and Aralsk, the road ends. A detour has been established. The signs are easy to follow but I doubt I’m going in the right direction. In front of me stretches a somber grassy landscape without any relief. The road disappeared like snow.

Roads Kazakhstan?
Where the f*ck is the road?

Suddenly I realize that I am on my own. For the past two hours I have not seen an oncoming car, and a paved road is long gone. I see some tire tracks and decide to follow them. Google maps still indicates that I found the right route. Drive on, then.

A cottage appears on the horizon. As I get closer, I see that it is a checkpoint. The policeman is happy to run into someone and therefore forces me to stop. He summons me to get out and come with him to his office.

He starts talking busily. The Russian sounds do not sound too uplifting. Little Gorbachev with his full cheeks makes wild arm gestures. When he drops the word “punishment” I know it’s wrong. Holding a conversation in English is not possible anyway. Quickly improvise something, then. Extremely cheerful, I slap him on the shoulder and say, “Punishment, sposebo (which means thank you in Russian).”

Amazed, he looks at me and replies, “punishment, no good.” I put on my widest smile and cheerfully ask him what the route to “Punishment” is. He is clearly not keen on this. Surely he hopes to earn 1,000 Kazakh Tenges from me. Quickly he grabs a fine form and repeats the word “punishment” several times. I take the sheet, turn it over and start drawing a route with the final destination being “Punishment. The fire is in his eyes. I remain extremely friendly and try to crack jokes. He does realize that the language barrier prevents us from having a conversation.

I point in the direction of Aralsk and ask affirmatively, “Aralsk, that way”? He answers with “Da. I get up, give the piece of chagrin another pat on the shoulder and walk out the door. Wave cheerfully for a moment and call to him “sposebo. He is too stupefied (and no doubt too besotted) to respond to it. Quickly I start the engine and continue my way into the void. What a wonderful country this is!!!

truck Kazakhstan
With my Uzbek buddy I continue the rest of the route