I arrived after dark at the road junction. Before I could even unload my backpack or say goodbye to my share-taxi family, the local taximen pounced.
Fifteen dollars to take me the rest of the way? That’s (almost literally) highway robbery. The marshrutka (public bus) cost only $2 – but we both knew they didn’t run at night.
So I stuck out my thumb.
It’s unfortunate that so many people, and our western media, regard human nature with pessimism. If you're carrying that assumption in your luggage, sadly, you'll never give the world a chance to change your mind.
It’s never easy hitching rides at night, but I had a backup plan. I had brought things this trip I don’t usually carry: A camping mat, sleeping bag and tarp. So I was pretty relaxed, prepared if needed to sleep outside and catch the next morning’s marshrutka. No matter what happened, everything would work out: I’d either get a chance to see how helpful the locals are; or I’d save $8 on accommodation.
It’s unfortunate that so many people, and our western media, regard human nature with pessimism. If you’re carrying that assumption in your luggage, sadly, you’ll never give the world a chance to change your mind.
How I (and many others like me) travel, if nothing else, reaffirms that humans are generous and hospitable. Falling back into fate’s arms, putting my trust in others: these are the travel-moments I unplan for. They create serendipity, and they destroy pessimism. Because whether you believe humans are selfish or humans are generous: You’ll be right.
Ten minutes later, after a few helpful people offered a lift to a variety of places I wasn’t going, a barrel chested man in a suit came over and greeted me with a vigorous heartwarming handshake, like an old friend. Notwithstanding the vodka on his breath, he said he was going where I needed to get.
So I did a quick risk assessment: Soviet width roads (ie wide); rural nighttime traffic (ie empty); a modern 4WD (ie packed with safety features); and a short drive (just 30km).
I liked my chances.
Besides constantly switching songs on the stereo, and high-beaming all the oncoming vehicles, his drunk-driving was excellent. Clearly well-practised.
Some time and many kilometers later, he stopped the car and pointed vaguely up a hill at a village. With tired (and/or drunken) bleary eyes he looked at me, mimed that he needed sleep, and said his first english words: “Sorry. Russian Vodka.”
Trying to weigh my options I asked him a few things in terrible Russian:
Was this my destination?
How many kilometres away?
To be fair, I believe he had intended on driving the whole way, but changed his mind when nearing his house. With more miming, I gleaned that I had two choices: To stay at his place and continue driving in the morning, or to get out and continue hitchhiking – in the thick darkness of a moonless night.
It was time for another risk assessment: Nobody knew where I was (not even me); Some stranger has invited me into his house (in a village up a dark road, late at night); a man who doesn’t seem likely to rob me – and probably couldn’t, even if he wanted to. Thank goodness I’d hitchhiked with someone so tired and drunk!
In the end, like most Kyrgyz people, the biggest threat he posed was his hospitality. Ol’ mate kept throwing candy bars (“eat, good!”) and sliding double-shots at me (“vodka!”). Here, it’s considered rude to refuse offers of food or drink from a host without at first trying a little. So after a few shots, I kicked him out of the living room (ie my room) and lay down on the massive couch.
I laughed myself to sleep. What a day. What a country!
Actually, the story continues just a little bit more. Check out this video I made from that evening (perhaps before you scroll down to a few photos):
Post script (if you didn’t watch the video): Azviny was still zonked and snoring hard at 9:00am when I had to get gettin’. So I left him a thank you note (in Russian – yeah!), and hiked out to the road. A few minutes later, a marshrutka picked me up, and I was on my way again: To Arslanbob. A sort of magical Lost World, and the subject of my next photo-essay. Was it worth all this effort? Stay tuned! (and why not subscribe?)