The man who stepped out of the white car in front of me was about seven foot tall and six-and-a-half broad.
He had a jaw like an anvil, and a cranium roughly the size and shape of an inverted Volkswagen Beetle, inside which a brain a little smaller than an emaciated amoeba made a rattling sound when he walked.
He leaned over my handlebars and said something to me. I did not understand, but his face was very ugly and his teeth were bad.
He said something else, which I did understand. The gist was that he wanted my money.
I decided not to understand. "I don't understand," I said.
He said some more things. It was all pretty clear.
"I do not understand," I said.
|View towards Kyrgyzstan - bandit country|
"DENGI! DENGI!" he said. Dengi means money.
"Ah, dengi," I said, vaguely.
The poor chimp was getting kind of exasperated. There is nothing worse for a robber's self-esteem than to have to explain that he is a robber.
If a robber's every utterance, glance, his very being does not exude robberishness, he is not doing a good job. Other robbers might laugh at him.
"BANDITY! BANDITY!" said the chimp. Bandity means bandits.
"Bandits?" I said, alarmed. "Where?"
"No, no, no, me, me, me, I am bandit!" shouted the bandit, jabbing himself painfully in the chest.
"My dear old thing, why didn't you say so before?"
"Shut up and give me your money or I will kill you, capisc?"
I was out of lines. I handed over my wallet. He shoved a gorilla-fist in and grabbed the lot, counted it, looked moderately unimpressed and walked back towards his car.
"Oh, one thing, before you go," I called to him. "Look, I've another week before I reach the next town where I can sort out some money. Be a decent fellow and give me 500 tenge so at least I have enough for bread."
The man walked over to me, handed over 500 tenge, and walked back to his car, which, for the benefit of any Kazakh policemen listening, bore the registration number C381 CWM.
I feel a bit guilty about asking for the 500 tenge; I did not really need it. I have found it nearly impossible to pay for anything in Kazakhstan; every time I walk into a shop, someone else has picked up the tab by the time I am ready to pay.
Yesterday a truck driver stopped and shoved 500 tenge into my pocket. I tried to give it back, but he refused. "Tell them that a Kazakh trucker stopped and gave you 500 tenge," he said.
I'm telling you.
Well that's the news from Kazakhstan. That and 3,300 kilometres of steppe, which is fun for the first 50 kilometres or so.
I crossed the Ural River today, which I think means I am officially in Europe now. Which reminds me - if anyone has a spare four square metres of tent space in the garden, or two square metres of body space on the floor, and would be willing to put me up for a night on the way home, could you drop me a line and let me know where?
If it's approximately on the road from northern Kazakhstan to central Russia to northern Ukraine to southern Poland to southern Czech Republic to southern Germany to Switzerland to Belgium to Exeter, so much the better.
Yours watching the rain in the town of Uralsk in Kazakhstan.