I woke up wishing that the previous day was just a bad dream. But that didn’t last long. The nearest DHL office was in Atrau. Around 500kms from where I was… I somehow needed to go there and started thinking about options.

• Wrapping an inner tube around the spring to achieve a primitive dampening.
• Trying to load the bike on a train.
• Leaving the bike and most of my stuff in Beyneu and taking the train.

In either case I had to find a cheap and safe place to stay until the part was ready for pick-up. A week ago, while waiting for the ferry in Baku, I was reading a thread about the area on HorizonsUnlimited.com. One of the guys had mentioned an old Russian motocross champion living in Beyneu and even gave directions to his shop which I luckily had noted down in my scrapbook. I decided to pay the champion a visit.

Jehan and I found the main street and followed it towards north. After the second roundabout there were indeed auto repair shops marked as CTO on both sides of the road. I got in one of them and asked for Lyosha. They pointed to a compound with a large wooden door. We rolled our bikes through the gate into the garden like chivalry entering a medieval castle. A fat dude wearing a wifebeater and shorts pointed us a place to park. Two Uzbek women showed us the door to the cafe. I took off my helmet and said that I was here to meet the champion. The taller one pointed back at the fat dude. I looked at him, and then back to the Uzbek, asking “Is that Lyosha the champion?” She nodded expressively.

I got off the bike, walked back to the guy, and introduced myself trying to hide my disappointment. He said something Russian, presumably along the lines of: ” Yeah, I get your kind a lot in here! Cut the foreplay and go inside. They’ll show you where the shower is. I’m going to the city. We’ll talk later!” He got in an old car and left.

Good biker hosts are divided in two categories. The first is someone who wants to do what you are doing and is eager to listen your stories and learn about the way you’re doing this. They enjoy helping you because they want to be a part of it. I know well because I’ve been one.

The second type is someone who’s been there, done that, and is helping you because they’ve probably been helped in a similar way before. It’s the code. You are there as a reminder of their past, an element of nosthalgia. They don’t mind you hanging around as long as you don’t disturb the way things work. They know you too well to care about your stories. Their story is more important.

Lyosha is a perfect example of the second group. Within minutes after meeting him, we were about to fall asleep in an air conditioned room, watching Russian reality tv with his wife. It’s really comforting to be welcome without any questions being asked.

I’ve been here for about a week now. I’ve seen about five bikers, a dozen truck drivers and probably a hundred passangers come and go. I know what’s in the menu, at what time people take a nap, how to use the shower, what time of the day the outhouse smells less, what sort of bugs come out at night, when and where to disappear, how long it takes to dry clothes, where the clean water is, who to trust, etc. At first it felt a little dirty and overused, but I got used to it.

There are 7 major living areas. The rooms in which the sad drunk guard and Mukaddes live, the kitchen, the cafe area with a raised platform where passengers sleep. Lyosha and Şra’s bedroom, the repair shop, the shower and the small garden it irrigates, the warehouse and finally the outhouse way back behind it all…

The day begins when people get tired of sleeping. If there are passengers staying, it’s much earlier because they leave early with the sunrise. People have breakfast. The only option is 3 fried eggs and nam (bread) unless you have your own food. As soon as people leave, Mukaddes sweeps the floors with a wet broom. I believe they used the condensated water from the AC to do this. The same water I washed my clothes in. It sits next to the drinking water and must not be confused with it. Lyosha has his breakfast in the bedroom watching TV. He doesn’t come out until afternoon unless he has to. This room has the best working AC and a fan. There are are 4 AC’s in the compund running 24 hours at all times. All doors except the sad drunk guard’s are spring loaded to keep the bugs and heat out. I left this one open once. Oops! Angry drunk guard!.. At around noon, everybody retreats back to the rooms. There is noone left at the cafe and I can use the table to write. I can also smoke inside. They don’t mind it. Occasionally a trucker or a passanger stops by. They assume I speak Russian. I don’t. But I know what they want someone to serve them so I go to Mukaddes’ room. Şra is usually there watching a melodrama on Uzbek TV and crying. She gets up, wipes her eyes and serves the guest something from the limited menu. There is either kalupsi, şrba, samsa or mantı It’s all carbs and protein. The only vegetables I eat are when Lyosha’s private guests leave and he wants to continue drinking with me. It’s a game we play. I try to eat vegetables as he pours down another shot. Sometimes I cook food on the raised patio in the garden. But I have to do it right after the sunset and before the passangers and bugs arrive. I watch them wash their hands with the portable sink in the garden. They don’t know there is a huge decaying dead grasshopper inside the water reservoir. I don’t think they’d like me to mention it. When a bus with Uzbek workers arrive, I leave the cafe immediately. There is usually no place for me to sit and no air to breath. One of them slept on the patio next to my tent the other day. He used the pillows inside and left before sunrise. Before Mukaddes had a chance to tidy up the place, the white cat braught a desert rat and ate it on the pillow with her two kittens. The kittens are very cute. They hunt each other all day long. But they don’t care much about the spiders, grasshoppers and bugs running around. There’s too many of those. Last night the sad drunk guard called me to the garden to show me a dangerous spider that lives in the area. They call it Falanga. It looks like a tarantula but it’s poisonous. I had a chance to take a photo before Şra saw it and stomped on without hesitation. This is the same girl who cries in the afternoon. At night everything gets a little more wild out here on the desert. Şra is Lyosha’s fifth wife. He had to try five women before finding one who would accept to operate the cafe as he rests back in the den. Uzbek women are very friendly and lively. They talk joke and laugh a lot. I’m becoming a subject of entertainment for them. I lost all my charisma after shaving, cooking and doing my own laundry. I don’t know what they find so amusing. Şra wants me to “take” Mukaddes. I told her I was married. They didn’t seem too disappoined with my answer. I preferred to take it as a joke without insulting anyone. After noon, the garage opens. They usually work on a 4×4 with broken shaft or suspension. There are two guys in the shop. Berik, he younger one wears the same F.B.I. SPECIAL NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT shirt at all times. They somethimes watch me work on the bike when they are done. Before sunset is usually the best time to use the outhouse. Everything inside is dried up under the sun all day and it doesn’t smell much. It’s too dangerous to go out there at night anyway. Most people use the walls behind the building when they have to after dark. The heat retains for a few hours after sunset. This is when first the people and then the bugs start hanging around. There are amazingly huge grasshoppers, silly small black bugs that wonder around the same square meter all night, big ass black ones that think they can fly, and numerous types of moths and spiders. All and all there are three Uzbek and two Kazakh people working here under one Russian landlord. Lyosha himself had his days as a young Russian motocross racer. There are many certificates and photographs dating back to those days. The very first day of our arrival he displayed them to our amazement. He also took out an old video tape and plugged it into the VHS player. This was by far the most atrocious motorcycle video I had ever seen in my life. I tried to record it on my camera but he did not allow me. I think he wouldn’t want the video to be spread around.

It starts with a dozen of yellow 250CC Suzuki motocross bikes being prepped to take off in a Kazakh steppe. There is an old truck and a wagon parked nearby. Except the lack of accessories on the riders, it feels like the iron curtain equivalent of a Dakar rally preperation. The date imprinted on the corner of the screen was November 1998 spanning a two week period. As the tape rolls, you begin to understand that this is not a bike centric event. There are weird people with knives hanging around. It looks extremely cold and lots of vodka is involved. One of the guys pick up a frozen wolf and show it to the camera. The animal is as stiff as a taxidermic sculpture. They sit on it like a motorcycle and act like riding. The bikes take some time to start up at -15°C. When they do, they rip of the land like it’s a race track and disappear at the horizon. Next thing you see is hundreds of wild antelope being driven by motorcycles towards a circular net trap. The animals run in horror until the ones in the front hit the net and fall down. The whole herd tumbles over each other while at the same time the entrance is closed. The few that manage to stop before hitting the ones ahead, turn back and start running, only to hit the net once again. 15 poachers enter the arena and start slaying and gutting the antelope. They do it so fast that some of the antelope are still trying to run with their internal organs hanging out of their bodies. It takes one of the poachers approximately 20 seconds to cut the throat, and gut out the organs of an antelope. This session is repeated again and again throughout the day until the ground gets unusable, drenched in blood, shit and all. They move to a new ground for the next day as a truck arrives to the location and buys the bodies. The horns, leather and meat is sold and distributed seperately. Most of it is exported to neighboring countries. The event continues until the team manages to reach the goal of 15000 antelope. It takes about two weeks and there are 7 teams working simultaneously in various locations. That makes around 100000 every year. Lyosha says that the activity was banned after 1998. I wonder if that’s true…

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