Saturday, August 19, 2006

Uzbekistan to Almaty... an interesting 15 hours

Once Alex and I crossed the Uzbek/Kazak border, our first order or business was fuel for the car. The needle was dangerously close to empty, because we had rushed to the Uzbek border at the request of our last customs escort, because the border was supposedly closing. Like all things uttered by Uzbek customs officials during the last week, that was bull, um spit.

We ended up in Kazakhstan at 10pm with very little gas. Alex asked the Kazak border guards (in broken Russian, but that's another story) for the nearest gas station. When we arrived there, it had no gas! We met some local folks who were in the same predicament, and walked around with them, looking for gas. (it's not uncommon for folks to have water bottles full of gas lying around for sale.) No dice. One gas station said they hadn't had gas in 20 days! Isn't Kazakhstan sitting on a ton of oil??? Anyway... in the end, we were pointed to another gas station, 35km away. We rolled the dice and drove to it in super-efficient mode (4th gear at 60km/h) and made it. Whew... disaster averted.

Once we were gassed up, Alex took the wheel and I took the passenger seat for a good night's rest. About 30 minutes after I'd dozed off, I was awakened by the brakes on the Lada locking up solid for about 5 seconds, followed by a thump and then the sound of us going off the road. Turns out there had been a car accident a couple minutes ahead of us, and one of the cars had lost its rear bumper, and then placed the thing in the middle of the road as a "warning" to oncoming cars. Alex had seen the bumper, braked, hit it, and then turned off the road to see exactly what he'd hit. (I am glad to report that the Lada came out completely unscathed, as always! - Alex)

Then out of one of the wrecked cars came a Kazak man with a severe head injury and broken arm. He hadn't been wearing his seatbelt, and naturally got banged around when his car rolled over. And so the Lada became an ambulance... we shuttled the injured man and a compatriot about 120km to the nearest hospital, in Shymkent. The compatriot promised to get us into a newspaper story about foreigners helping a local... so be sure to read your copy of the Shymkent Daily News this week.

Naturally, on the way to the hospital neither of our passengers wore their seatbelts.
We're looking for the Ambulance sign for the Lada's hood, but haven't been able to locate one yet.

You guys are on top of it. Good job with your accident assistance. Oh you're helping change the face of Americans... We need that. Thanks.
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