Our convoy stopped for dinner last night, allowing some of the tensions of the afternoon to clear up.
The driver who had been drunk and argumentative sobered up, becoming friendly and talkative with everybody, including me. The trader with the best communication skills, Erken, had a few tricks up his sleeve to reduce the tension of the afternoon. He began with a few simple hand games, the type that might be used to entertain children. "Touch the fingertips of your two hands together. Point your middle fingers downward. Try to move your two ring fingers apart." (It can't be done.)
The games Erken engaged everybody with were silly, the perfect thing to lighten everybody's mood after a tense afternoon. I joined in, using rubber band and origami tricks I remembered from elementay school to amuse the traders in the convoy. The driver who had gotten drunk and tried to pick a fight with me decided the best way to ease tension was to share another bottle of vodka. I have low tolerance and no taste for hard liquor, but downed a couple shots to show that there were no hard feelings.
Over dinner, Erken clarified my travel plans to the others: "After reaching Bayan-Olgii he wants to fly to Oskemen in Kazakhstan, then cross the Gemini border with China to return to Xinjiang." As traders, they all agreed this was a viable, if roundabout route. Then a new idea struck Erken.
"You know, if you're trying to get back into China, there's another border opening up in a couple days. The Kyzyl-Tau crossing is due west of Bayan-Olgii and only a day's drive. That border is only open from the 1st to the 5th of each summer month, but that's just a couple days from now."
So, I now have another alternative to contemplate. It would save me a lot of time and expense, though I suspect the chances are I would be turned back from this border too.
We finally arrived in Bayan-Olgii late this evening. The final leg of my journey with these Kazakh traders turned out to be the most excruciating. This wasn't because of breakdowns, or any additional tension between me and the drunk driver. Rather, everybody in the convoy decided to stretch the final hours of the trip out as long as possible.
Personally, my feeling at the end of a long road trip is that once my destination is in sight, it makes sense to press on a little more than I normally would, to finish things off. Everybody else in the convoy had the opposite idea.
We pulled over to take lunch in Tolbo, a small city just over an hour away from our destination, Bayan-Olgii. I knew that we were close to Bayan-Olgii, and would have pushed on for a late lunch in Bayan-Olgii rather than stop in Tolbo. I accepted that being lunchtime it was reasonable enough to stop--I was hungry too. Then my patience started to wear thin.
After finishing lunch, we drove out of town, then immediately doubled-back. The driver of the truck I was riding in saw somebody familiar driving in the opposite direction. Both drivers decided to head back into town to share a few cans of beer. After lingering over the beer, our truck made it ten minutes out of town before coming across the rest of the convoy, who had also decided to take a beer break. We joined them and drank yet more beer.
Erken and Serik
Play Hand Games
Two empty bottles and another hour later, we got on the road again. After a few minutes we came across a river. We again stopped, the men in the convoy waded in the shallow parts of the stream for 40 minutes.
When everybody had finished wading, we took off again. Not five minutes later everybody pulled off the road to get out, finish off all remaining beer and sing songs together.
There were two more stops on the way to Bayan-Olgii, one to assist with a van that had broken down, the second for no apparent reason after we'd crossed a checkpoint upon reaching the outskirts of the city.
I tried my best to be patient, allowing that everybody else was having fun, wanting to extend a trip they were enjoying. I can't keep from feeling frustrated though, having been traveling along difficult roads for weeks, knowing that our destination unnecessarily took an additional eight hours to reach.