My, what high security you have!
Our night in an army base by accident, and another encounter with another intriguing religious man
On the road out of Altin-Emel village, a carload of familiar faces pulled us over - they were the traditional music band that we'd met the previous day. One of the men invited us to stay at his place that night, and gave us his address and instructions of how to find his house in town. Arriving around nightfall into Sariozek, our first mission was to find this man and his house. We were lucky that one of his friends recognized us on the road in town and gave us some more detail for how to find his house, and then he drove off ahead of us.
We turned into the housing complex that we'd been instructed to, but were stopped at the strangely high security gate. The guards checked the name and address the man had written down and then opened the gate for us without question. Once inside the complex we were a bit lost, and started asking around for directions. A group of men encircled us and tried to help us. Unfortunately none of the men recognized the name or address, and so they tried to call the phone number for us instead. But strangely, when they called, it seemed that the number didn't work. Seeing that we were in a spot of bother and it was getting dark, one of the men (Daniar) invited us to eat and sleep at this apartment with his young family, and then we would continue our search in the morning. Being tired and cold, we readily agreed. We were a bit puzzled as to why there were so many soldiers at this housing complex, but didn't think too much of it at the time (we had just exited China, where this was the norm anyway!). However, when we got to Daniar's house we saw his army uniform hanging up and worked out that EVERYONE there was a soldier - it was an army base. We were OK though, because the guards had let us in the gate without hassle so we must be allowed in there.
The next morning we got a different story. One of Daniar's friend came over sounding a bit alarmed and out of breath, to tell him that we should not have been allowed in the army base, let alone sleep the night, and the senior officers were trying to track us down and find out where we'd stayed. So we had to quickly and quietly pack up our things and leave without being seen. All seemed to go smoothly until we got back to the base entry gate, where a carload of soldiers stopped us and escorted us to a different building so they could start their investigations.
They had many questions for us – who we were, how we'd gotten in the compound, where we'd slept the previous night, what was in our bags, etc. Subject to constant questioning outside in the cold (oh boy was it cold), and with our passports missing (they had taken them), we were somehow rescued by the man we were supposed to be staying with the other night (the man we couldn't find), a very high up man in the military, full of medals and decorations on his jacket. What a sigh of relief it was to be freed by him, as we had no idea what we would do, stuck in a secret army base, with no passports, and no one knowing where we were! When we looked back in our address book to check what had been written there for us to find the man, we slowly read it aloud for the first time and heard ourselves say "Veinniy Gorodok" (in Russian), two words that we already knew to translate to "Military City". So that's how we learned what these words look like when written down in Russian.
The next week or so we were luckily hit by some gloriously sunny blue skies (and warm temps of around -22/23c), which made our riding alot easier - we were lucky to have good weather, compared to the -47C and -50C temperatures that Semey was having - the place we would be heading to next!. Only a few km's out of a small down call Mukri, we met a man who showed us a picture of his house, practically buried under 2 meters of snow (up to the roof)! Only some 100km behind us, was where his house was - we were very lucky to have missed this big dump!. It was in this town, that yet another adventure was to eventuate. Riding past the mosque in the town, a bearded man in traditional Islamic garb invited us to stay with him.
He introduced us to his very nice and welcoming family - his many brothers and his parents who were both highly respected school teachers. But as the night wore on we saw another side to this nice man. That night he showed us countless pictures of him posing with machine guns, rocket launchers, grenades, and various other military paraphernalia, before making us watch footage of various people being killed by various means, saying that they, the infidel deserved to die and would all go to hell. He also showed us many pictures of his training, scaling buildings, jumping out of planes, and shooting various weapons. He then proceeded to ask us if we had any weapons with us, before bring out Tasers and an automatic knife, asking which one we wanted as a gift from him. Hopefully his weapons expertise is an independent aspect of his life from his religious practices. We also hope that after meeting us strange Westerners he will reconsider his position that such "infidels" deserve the natural disasters that might happen to fall upon them.
It was only a short ride from there into Taldykorgan where the next few days were nice and warm (only -23C, compared to the previous few days) before plunging to -36C near Karaganda (-44C with windchill) - even our nostrils and tears froze onto our faces at this temperature. We had successfully negotiated the wolves, cold, secret army bases, and another night with religious extremists.