A long day

An insight into a day on the road where things don’t go as planned.

Benn: 4am: I realise I am awake. Early hours of the morning, still dark outside our hotel room in Almaty, Kazakhstan. There is a car alarm squealing in the distance. I suddenly get that momentary sick feeling in my stomach as I register that it sounds like Magda’s. It stops, and to my sleepy ears it sounds like it ends with a chirrup that Magda doesn’t do. I’ve raced down to check on Magda so many times this trip, all to find a false alarm. I turn over to go back to sleep and notice Andres has gone to the window. He says he thought he heard Magda’s alarm too, but I’ve decided it wasn’t. He says he’ll turn on Magda’s shock alarm (a device onboard Magda that will alert us by SMS if it detects any kind of shock to the car). I’m already half way back to my complacent sleep.

Andres: 4am: The sound of an alarm in the distance wakes me up, it suddenly stops, and all that comes into my mind is whether it was Magda (I’ve always slept through it in the past). I jump out of bed with a bad feeling, go to the window to see if I can see her. I thought Benn was still asleep, and wondered about going down to check on her. He then turns over and I tell him I thought I heard Magda. He doesn’t seem worried, so I calm down and decide to go back to bed. I turn on Magda’s shock alert, and feel a bit more relaxed, though all I had in my mind was the red bag I had left inside the car.

Benn: 8:15am: The phone in the room rings. Andres answers, the message is short: There is a problem with your car. “They probably just want us to move it” I say. Another thought is building uneasily in my mind: “Either that or its been broken into.” We both hurry down the stairs. In the lobby a number of staff watch us uneasily. It’s a small hotel, and Magda is parked directly out the front of the entrance, tight to a wall. I walk straight out to the car and look down to see the smashed window, hidden by the wall, glass through the car and on the ground. Andres runs down the stairs to his side of the car and cries out with grief. One of his bags is gone. The hotel staff have followed us out and watch on grimly. I tell Andres to go have a look around the surrounding streets, partly in case the bags have been dropped, partly to give him time away from the onlookers.

Andres: 8.15am: For some reason I wake up with an uneasy feeling. When the phone rings it adds more bad feelings to my head. We get the message about the car and rush down to check on Magda. I’m wondering if the car was gone, had they broken into it, did someone crash into it. I soon realize that all my feelings from last night were unfortunately correct. Broken glass and my red bag is gone. The one bag I cannot replace, gifts for family and friends from the trip so far, souvenirs, mementos of the hundreds of places we’ve been. Benn suggests I go look around to check if anything was left around the block. I come back empty handed and take another hopeless look inside Magda, and notice that Benn’s backpack is missing too. Benn hasn’t realized it until now, and he goes the other way around the block, only to come back with the same result as me.

Scene of the crime…

Benn: 10:20am: The three police investigators finish asking questions. My travel insurance requires me to ensure that any theft is reported to the local police. I have no expectation that they will find anything, but we have to go through the motions. They however, take it far more seriously than I, and I’m surprised when the first two officers who arrive advise me that “detectives” are on their way. They hunt finger prints on Magda, check with the neighbours, and get witness statements from the hotel staff who first saw the damage. They tell me I need to go with them to the Police Station while they write up the report, and then they’ll give me the statement. I wasn’t keen, the car needs fixing, and we are supposed to be leaving today. It wouldn’t take long they said. I left Andres with Magda and jumped into the Police van.

Hunting for fingerprints

Andres: 10:30am: With nothing to do while the police work on Magda, I head inside the hotel to get the rest of our stuff sorted. As they leave to sort their report with Benn, I stay with Magda, the hotel staff watch on with empathy, and I ask for a brush and a broom to clear the glass spread throughout the car. As I work I suddenly realise one of the staff is helping clear the glass spread on the street with me. I ask for a rubbish bin, but with nothing but Russian, he just nods and takes care of the bucket and bags filled with broken glass.

Benn: 12:00: I texted Andres to say that things were taking ‘a little longer than expected’. The police officer writing up the report had been making slow progress with limited English. While he had tapped away at his keyboard, a growing number of other officers had wandered in to the office to see what was happening. One of them, Boris, had enough English to carry the conversation, and I quickly found myself being questioned on topics such as whether I found Kazakhstan beautiful (no, I am told after answering, Kazakhstan not beautiful), whether I had seen Borat (Borat very stupid man, I was advised), and whether Australian women were beautiful:

“I need Australian wife” Boris informs me.
“Oh, you’re not married?”
“Yes, married. But I need another one. Maybe two.”

Kazakhstan police & Magda

Andres: 12:30pm: Back at the hotel, the hotel staff are anxious to help. They’ve found where we can get the glass replaced, and tell me that it can be done for $19,000 Tengue (good enough), and will take 4 hours (not so good). Benn is on the text, telling me to head out with Magda (a first), and one of the staff, whose name I don’t know, and doesn’t speak a word of English insists on coming with me to help. The traffic was insane, gridlock across the CBD, and I’m secretly relieved that Benn isn’t in the car to see some of the manoeuvering…

Just another Almaty intersection. Note the red light in background…

“The man” was constantly on his phone as we drove, and as we criss-cross the city I start to suspect he has no idea where we were going. Eventually he tells me to pull over and park on a quiet street where a guy appears, holding a sheet of glass. He speaks to me in more Russian than I can follow, but after some help from our beloved Google Translate it turns out that the guy thought we only wanted to buy the glass not install it (why?). I ask for installation and with a little more confusion we head to this guys workshop.

Benn: 1:30pm: After spending most of the morning in the paint peeled offices of the Almaty Investigations Department I finally had the police report. Boris had kept me busy, questioning me in detail on the salary of Australian police officers, making me feel his biceps and showing me his female Kazakhstan porn collection (on his police computer) but as much fun as this all was, we had to get to China. Talking to Andres by text it sounded like he had everything under control with Magda, and so I headed to the hotel, and moved our stuff out of the room. With not much else to do I decided I’d pop out and do some shopping!

Yemir (left) keeps an eagle eye on progress at the workshop

Andres: 3pm: It was hot, sweaty and dusty. The roads were full of honking drivers and traffic jams and we were driving without air con, as I was worried about Magda’s fuel level. We had visited three workshops so far, as “the man” with me kept calling people on his phone and informing me the next one would do the installation faster. All this through very bad google translations, signs, nods, and my very basic Russian. Each workshop would give a lesser time, but “the man” would decide there was a better option, and announce via hand signals that we had to go. “Bad service”, “good service!” and finally “master service!” would be offered as the only reasoning why we were heading off into the traffic once again…

Benn: 5pm: Bored. Shopping done I waited in the hotel lobby. For some reason the glass seemed to be taking an inordinately long time to finish off, and I couldn’t entirely tell why. I’d decided I should try and track them down, but they seemed to be in a different location every time I asked. Finally Andres messaged to say they were about 1.6km away, and would be waiting for the glass to be put in there. However the lovely lady from the hotel had just brought me a fantastic coffee and biscuits. So I thought I might just finish that off first and then go and find them…

A repaired Magda, ready for duty

Andres: 5:30pm: So after almost five hours of driving in the insane Almaty traffic we finally arrive at the workshop where (apparently) they would do the installation within only an hour. Ironically this workshop was the closest one to the hotel of all the previous ones, and if we had stayed with the first one, the work would have been done by the same time. Benn times his arrival well, arriving just as the replacement was on its final touches (in shiny new white shoes too?). Magda fixed, we all headed back to the hotel to get our bags, and drop off Yemir (I finally asked the man what his name was). Before we left though, we presented Yemir with a large Cheesecake to thank him for all his help. Not surprisingly Benn wasn’t keen to stay in Almaty that night, so we headed off into the mountains.

Benn: 9:30pm: Finally, we sat down for dinner. Perhaps I’d had enough of Kazakhstan just for today, and so I ordered a very western beer, steak and chips. And it was good. I don’t know why the break-in had upset us. I’ve had windows broken in cars before back in Sydney but this was different. Perhaps it’s being in a foreign city, perhaps it’s because Magda is our home, our wardrobe, our transport. It would be easy to blame the locals, to blame Kazakhstan, to let the incident colour our perception of the whole country. But the reaction of everybody else that day, from Yemir who stayed with Andres all day, to the police who responded with professionalism, friendliness and great humour. Even the hotel manager offered us ‘cheap rate’ for another night as she delivered me coffee.
After 2.5 months of travelling without incident however, one thing was certain, we had become a little complacent. As we ate Magda was sitting outside in a car park with a 24 hour security guard, and I asked Andres whether we needed the shock alert turned on that night.

Andres: 9:30pm: Why not, I said to Benn.

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