I'd heard stories of Kazakh drinking tendencies before I hit the road and people had joked that I would be right at home what with my own own, well-documented, liquor habit. However, I found even an accomplished alcoholic like myself would struggle amongst these guys.
On my second afternoon in Kazakhstan I approached a truckstop looking for some water and was immediately waved over by a group of six Kazakh truck drivers hiding in the shade of one of their oil tankers, smoking and flicking their throats to indicate it was time for a drink. Seeing I was extremely hot from cycling in 43 degree heat they kindly poured me a glass (Well, an old aerosol lid) of water. I thanked them profusely and gulped it down. Unfortunately it wasn't until the third big gulp that I realised it was vodka, much to their amusement.
They shared their meal of meat (of unknown origins) and potatoes with me as well as tea and of course, more vodka. The cheap Russian spirit was “forced” down my neck through a competitive game of linking arms and pushing each other's elbows up to ensure more than was necessary was taken. Between seven of us we drank two bottles by 3pm, one of six of the drivers (Who shall now be referred to as “The Wrestler”, for reasons that will become apparent) was incredibly drunk but I was assured he would sleep now and not drive. For a truck driver The Wrestler had a notably poor sense of direction; even as inebriated as he was, I find it inexcusable that he could not successfully identify the direction of either Aktau or Beyneu. Two towns that are separated by one long, featureless road, in the centre of which we were seated, and the latter of which he'd driven a forty tonne truck from, possibly earlier that day. They were impressed by my ability to hold my liquor and I'm sure I did my vodka-loving father proud, luckily they also filled my water bottles for me before I left.
Unfortunately, before I could get away, things took a sinister turn, the oldest (And drunkest) guy offered me his hand for what I assumed would be a handshake. It turned out he wanted to wrestle. What ensued was him grappling with me trying to take me down whilst I grappled with him trying to hold him up. Sadly the man holding my camera at the time couldn't figure out how to turn it on fast enough or I'm sure he'd have captured the scene in all it's glory. Eventually we both fell to the ground and he kindly offered me what I think to be a draw. If I spoke better Russian I'd have demanded to see the judges scorecards because although he probably displayed more tenacity than me, I'm confident my technical ability was far superior. The Wrestler DID eventually make it (with assistance) back to his cab to sleep it off.
This was not my last invite to drink vodka with truck drivers resting at the roadside. It was actually one of three times that lead to me having to take a mid-afternoon nap before cycling through the desert. But it was by far the most entertaining.
Tip for travelling in Kazakhstan; If it looks like water, it's probably vodka; smell your drinks first!