Posted by: cousindampier | 20 November 2015

McCaw’s Final Match


Rugby sunk its teeth into me because of Richie McCaw.

In 2011, New Zealand was electric with rugby. Matches of the Rugby World Cup were being hosted throughout the country, and the national team – the All Blacks – were peaking as one of the best teams in the world. They were very likely the best, but while the first decade of the 2000’s left fans optimistic, they were also bracing for a bad match at the wrong time. 2007 was the low point, as the AB’s didn’t make the final four of the RWC for the first time since its inception; by 2010 that changed and they won 15 international matches in a row. They entered the 2011 RWC as one of the favourites.

Even for an American kid who understood little, the themes were apparent. The home team was playing in front of home fans; the pressure was immense. New Zealand is widely recognized as one of the best rugby teams of all time, but they had only won a single World Cup, the inaugural 1987 competition. They were in their prime – veterans who had played with each other through a number of tournaments. They were good – very good – but carried the weight of knowing they were good in a sport in which the bounce of a ball can be devastating.

A loss in front of the home crowd would be shocking, and questions about the direction of the program, justified or not, would arise again.

In America, only soccer and hockey can currently capture the electricity of multinational competition – Soccer has its own world cup, and despite the growing process (and pains) of the America squad, the Football World Cup is one of the single most exciting and dramatic sporting events to watch. Hockey has the Winter Olympics, and with the number of Canadians and Russians in the NHL, it makes the games tense, an American-Canadian match bringing out bad blood and vicious fandom.

American football doesn’t have the same type of drama; the state of Illinois may live or die by the Bears but the rest of the country is apathetic at best. Baseball has its own World Cup, but it does not draw the numbers nor popularity in America that it does in Latin America and Asia. Basketball is growing and now very international, but the American team is too dominant to make international competition that dramatic.

I barely knew what rugby was up until a few weeks before the tournament began, but I was working on a ski resort and there was a bar at the bottom and I could watch rugby and drink beer, surrounded by fans who were smart and passionate and who could answer the questions I had, questions like “Do they were cups underneath the shorts? Those are some short shorts.”

I was in New Zealand, surrounded by Kiwis. Gravitating towards the All Blacks was inevitable, and Richie McCaw was the face of the team. He was on the ads, the interviews; he was shown on tv whenever the All Blacks were playing. He was number seven – good luck and easy to follow, and he was distinct. Between the chest the size of a barn and the somewhat spikey hair, you knew who he was, immediately.

So they won, and I watched it from Nelson in a little bar about 10 minutes walk from the hostel I stayed at and everyone was talking to everyone else, a weight lifted from everybody’s shoulders for though New Zealand, in the end, was the dominant team there was that fear every fan had, almost permeable, that they would blow it. It was smiles and beer and cheers, and the fact that I was there to see it made me part of the club, even if I barely understood why they dived into the endzone – or whatever it was called – after a try.

So I moved back to the States and suddenly Rugby 7’s was on NBC, a faster and quicker and more random game and my dad found it immensely entertaining. I started following Super Rugby – the 15 team league based around New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa – and naturally I gravitated towards the Christchurch Crusaders, largely because of McCaw (the Hurricanes of Wellington and the Otago Highlanders remain beloved teams as well). I stared at my phone on game days, watched as much as I could and even tried to start a rugby blog.

I was hooked.

And then 2015 rolls around and it has been four years since I was in New Zealand and the RWC is happening again and the All Blacks are not old, but they are veteran; McCaw and teammate Dan Carter are probably playing in their last RWC. Suddenly the games are easy to access – I can buy a pass from NBC and watch all the games online and I get to see many of them, Japan’s upset of South Africa and the Wallabies of Australia holding on with 13 men against Wales. The final comes down to New Zealand vs. Australia, little brother vs. big. I awoke early to watch it, and even though New Zealand had an immense halftime lead, it wasn’t safe. Australia roared back.

Richie McCaw played in 148 international matches. I have not seen all of them, but in this final match he seems to be everywhere. Every tackle New Zealand needed to get, he was there. Players needed to protect the ball so it could be cleared, he was there. Setting up a beautiful pass, he was there.

Perhaps I’d finally started to understand the game, to see it better and notice the nuances more, like watching the offensive line in American football or the weakside of the court in basketball. Or maybe McCaw had the game of his life, knowing it was his last despite telling every reporter that it was a decision to be made after the tournament.

On Thursday, he retired. And as much as a 30-year old can thank a sports figure, I thank him. For being an inspiration to work hard and love what you do, but also for being the face of a team, and a nation, which hooked me on my favourite sport, the sport I get the most passionate about and the sport I will stay up until the early hours of the morning watching. It is the sport I get texts about – “I saw that team of yours on tv” – and the sport I crave to learn to play, follow, and someday, somewhere, not only to sit in a bar once more, but to sit in the stands as New Zealand plays in yet another World Cup. And so while Mr McCaw may be retired, among his many, many accolades, a tiny needle in the haystack of things he accomplished during his career, is that he got one more fan into the sport he loved.

Posted by: cousindampier | 25 October 2015


The rumoured third fight scene gets me every time.

Posted by: cousindampier | 22 October 2015

The Great Road Trip: A Route 66 Story

We drove all day.

Four Corners was muddy. Snow and rain pelted down as we turned from highway to smaller highway to dirt road and in front of us appeared what seemed to be an arena surrounded by dirty, short wooden buildings. The Nissan’s wheels churned through mud as we came to a stop.

The Four Corners are the dividing line between Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico, the only spot in the country where four states meet. Four semi-squares embedded in the ground with sharp 90 degree angles marks the location, and on a cold February day, it seems even more lonely, as if we’d travelled through nowhere to get to its middle. We were freezing in the desert and nobody was about except for a bus full of students who seemed to be everywhere at once. We walked around, jackets bundled up as far as they could go. Neither of us had anticipated the sleet and the cold, and we wore every layer we had.

The center of the monument finally cleared out and we got a couple of pictures before stepping back through the mud to the Nissan, the trusty Nissan and we headed away from the monument, west to Flagstaff and Los Angeles.

The weather remained poor as we drove west. Around a few bends, the snow came down hard enough to make visibility low and it added a strange sense to driving through the desert. On some stretches of road, we’d be by ourselves, just Curtis and me and his Nissan and the white-brown sand and the gray sky. Sometimes the sky would open just enough to allow us to see miles around, and it was like that night back in Silverton – just us against the earth. We had a destination – San Diego – but the excitement of driving to San Diego was suddenly mixed with the reality of driving to San Diego, the twelve hours we had to go.

At some point, I drifted off for thirty minutes or an hour. When I came to my senses, we were out of the desert snowfields and driving through what seemed more appropriate desert scenery. The skies were still gray, but the snow was gone and the earth took on its appropriate red and brown colours.

We were also seeing signs for Route 66.

Much like the skiiers, if one were to poll drivers about the dream roads to drive, the answer would be ‘all of them;’ yet Route 66 remains The Road, or more frequently, The Mother Road. Myth runs rampant. The singer Bobby Troup’s wife leaned over and whispered into his ear, “Get your kicks on Route 66” and a song was born. Ghosts exist. Kerouac allegedly heard the song and decided to go west, and though he only mentions Route 66 briefly, the road was the icon of the traveling beat generation. Forrest Gump ran parts of it. As America became a driving nation, and as road trips entered popular consciousness, Route 66 entered legend as the road from Chicago and the east to Los Angeles and the Pacific.

As the Interstate system came into being, Route 66 was forced out; sections of I-55, I-40, and I-44 making up the path from Chicago to the Californian Coast. Some of the road was co-opted into the new interstates and much of it was bypassed but it remains in lore with Troup’s refrain,

‘It winds from Chicago to L.A.
More than two thousand miles all the way/
get your kicks on Route 66’

And finally, somewhere before Flagstaff, we found a stretch of old Route 66, a spur moving away from the Interstate. It is a state highway now, one of those two lane roads where you are just as likely to see a tractor as a car. We pulled over and Curtis let me behind the wheel, an old pair of aviators we found in his car on my face, one of the nosepieces missing so it pinches my skin. I throw on a song – Springsteen, or maybe Everclear’s ‘Santa Monica’ since we are headed to Los Angeles, but the stretch of 66 we are on is straight and runs into the horizon, down a small grade and then it runs straight with a slight uphill, a path that leads somewhere but there are no other cars, no other people, so wherever it leads isn’t somewhere anyone wants to be.

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The Mother Road

We drive, not in silence – the radio is on and I am probably singing to myself – but we’re both with our own thoughts. The road trip, that thing which Route 66 is a symbol of, is different now. We’re not out of touch and on our own unless we want to be. We can stop and take a snapshot of any place or sign or monument we want. We are instantly connected, and yet there is something in the movement, the constant movement which forces upon us the realization that nothing is happening, that being instantly connected is still a thing, but we don’t need to be because no matter how many times we check our phones, it is still just Curt and I driving along a vacant stretch of highway in the middle of Arizona and the things on our phones are the same as they were an hour ago. We are missing nothing; life back home is just the same as it once was and whatever monotony we feel in driving is overwhelmed by the sense of purpose in going somewhere.

Wherever my thoughts may be, they get snapped back to the present by red and blue flashing lights. A set of three police cars is ahead of us and the highway is roped off and I slow down to pass them. We move past a motel and a restaurant and see a sign leading back to the interstate and only then realize we have not seen a single 66 sign. There are no more of them, or just very few, because they are so iconic that people pull over and tear them down as mementos and I am sad about that because more than anything I can hold in my hand, I just want a picture of me and Route 66.

We are both looking at the road, trying to find a painted image of the highway sign when Curtis sees it in the rearview mirror. I slam on the breaks and turn around and come to a stop underneath a nest of signs, three of them stacked on top of each other, and the topmost sign was the most pleasant scene of painted metal I may have ever seen: Route 66, the old highway sign, ten or twelve feet off the ground, above the green signs proclaiming distance to wherever, impossible to steal unless you have a ladder. And we stopped and got out and took a picture and then, only then, did Arizona end and Los Angeles begin.

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Posted by: cousindampier | 19 October 2015

The Great Road Trip, Part II


New Belgium welcoming Curtis and I

Jon Jay and I were drinking cognac and tea in his apartment in Almaty, probably in the dead of winter, and – as Jon is want to do – he was talking about mountains.

“If you survive the year without falling from lung cancer, going from here back to sea level will feel like the most amazing run you’ve ever had.”

I remembered all of this as I struggled through the high altitude which is Denver. Fuck, I thought as I ran through the massive park which holds the Denver Zoo, we didn’t talk about going back into the mountains.

The ground was half covered in snow and the half paved or green was filled by geese or feathers or geese droppings. I was tired, my legs were aching from the car, my lungs were burning, but those mountains were tremendous. They were not simply jutting up against the sky to make a beautiful scene because they were everywhere, surrounding me and the city. They were the normal and this flat plateau I was on was the other, and it made Denver feel somewhat utopic; like its mythical Shangri-La counterpart, running through the city that morning I had no way out but for a single mountain pass.

They would become a theme, a permanent background character during our time in Colorado and it is hard to separate my time there from them.  We spent the better part of a day in Denver, barely scratching the surface of the city, and yet what I remember is always seeing white peaks above buildings as we walked from brewery to brewery and by the time our first day there ended – exhausted, having walked a half dozen miles – even then, Denver felt like a gateway to a much larger world.

Stumbling across Kerouac in Denver

* *

After a day in Denver, where we stuffed ourselves with beer and Chipotle, Curtis and I made the trip to Fort Collins to visit New Belgium Brewery.  This was the only tour we planned, but the trip slowly began to be marked by breweries.  There’s an internet-famous map depicting the alcohol belts of Europe, and at this point, in the Western United States, we are all Germans, and I’d never appreciated it before.  In Almaty we had Балтика (Baltica) and Efes, a lager from Turkey. Baltica ran a number system – Baltica Seven was the lager, as far as I can recall, and there was a hefeweizen in there as well. They were good mostly because they were available; when Jon came back to Almaty after Christmas and brought a Dale’s Pale Ale, it – much like Denver – made me feel like I’d been living in a closet.

The New Belgium representatives in Spokane set us up well. The only time I’d ever pulled back the curtain behind beer was on a Guinness tour in Dublin, and then the experience was more about Dublin than about beer. My bosses at the Goat were good at explaining it – some might even say they nerd out about it – but as far as I knew there were big vats and fermentation and then it appeared in a can.

Making beer – large quantities of beer – is a complicated process which mixes the newest technology with some of the oldest methods. Creating beer is somewhat like creating a new car – no matter what you do to a car, the internal combustion engine is still what powers it, and that engine plus four wheels is the same basic idea as the Model T. Beer still requires the same basic ingredients and the same basic process as it did a few hundred years ago. However, wandering through the back rooms of New Belgium, everyone kept an eye on a computer, watching pressure and temperature and a list of other items. New Belgium is also out in front with sour beers – beers which need to be aged for years before they are ready to consume.

And they got us proper drunk beforehand. We walked across mosaic floors and around large vats of beer, checking out the little room where they experimented with flavours and styles, and stood above the cannery while the giant machine below rested. As we walked out into the parking lot with frisbees and hats and a few bottles of beer, coming down from the high of being treated like very important people, the exhaustion of the past two days set in. The drive from two days before weighed on us still. We made a fast stop by Odells – another great brewery – both Curtis and I could barely finish a beer, and we made it back to the hotel and all I can remember is being as tired as I’ve ever felt.


We awoke at 430 the next morning. I felt ill – tired and sick in the stomach. Curtis was alive and awake, always positive, the living manifestation of “its a good day to have a good day.” The sky was dark outside – the sun was climbing to reach the Denver plateau, but was stuck some hours away – and the snow was new and still falling. Fresh snow early in the morning makes everything seem new and wild, even a hotel complex.

Once again we found ourselves on the road to Denver as the sun crept overhead and the sky turned purple and the darkness fought to the final moment to stay around. The roads were plowed but somehow still terrible and traffic slowed us down as we made our way south until we moved off the Interstate and onto state highways, south and west to Silverton.

Outside of Denver, headed to the west, guided by Google, the New Great Road Trip map of choice. Colorado is flowing by, becoming an unearthly place, the type of landscape seen in movies but which is always some far-away land with hobbits and giants and dragons. We round a bend with a small hill to the left and mountains and mist appear, peaks reaching out of one sky and into the next. Rolling white hills border flat white fields and further into the distance white mountains surrounded by white fog. Occasionally, brown grass appears out of the white, little inkblots on the landscape which never seem to connect. The trees are green and muted, almost more gray with the sunlight and snow.

And in between the curves in the road and the mountains in the sky we hit these stretches of straight road, the Kerouac special, just the road and the powerlines fighting to stretch the furthest into infinity as we drove alongside, music blaring, windows occasionally cracked.

The way to Silverton was like this, windy and straight. It didn’t snow, not too much, and I told Curtis stories of Jon and Almaty and we talked about where to head next because anything was open, Alberquerque, Phoenix, San Diego.

By the time we reached Silverton, we’d decided on San Deigo. See Jon, have a bite to eat, and head west towards the ocean.


I’d first heard of Jon Jay a few years back, before Almaty, before Karakol – before Asia. Admiration seemed to follow him as much as adventure – Jon Jay, the man from Colorado; stuck in Bishkek, lost in Dushanbe. Zarina was the one to push me forwards towards Almaty; a few emails later I was emailing Jon; a few months later I was on the other side of the globe.

The last bit of road into Silverton was so small and windy that I thought we’d passed the city.  We’d come up through a small town about thirty minutes before and the further into the mountains we got, the more I thought we’d just driven straight through it because who lives all the way out here – but in the distance a few houses appeared and then the enrty to the town, a small roundabout; and just as quickly we were through it.

Jon was taking care of a three bedroom house just on the outskirts of the small town. He was out shoveling snow as we drove up. It was sunny out but we were still high in the mountains and he was bundled up, breath wafting up in puffs. I hadn’t seen him since we parted ways on Satpayeva Street in Almaty, but he was dressed almost exactly the same – ski hat pulled high on his forehead, long shirt and a vest over the top. I jumped out of the car and gave him a hug, wanted to use the Lando Calrissian line from Star Wars – “how ya doing, you old pirate! So good to see you!” but I likely said something much less coherent.

Davinia was there too,the same pair of glasses framing her eyes, hair a bit straighter than I remembered. Jon had to head back to work, and after a few minutes we piled into the cars, heading higher into the Colorado Rockies, up more roads twisting on the sides of mountains and through more snow falling lightly on our windows.

I’d only ever been to a few ski resorts. Working in Ruapehu was my first real experience, and the lodge was massive. Mt. Spokane was pretty big, as was Schweitzer and 49. The lodge Jon worked in was maybe 30 feet by 30, rubber mats on the floor. Most of the heating came from the crowd of people inside the room and the toilet was, quite literally, a hole in the snow. But it was warm and the beer was cold and Curtis and Dav and I sat around a table chatting as Jon worked the bar, and as groups of mostly middle-aged men flooded in, chatting them up. As far as I could tell, it was exclusively a heli-ski operation which cost a fair amount to take part in.

To each of the guys there, it was probably worth every penny. A year before, Jon and I had been in Kyrgyzstan, Karakol, and Jon met up with the guys who run 40 Tribes and knowing nothing about skiing I’d asked them if there was a certain place or mountain or run they dreamed of skiing. Both of the 40 Tribes guides and Jon had answered the same – there was no one specific run, they wanted to ski all of them.

Curtis and I were still thinking of heading out, hitting the Four Corners and pulling an all-nighter to make it to LA.

Beer kept appearing in front of us.

Curtis and I stayed in Silverton for the night.

We drove back to Jon’s and had some chili he’d left on the crockpot all day long, and then headed out to a bar called Montoyas. It was a mountain bar and had a vague sense of the 20’s, a little art deco. We walked into an empty bar, yet it felt like the most warm and hospitable place I’d ever known. Walking through the snow in the dark makes you feel alone, especially if the snow is falling. With nobody else about, you feel truly alone, like the last group of people left alive wandering through elemental earth in search of something which may or may not exist.

There is food there, a large table of snack food. A ski party has just departed, one of the big ones where they rent out the place after a day in the mountains. I attack it readily, for even though we’ve been driving along large interstates in America, where its some sort of federal law to have a Subway every fifteen minutes, I am hungry. It is something about the constant movement and not knowing the future nor where we will end up next and it makes me eat like I might not see food soon.

Davinia talks about her PhD, which needs to be finished by September. It’s about oil and gas and Kazakhstan, I think – what I’d primarily learned about it is that finishing a PhD looked like a sweet gig from the outside, because of all the travel and the funding to simply write. But inside her head were a hundred questions and directions and things stressing her out and for as monumental of a task as it would be to finish one day, it was slowly driving her insane.  Even with the pressure of finishing, she was sharper than anybody in the room, both by ability to break down whatever world event was hapeing and by ability to call out bullshit when she saw it.   The British accent helps with that – sarcasm is always more biting when British – but there was still that drumbeat which I’m sure never left her head, finish by September, finish by September.  

We walk home some hours later, buzzed, feeling warm in the snow. Jon is housesitting for the season, and aside from shoveling snow the place has two extra bedrooms and a decent kitchen and we sat up drinking more beer and Jon and Davinia and I skyped Saranna, a short Almaty reunion.

We wake up early. Too early, it is 6:12 in the morning. I am cold and have a headache from the night before. Curtis is at the door, ready to take on the day, shirtless and this just makes me feel worse about myself so I get out of bed and pretend that I’m awake and alive.

Jon is making coffee and pours it into big cups and we sit around the table, Curtis, him, and I, all of us wrapped up with thick socks on. Jon is half suited up, ready for the mountain, and he and I catch up on the last few things as Curt does some pull ups, his internal motor already turning and waiting to be unleashed. It is a beautiful Colorado morning, the fist we’ve been able to appreciate. The windows are slowly moving from black to purple to blue, and the cold is welcoming in that strange way of a warming house. Eventually it is time for Jon to go, he has to get everything ready for the first set of skiiers and I peek in on Dav, still asleep in bed and I wish her goodbye until later in the summer, and then I hug Jon and we get back into Curt’s still-dirty Nissan and we head back up and through the mountain pass to reality.

The mountains are immense. Without them, the day would be gray and cold-looking, but they conspire to bring sunlight through the clouds. We head back to Durango, two passes away, up, up, still up, and suddenly the sun is peering on a peak, the mountain proudly showing off its jagged edges and we stop and dive out of the car and into a snowbank, take a photo and then run back to the car, cold, hands burning, jeans frozen only to do it again a few minutes later at the top of one of the mountain passes. We sit in the snow and stare at the peaks playing with the sun as Taylor Swift blares over the radio behind us. The New Road Trip, scenery and music combined.

Down and out on roads overlooking valleys, broad swaths of valley like some ancient riverbed where beasts lie dormant, and then up again, trees everywhere, dominating mountainsides and as we stare up at the green and white mountainsides we miss the beginnings of the desert until we are in it, snowfields mixed with sand. Red rock and red soil covered by a fine white and the snow comes pelting down, all the way to the Four Corners, Arizona, and Route 66.

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“So we go there where nothing is waiting; we find everything waiting there” -Neruda

Posted by: cousindampier | 5 June 2015

The Great Road Trip, Part I

Somewhere in Wyoming

Somewhere in Wyoming

From a distance, Whitefish, Montana looked like a town out of Austria or maybe Switzerland, a mountain town built on the curve of a lake, three or four rows of small peaked houses just as white as the snowfields in the background. The Empire Builder was still far away, moving quickly along a lake, the first time I could remember the train actually feeling like a train, but it was also the first moment I’d been awake since I left Spokane.

The sun was rising but the clouds were risen – illuminated with lines of pure white light in the sky, white snow on the ground, white ice on the lake. The inside of the train was dark and this only amplified the brightness outside and suddenly we were passing through a canyon, or between two hills but it looked as if the earth was dragged out and these were man-made and the train is forced through as if driven by a hammer, the speed picking up to get through it as quickly as possible and then the angelic scene outside is gone and I am in Whitefish.

The colour changes to brown. The railyard is like railyards everywhere, part storage, part dump, a place to be only if one is arriving or departing or picking up. We’re stopped for a few minutes so I step off the train into a pool of cold air, crisp but heavy. I step off mostly expecting a panoramic vista of mountains and snow, but all I see are some trucks and cars and the station itself and a long concrete platform.

It is around 7 in the morning, and I’ve been on the train since 1:30. I’m headed to Williston, North Dakota.


When I arrived to catch the train in Spokane, the station was dead, almost post-apocalyptic. I’d arrived about ten minutes before the train was supposed to leave, walking through the automatic doors without a care in the world, walking into a lobby of sleeping people and luggage. I only felt a rush when a station attendant found out where I was headed and quickly informed me I was likely to miss the train – it was sitting on the tracks as we spoke.

The train sat on the platform, idling, like a sleeping animal, quiet and unmoving but snoring, ready to awake. If the station seemed post-apocalyptic, the platform made me feel like I was the last human alive on the whole planet. I started walking down the empty platform, trying doors and finding them locked, generally feeling that if the rest of the world were to suddenly cease to exist, I might never know.

An attendant got off near the front and walked down the platform towards me, the only other person in existence at that moment. Politely telling me that I was lucky – they were waiting for a few minutes – she handed me a card with the Williston tag written on in sharpie and told me to grab a seat where I could find one. Climbing the stairs, I found one of the last set of double seats open, stashed everything up above, leaned back, and went to sleep.


After a quick breath of air in Whitefish, I went back to sleep, waking somewhere in Eastern Montana. A few hundred miles later I awoke again, arising as the sun was starting to settle for a new day. The car I sat in was only half full, mostly men, each one claiming two seats to himself as he stretched out and tried to sleep. A couple watched movies on laptops or phones, and everyone looked like they were headed no further than the oil fields.

The Amtrak line from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest is known as the Empire Builder. It runs 46 hours from Seattle to Chicago, one train passing in each direction per day. As I sat in the observation car and watched the sun begin to blend in with the green and yellow fields to the west, I liked to imagine the name had something to do with Manifest Destiny, something like connecting Montana the Northwest to the rest of the United States. I later discovered it was named after a railroad tycoon who helped form the Great Northern Railway.

The land was property as far as I could see, a landscape of rolling hills broken up by property lines and fences and sets of trees. I sat in the observation car and watched the sun move and listened to the women behind me. All were beyond middle-aged, and at least two of them were sisters, discussing their mother. They had the same gray wavy hair, and their faces sloped down into similar points, chins and noses. The talk of mother gave way to knitting patters and other things read in a magazine, and then the first reservations for dinner were called, meaning it was 5:30, and one of the women left to go to her cabin.

I sat sipping coffee and watching the sun play with the clouds for a long period of time. Property had disappeared, and the window revealed hills, those farm hills which roll and rise but never at too steep of an angle, covered with yellow grass and brown mud, all of it a museum behind a moving window. The sun sunk lower and lower and eventually the sunset became one where the clouds are the last mirror, keeping the day around for as long as possible before the old age of night sets in, but I leave before it is fully gone. Everyone likes to watch the sun set, but nobody likes to watch it disappear.

Sunset over Montana.

Sunset over Montana.


There is no intercom announcement as we pull into Williston, just a blue-shirted conductor in a fleece walking through the train announcing that we have ten minutes to go. The hidden shadows on the seats begin to move and suddenly guys with big shoulders and bearded faces stand up and put things in packs. They’ve all taken this trip a few times – one guy brought pillows and a blanket to sleep his way through and as the conductor walks through, they all perk up, phasing from rest to activity in a few seconds, putting things away and jackets on and beginning to line up at the stairs to get off the train.

We all want to get off the train. Fifteen hours of movement has brought us nearly halfway across the country but it is still fifteen hours in one place, walking from seats to the observation car, muscles sore from inactivity. The idea of getting off the train and doing anything is a pleasant thought, and I think this for a minute as I set foot on the concrete ground. The train station in Williston is dark, dimly lit by the lights of the town, a mass of people moving around. There are more people getting on and off than at any station so far, and just moving through them is a stop and go mess and I find myself wistfully thinking about how much easier walking through the narrow corridors of the train were until I see Curtis, waiting for me at the end of the platform.

Curtis is a few inches shorter than myself, around six feet tall. He’s got shoulders and a chest which make him look invincible, and when he smiles, his eyes narrow like something mischievous is about to happen. His black hair is nearly always just a little shaggy, hanging over those eyes and he gives me a hug as we walk to his car, asking about the ride over, and we start to drive through Williston.

“There.” He points to his left as we leave the train behind.

“What is it?”

“Those are the two strip clubs.”

Leaving the Amtrak station, they are the first two places you see crossing into Williston. More importantly, they are the last two places you see before you leave.

We head through the main drag of the town, Curtis pointing stuff out as we go, telling me about his hitch and the changes to come. The price of gas has dropped off a cliff in the last six months, and some of the rigs are winding down, disassembling and locking up shop until the price rises again. Guys are losing jobs left and right, transferring to other rigs or heading home. Curtis isn’t one of them, but even he is faced with cuts – no more meals provided in the man-camps where he stays, and he has to bring his own bedding. Williston at night is a few blocks long and low, two or three story buildings sticking out like skyscrapers. It is light, brilliantly lit for a moment and then we’ve passed through, suddenly by a massive parking lot and a big box store and Curtis is saying “well, if we want to stay we need to get a hotel” and I’m answering back “to hell with it, let’s drive” and we start out of Williston, back west towards Montana and as Curtis is driving he turns to me:

“Hey, want to see my rig?”

We start cutting down county roads, back roads, Curtis pointing out the miniature signs with his rig number on them, B22, Bravo-Deuce-Deuce. It seems as if we’ve left earth, left all people behind and we are stuck in a black ocean with the only lights those from his little Nissan, except in the distance there are radio towers which are brilliantly lit with white light, all the way up but they aren’t radio towers, they are oil rigs, the derricks little lights of civilization in the vast nothingness that makes up western North Dakota.

All the rigs seem forever away and we never seem to get close to any of them because of all the turns we take. We start circling around one, spiraling closer, that lit tower hovering to the right, and then we’re there, driving in the lot next to it around to the back side as Curtis points out the different features of the rig – where the mud gets displaced, where he works. It looks like a chained mythical beast, muscles straining as it pulls a drill up and then pummeling it into the ground again and if let loose it would destroy everything around it and begin to roam the earth.

The derrick is bright, lit all the way up, and everything around it is darkened, some lights here and there but that derrick dominates everything at night. Lit up with the night sky as background, it would seem to point the way to the sky, but sitting in the car, staring at it, it is the hilt on a sword, pointing the way down into the black gold which rests underneath.

We stare at it for a while, Curtis with pride and myself with awe. We see only one man, grabbing stuff from his car, and otherwise it seems as if the drill runs itself, and then Curtis bids it farewell until the next hitch, and we’re off, Curtis knows the way, back to Montana, back to Miles City and I-25 south and Denver.

Bravo-Deuce-Deuce, as taken by Curtis

Bravo-Deuce-Deuce, as taken by Curtis


I wake up somewhere in Wyoming. It’s 2:30 am. I’d managed to stay awake until we made it to Miles City and then south to Wyoming. I wanted to stay awake, keep conversation going so Curtis wasn’t faced with five hours of night driving alone, but I’d caught a head cold the day before I left and all that sleep on the train ride had not cured it yet. The last thing I remembered was pulling over at the Wyoming border, three semi-trucks pulled off to the side of the road around a green sign that said nothing fancy, just ‘Entering Wyoming’ where we stopped and stepped into the cold night to take a picture with the sign. We hoped it was the first of many pictures featuring welcome signs.

We’d agreed on splitting shifts, about four hours driving each, and as we pull off and fill up and use the restroom I take over, 130 miles from Cheyanne, 250 from Denver. The road was empty, maybe straight, maybe narrow, too dark to tell and with Karouac blaring through my brain and Curtis sleeping in the seat next to me, we made south through the beautiful nothing that is Wyoming at night.

* *
Dawn broke around us as we crossed into Colorado. As it did, our dream of getting pictures of the welcome signs drifted from dusk to night – the Colorado sign was well placed directly in front of an entry ramp to the highway, with little shoulder to stop on. We flew past and into the daylight.

Day begins as a halo which creeps higher and higher into the sky. We are embarked on the New Great Road Trip, the kind where we look up the closest coffeeshop and discover it opens at 5am all while zooming along at 70 miles per hour; where you pull over in a stripmall and open a door to a Starbucks with warm heat, soft music and $2 coffee and where you book a hotel room from your phone as you do so. On one had, all we have is the stuff in the car – the road is life – but while we are driving through Wyoming at 2 am and arriving in Denver along with the dawn, we also have the ability to post whatever kind of image online we want. We are disconnected because we choose to be, except for the ways in which we tell people where we’re at.

We pull off Colfax Avenue in Dever, into a long, thin parking lot. Shutting down the car which as driven four states and thirteen hours, we walk into a reception area and lounge which is big enough to seat a couple dozen people. The guy behind the desk probably just wants us out of his lobby and lets us check in early for no charge, and we somehow manage to shower before closing the curtains tight and sleeping until the afternoon.

Posted by: cousindampier | 3 November 2014

The Fall Bucket List

The summer of 2014 was busy.

But before we even get into the nonsense that is the second half of 2014, let’s watch the first 30 seconds of this:

Some questions:

-Why is there a pineapple on the Mixer?

-Can we discuss how funny the coconut slowly dripping milk is?  Because its pretty funny.  Especially since the coconut is resting on a metallic hand.

-I had to reload this video a bunch (research) and the ad before it was from Century Link, with a man in a suit selling me on how fast my internet connection would be using a cheetah as an example.  At first, this seemed like the worst possible ad to have before a Nikki Minaj video.  As I thought about it more and more, it seemed appropriate.

The rest of the video is sort of not worth watching.  Mostly.  Anyways, onto the list:

The Big Goals
Get published as a journalist – Might not happen, but progress will be made. I’ve moved on from a bland goal of “Write 1,000 words a day!” to “Write 1,000 words a day on this topic!” Organization helps, structure helps – but coming through and producing on a daily basis is really all which matters.
Complete a 50 mile race – One of the items to chart on here is 12 marathons in 12 months. The epic story of October’s marathon is pretty short: I trained for it, I got the hoodie, I came down with a cold two days before, and the worst day of the cold was race day.

Thrilling, I know.

Get a skydive certification – Starts in spring, the course lasts a month or so (it appears).
Go to Kings College for Graduate School – September 2015, and I’m in!
Tri-lingual – I won’t end up speaking three languages by next summer. But with months of work on Spanish and Russian, yada, yada, ya. Even I’m falling asleep discussing this one.

The Seven Continents and Seven Seas, Plus One
North America (Not the USA) – If I don’t make it to Canada in the next ten months, this whole list gets scrapped. Seriously, It’s like a ten minute walk from my front door.

Education-based Goals
Get a Master’s Degree – The process will begin.
Learn not to die in the rail park on a snowboard – a season’s pass ought to help. Having said that, I should probably buy a helmet.*
Learn to make three really good meals without recipes – The best part of this list might be its vagueness with goals such as these. What are three really good meals? Who knows! Maybe I get to make killer Mac and Cheese and couple it with guacamole and call it classic.

But seriously, probably time to learn to cook.

Learn three kinds of tie knots – A few weeks ago, I was walking into a grocery store to buy a snack before work. Out front was a kid standing in front of a table, wrapped in a fall jacket. Against all better judgement, I didn’t divert to the far away entrance, and instead kept walking and as I approached earshot, the kid starts to ask if I want to buy some food to support the Boy Scouts.

I kind of brush the kid off, saying “no but good luck” only to take one step inside the store and realize that I’m probably a jerk, this kid is just trying to raise money, and he’s probably had a hundred people say no to him so far.

So I go back outside and spend $10 on a goddamn bag of caramel corn.

Anyway, the point of this is that I’m going to learn to tie some knots so I can sell bags of caramel corn for $10.

Coolest Activities
Climb a 4,000 meter peak – Rainier, I’m looking your way. I need some practice to get on top of Rainier** and I don’t know if the spring will allow for that – well, that and I need a climbing partner to do this. I think. The point of this all is that will need an extended vacation at some point.
Bungee Jumping – I don’t know if I can do this in Seattle, but a quick google search does reveal stuff in Vancouver. Canada! It is time I return to the land of my ancestors.
Drink Absurdly Expensive Scotch (older than myself) – Yeah, so, uh…anybody got some lying around?

Greatest Cities
Vancouver, Canada – I can get something like four things crossed off if I go here.
San Francisco, CA – Because I feel like making earthquake jokes for the better part of a weekend. And I haven’t had the pleasure of driving Chris crazy for a while.

The Others
Start my own podcast – The idea is already mapped out. The dialogue to the first episode is already written out. It just need be recorded and built upon.  Well, that and a partner.
Make money independently of being hired by a company – It just has to be one article. Somewhere.
Do 1,000 pushups within an hour – I’m bad at pushups. This will not be fun.

The Others
52 Books – So far:
Paulo Coehlo – Adultery
Sebastian Junger – Fire
Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Clandestine in Chile
Learn to Rock Climb – I even learned how to belay, which is where you keep the other person from dying. A useful skill!
Do a Trail Marathon – Races are dumb, and that is why I enjoy them.

South America – Chile and Colombia are priorities. Probably not now, but soon.
Statue of Liberty – New York is not totally out of the question. Just likely.
Grand Canyon – Is it conceivable I fly to Las Vegas, rent a car for a day, and drive there? Yes. Is it a good idea? You may never hear from me again.
Montreal, Canada
Santiago, Chile and Bogota, Colombia – just in case that trip happens.


Posted by: cousindampier | 30 October 2014

Clandestine in Chile

A review of Clandestine in Chile by Gabriel García Márquez (the story of Miguel Littín)

As a child, some things seize a person and never let go. It can be an enjoyment of riding horses, or a lifelong love of a sport, but it grabs you at a young age and becomes a guide.

Perhaps rather obviously, mine was travel. As a child, I was imagining other places thanks to maps and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and to dive further down that rabbit hole, certain places attracted me more than others for no apparent reason.

This is, obviously, about Chile; the Chile I imagined and the Chile I’ve come to know, and the Chile I may find when I visit, for South America, and Chile in particular, drew my fascination at that young age. Perhaps because it was shaped so differently – a long, thin country bordering the Pacific with enormous mountains and a catastrophic desert – or perhaps it was because to my six-year old self, Chile was a food (Hungary is another country I’d quite like to visit).

It was a place I wanted to go, but it was a place I knew almost nothing about. Allende and Pinochet were names and vague stories, but simply that. I doubt I knew Salvador and Augusto until my late teens.

In his memoir, Christopher Hitchens shares an anecdote about the other September 11 – The Chilean day. Speaking at Whitman College in Walla Walla on September 10, 2001, he optimistically declared that the next day was to be a landmark day for human rights, as the family of a murdered Chilean general was to bring suit against Henry Kissinger in Washington D.C. Things transpired differently, and 9/11 is viewed as a landmark day for human rights in a very different way, but knowing about Pinochet and that day in 1973 gives 9/11 an additional level of tragedy.

Marquez’s tale of Miguel Littín’s return to Chile is, of course, supposed to bring those emotions to bear. It is a tale of Chile – repressed, pushed down, kept in check. It contains its elements of sadness, not as much for the way things used to be, but rather of the hope which was lost when Allende was overthrown and died. Overnight, the reality in Chile did not just shift; it completely changed. In 1973, Littín was Chile’s most famous filmmaker, having directed quite possible the most popular Chilean film in history. Barely escaping execution during the coup, he was exiled to Mexico, and in the 1980’s moved to Spain.

Spawned during this time was the idea of returning to Chile in disguise and filming a documentary about life under Pinochet. Dramatically changing his appearance and accent, Littín became a Uruguayan businessman interested in filming a commercial in Chile; and to this end, stationed three film crews throughout the country, each ignorant of the other’s presence, each there to interview resistance leaders and film Littín’s journey.

The most powerful part of Littín’s journey is discussing the cult of Allende and the memory of Pablo Neruda. Amongst the people Littín talks with, Allende is still revered, still referred to as the president; and as his grave and Neruda’s residence both sit in Valparaiso, that city is the center of the romantic death of Chile’s future.

Littín’s journey is also a tale of remembrance, and the impossibility of going back. He finds the leaders of the resistance were grade-school children when he left, and while he still views Chile for what it was, they view Chile for what it is and could be. This difference brings another heartbreak to reality, the heartbreak of the impossibility for Littín to ever return, for even if Pinochet falls the Chile of the future will never be the Chile he remembers.

Pinochet’s coup, and the military dictatorship which followed, governed Chile from 1973 until 1990. American involvement stemmed from the black and white nature of the Cold War: Allende was a marxist, and therefore was on the Soviet side. Thousands of people went missing and hundreds of thousands were banished into exile; and before Pinochet relinquished power an Amnesty law was passed to protect members of the military junta from prosecution. He was arrested in London in 1998 on the grounds of universal jurisdiction (under which crimes committed are considered crimes against all, and not simply within one state). He returned to Chile in 2000 to find the amnesty system broken, and was brought to trial in 2004 for kidnapping and torture, only to die in 2006.
It is difficult to find words to say about the Allende tragedy. The Cold War brought out the extremes in both America and Russia; some of the best scientific advances and some of the worst human rights abuses occurred during those 50 years, and Littín’s journey brings home a sense of embarrassment. Knowing Chile’s history since the 1990’s, one might say the Chilean people have made a remarkable recovery – but it still necessitates a recovery.

It is an obvious first question to ask any Chilean, but it has proved to be a difficult one to get an answer for. Asking someone how they feel about the most traumatic moment in their nation’s history has no easy answers, especially for those whose memories are largely post-Pinochet, but whose parents still remember. I know how I feel about the latter 9/11; I don’t know how I feel about Vietnam, or the American Civil War, outside of answers in a historical context. I’ve visited the Vietnam Wall several times, and while the grief is not literally tangible, voices get quieter, children stop running, and people move a step slower. What I understand is, simply, that I don’t, and perhaps never will.

And yet it adds to an interest in Chile, an interest which existed back to the days I wanted to sail the Pacific and search for treasure, but one coached in a context I did not understand then. I have a number of friends in Chile – friends I’m excited to see, who will show me the country and tease me for my poor Spanish – and it is a nation of extremes and outdoors adventure I dream of visiting, and with it comes a history I can see but never really touch, except through a Littín and Marquez, Bolano and Neruda, and, if lucky, through the stories of people who lived it.

Posted by: cousindampier | 29 October 2014

Four Months Out

One of the Mosques

I often think of Istanbul. This is a little bit odd, because I was only in Istanbul twice. Similar to too many stories, however, Istanbul came to symbolize the gates to Asia. I flew to Paris, only to spend Christmas in Istanbul before heading home to Almaty; and when my final class was over, I flew to Istanbul to prepare for my journey back west.

So I think of Istanbul as it is the transition point.

Four months out is a frightening thought. I’ve done a lot in four months, but not enough to reach school. I got in, and then was faced with the prospect of pushing it towards next year, and prospect which I came to reluctantly accept. Home offers a lot of possibilities, but also presents one of the most basic and biggest challenges to me (or, I suppose, any person): getting over myself enough to get things done. Getting my priorities in order, my plans together; putting them into action, dealing with the sidetracks and the obstacles; keeping what I want in mind and moving towards it.

I’m certainly aware this is a problem everybody faces. In Coelho’s newest story, he speaks of the dual fear of everything changing and nothing changing. We all occupy a different space on that line, some of us fearing that nothing will change and we are stuck, and others fearing that too much change, too quickly will overwhelm our ability to handle it. It also is an immature problem, in a sense – shouldn’t a 29-year old have this together already?

And my answer to that would be that I do – or did; and I find myself in a different place now, one where I don’t need the grand plans, the move to New Zealand, the year in Almaty; the time spent creating infographics or learning about politics. No, none of that is needed right now because that end is looming – a move to London and a trip back to school. What is needed now is the ability to push everything into place to make the most of this looming year I spend getting there. That discipline, I may or may not have.

Even with that prospect of school, the thoughts of what happens after still come. This year is leverage to get there, an opportunity to write and study and run (a lot) and learn a bunch of stuff I’ve wanted the time to learn. It’s a fantastic opportunity. And then the next year is leverage to get somewhere else.

I may not quite know where that is yet, but much like Mel Gibson at the end of Maverick, when Annabelle steals half his poker winnings…sure will be a whole lot of fun figuring it out.

You’re welcome, America.

Posted by: cousindampier | 14 July 2014

The Almaty Superlatives

One of my favourite intersections in Almaty.

One of my favourite intersections in Almaty.

One month ago, I stepped off a plane and back into America. The 30 days since then have been marked by a rush of change, difficulty of transition, and some stark realizations about life post-Almaty and pre-London.

So, without further ado, lets ignore all of that and launch into the Almaty Superlatives:

The Award for Single Best Teaching Moment: The Super Bowl provided its own set of great moments. What it probably means is that the Seahawks will never win again until I am back in Kazakhstan, because that is how luck works. However, the week preceding the game provided for the best moment I had teaching. Super Bowl commercials transcend cultures, as was evidenced by a class full of Kazakhstani students creating and acting out their own commercials.

This was not one of the commercials they acted out.

The Award for Single Worst Teaching Moment: Any one of the days I walked out of the classroom thinking, “I am the worst teacher ever,” because I bombed any connection with students that day. There were a lot of these.

The Award Stupidest Story I Can Tell (which Does Not involve Istanbul): Almaty is a big city – about a million and a half people over about 125 square miles. I really only saw a small part of it, living in the Abay-Lenina corridor. One night, however, I was walking back along Abay street at around 1 or 2 in the morning. And then I kept walking.

And kept walking.

And kept walking.

Nearly 70 minutes later, I began to recognize where I was, and I finally just gave in a caught a cab from there, which took another 20 minutes.

The rumour said that late at night, people would stand out in front of their apartments and shake their keys. For the right price, a passerby could rent the apartment for a period of time, and sometimes the person who inhabited the apartment as well. While I have no idea if the rumour is totally true, there were a lot of people shaking their keys and a lot of cars stopping to talk.

The walk itself wasn’t necessarily stupid; it was the walk at 2 am through a part of the city I didn’t know, not being able to ask for help if needed.

(Later, Angie and I would see a pimp showing off her prostitutes in Bishkek, but that was only two blocks from our hostel. Good times.)

The Totsami Award for Favourite Club: Totsami. It was closed halfway through the year, and I am still in mourning. Chutkotka, Sinii, and Don’t Worry Pappa were cool, but Totsami always ended with tears of laughter the next day.  I think I appreciated it because it was relatively small, the band was great, the DJ’s were usually great, and it is where I first started giving myself challenges for clubs.

Hold on, I’m going to go pour one out.

This photo credit goes to Totsami bar, but THEY WERE CLOSED SO WHO CARES.

This photo credit goes to Totsami bar, but then the cops came and closed it, so who cares.

The Award for Story Which Continues to Give Me Chills: Jon Jay and I were in Bishkek. Our last day there, we walked from our place on Chui to Sierra Coffee, and then to Osh Bazaar. It was a pretty miserable day – the rain was coming down in spurts and the gray clouds hovered overhead had nowhere else to go.

We were there looking for this type of jam which locals mix in tea, and a kalpak. We made the mistake of underestimating the size of Osh Bazaar, which was legitimately the largest bazaar I’ve ever been in. It was pretty easy to get lost, and pretty easy for two tall white guys in ski gear to stand out.

And so we turned the wrong corner into a group of Kyrgyz police, which seemed to delight them to no end. They hauled us into this small shack and shook us down, emptying our pockets and checking our ID. Jon’s hemp wallet from Nepal was of a special curiosity, because hemp = weed, and he had to prove it wasn’t.

We somehow make it away unscathed, and the cops even send us in the right direction to buy a kalpak; and as we approach the store – quite literally within 5 meters – we get stopped again by a plainclothsed cop, hauled into another KGB room where one of the officers is having a ‘birthday’ and the whole process starts again.

The narrative was too perfect. We’d escaped, and then we were caught again, and now we were going to be stuck paying a bribe. All the cash I had was on me; it was a nightmare scenario which continues to give me shivers.

The Wizard of Oz Award (Toto, I’ve a Feeling We’re Not in Kansas Anymore): That time Adil and I caught a cab to pick up Zarina from swimming, and then the bus to go to Abai Square for a festival and then walked down to a restaurant on Dostyk. This was the first day I remember being awake, and stands out because Adil and Zarina were very cute together, and because there was no way I was finding my own way home.

Adil being cute.  Or scolding me.  I forget which.

Adil being cute. Or scolding me. I forget which.

The Moment I Made It Award: To the time I gave a guy directions, in Russian. I gave him the wrong directions, but I was only a block off.

Most teaching-worthy West Wing Quote:

President Bartlet: There! You see how benevolent I can be when everybody just does what I tell them to do?

Most Descriptive Song of the Past Year: As much as I want to cite Usher’s latest single, “Team” by Lorde held its own through the course of the year:

We live in cities you’ll never seen on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things

Almaty is a city few people know of.  It has its rough edges, but I figured it out just enough to make it home.

(Ah, to hell with it.  It’s more fun to choose Usher anyway).

The Angie Award for Best Party:  St. Patrick’s Day was the best party I went to in the city, if only because I won a bottle of whiskey in a pub quiz! Which was in Russian! (Jon and I may have had help).  The Weekender Festival was also fantastic for a number of different reasons and hilarious photos.

It had a cool label!

It had a cool label!

But the surprise birthday that Z and Adil gave me tops any list.

Look at that dashing birthday face! Look! Anybody?

Look at that dashing birthday face! Look! Anybody?

Favourite Street: Furmanova.  It was always a pleasant nighttime walk home, and I never felt too worried to bump into police.  One of the most relaxing 20 minutes I spent every day.

Most Sublime Moment:

Minar and Me

Most Sublime Moment not involving Minar:

Waking up in the first apartment I stayed in and looking out the window to this:

Good Morning!

Good Morning!

First ‘I’m Home’ Moment: I got fed Avocado sandwiches in Paris by Kate.   I hadn’t had an avocado in ten months.  It was on a French baguette.  I nearly went into a coma.

Best Chutkotka Moment: Chutkotka sits in a park, and there was one morning I woke up in the park.  Let’s not go further on this one.

Best Food: Lagman is a sometimes-spicy noodle dish. Originally, I think it was a soup, but my favourite was fried lagman – mixed with meat and vegetables, it was delicious.

The Best Jon Jay Moment: Removing all the stories which include Jameson, then it is sitting in Karakol at night knocking of central Asian flatbread and a bottle of cognac before skiing the next day.  Removing the stories which involve cognac, it was the can of beer he brought me from America after Christmas.  Removing the stories which involve beer, all the rest of the stories.

The Best Saranna Soroka Moment: Any one of the thousand times one of her stories included a ‘ohmygod guys.’  And second to that, the time she managed to request transport from KIMEP to the airport for our departure flight, and KIMEP sent a short bus for the two of us (appropriate!) and we chilled out and reflected for one last half hour to the airport.  It was one of those moments made only in movies, that mixture of reflection and sadness, pride that we’d made it through and shock that it was over, and an inability to comprehend that in a few short hours we wouldn’t see each other again.

And upon arrival at the airport, I got dinged $100 for my luggage and Saranna had to text her sister who called her mom who called Lufthansa to get the lady at the Almaty airport to let her luggage go through for free like it was supposed to.   Even in our last moments, Almaty wouldn’t let us leave without one more fight.

Gratuitous Shakira Video Interlude: 

Jon somehow finished his thesis with me sending him around 80 different theories behind this video.  If Jay-Z’s theory behind ‘Empire State of Mind’ was to outdo Sinatra and create a song New Yorkers will listen to forever, than this…I don’t even know.

Best restaurant: Daredzhani.  I don’t even know if the food is memorable, but Zarina introduced me to it when I visited in 2012, and it became the place Dina, Karina, and I would have dinner once per month, and those dinners kept me relatively sane.  Plus, khachapuri! It was the last restaurant I went to in Almaty, the night I left.

One Last Meal

One Last Meal

Most Appropriate Archer Line: As much as I want it to be Archer and Ray’s conversation about mortality, its not that.  It’s phrasing.

The Han Solo, “I got this” Award: 

“Hey, its me!”

Second here is playing tour guide in Paris after only a day or two there, but taking off for Bishkek with Angie is probably number one.  Granted, it did help that she speaks Russian.  But that’s just in the details.

Best Hike, Trek, or General View from the Top of a Mountain: Climbing Abay Peak in the winter and then during spring was pretty incredible, but the first hike I did was nearly all the way up Peak Furmanova.  It ended up just being Davinia and me sitting on a ridge and looking out over the steppe in the afternoon sun while we munched on snacks.

"remember that book i told you about the first sip is joy and the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.” - JK

“remember that book i told you about the first sip is joy and the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.” – JK

The view from the top of the ski resort in Karakol was pretty good as well:

Hey, its Kazakhstan way over those mountains!

Hey, its Kazakhstan way over those mountains!

Upon Further Reflection: I saw On the Road for the first time last December.  I’d read the book, but the movie was something different.  And maybe because I enjoyed the movie, or maybe because it reminds me of Kerouac, I listen to the soundtrack while I write at times.

And so what I think about Almaty is that I can’t think about Almaty yet.  I can talk about it through stories and moments and apparently superlatives.  But to think about it more broadly is impossible, and maybe for the best.  Maybe giving into my usual tendency to think about it critically and try to analyze what I got out of it and what it means is a hopeless task.  Maybe Almaty just is.  It happened.  And it is over now, and school will begin soon, and school is happening because I went to Almaty, and Almaty happened because Zarina thought enough of me to encourage me to apply and move there, and so on and so on.

I can’t shake that feeling that it is something important, but I can’t describe what that importance is.  As someone who enjoys writing, this bothers me to no end; and as someone who talks until he figures out what he is talking about, this probably annoys the hell out of people around me.  And I wish I could explain it.  I wish I could.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

And so I’ll end with this: “Russia won the Olympics.”

Posted by: cousindampier | 5 June 2014


Bishkek Cognac and things that are not Bishkek Cognac

Bishkek Cognac and things that are not Bishkek Cognac

Foster’s beer does not hold up against Bishkek Cognac, and all I can get is Foster’s.

Though he will update it sporadically, head over to – he is currently either climbing Peak Lenin, or hanging out in Osh, Kyrgyzstan waiting to climb Peak Lenin.

Either way, the internet sometimes works.

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