(Dane 1). The Scraggly Blond Backpacker. 2011.
Kazakhstan is a place that the typical Western traveler would, it seems to me, never think to go. The low-profile of the country, and the vague fear that the suffix “Stan” inspires work to a certain kind of traveler’s benefit, though. A big benefit for me was crossing paths with so many interesting people in my rather long time there. One was a “zero-budget” Danish male traveler a little younger than I.
I saw him on an online forum for travelers in Kazakhstan. After finding out we’d both be in Astana, the capital, the same day, I asked him if he’d like to meet, and he agreed.
The meeting place we arranged was Baiterek, a towering landmark in Astana that looks like something out of Superman. I think the meeting time was 12:00 Noon on a weekday.
He showed up a little late, but when he did he was easy to spot even in the sprawling Baiterek plaza. Even though I’d never seen him before, I immediately identified him. His blond hair, not quite neatly combed, rested atop a slightly melancholy face, above a wiry frame that carried a very big backpack along with the small chip he carried on his shoulder.
He drank water from bathroom faucets (I saw him do it) to save money, as well as camping outside at night. This was May, so the weather was alright. He told me that the Kazakhstan police often harassed him on suspicion of smuggling drugs, especially in the south. This I readily believed because he looked the part. In fact, confirmation of his ability to attract police came later that day when one demanded identification from the both of us at a train station. He challenged the policeman, which is generally not a good idea, but they did leave us alone. The policeman may have been looking for a bribe, but he didn’t get one and wandered off. Alternatively, he may just have wondered what country we were from and used his authority to take a look.
We wandered around Astana. I was trying to locate one of the few English bookstores in the country I’d heard about, which turned out to be in a hotel, and a very nice one at that, with full security. The security guards at the front gate gave him the third degree. He had to forfeit the knife he was carrying. Hey, as he showed up looking like he had just been plucked out of a guerrilla campsite, he had to have expected that. I found and bought the English autobiography of Kazakhstan’s president-for-life Nazarbayev at that bookstore (“The Kazakhstan Way”), which was an impressive book.
This Danish guy talked to me about politics a lot in the course of the day, and came very near saying he was a Marxist. He had much to say about the USA, about how bad it was and all. I found more interesting his commentary on Danish and European affairs. He condemned, using the flim-flam adjective “Nazi,” a particular political party called the Danish People’s Party (which currently holds 21% of seats in Denmark’s legislature). This political talk of his I found quaint. Hard left-wing politics is “cool” for Western European youth (much more than in the USA) and he was either 23 or 24 at the time (2011).
All this said, I liked him. His ambitious travel made him an adventurer in the Viking tradition. (I do doubt that the Vikings would’ve much cared for Marxist theory, but that’s not so important.) He did have a soft spot, it seemed, for an American with a Danish surname, and alas he invited me to visit him in Denmark, which is unlikely to ever happen because I’ve forgotten his name.