Just as we were finishing another delicious shaslyck dinner in Turkistan (delicious, but also the only thing we knew how to order on the menu), a band of VERY merry Uzbeks at the table next to us struck up conversation with Joe and, much to the amusement of everyone else in the restaurant, quickly persuaded him to sit down again and drink cognac with them. This confused Joe as the bottle of cognac on their table was already empty. Low and behold, another full bottle appeared. Despite being completely belted, these guys quickly professed their undying love for their new brother Joe and spent the rest of the night drinking to his health and taking photos of him with their mobiles. Unfortunately their English was about as good as our Uzbek, and most of their conversations went like this;

 ‘Money! Money! Money! Brother, Father, Sister, Mother! Sexy girls! Sexy girls! Woooo!’

Joe persuaded me that this was his unofficial birthday party, so I made polite conversation (on some of the topics mentioned above) until it was time to carry him back to the hotel. Despite being the hardiest drinkers of the Stans, these guys were mortified when Joe continued to order beers to wash back the glasses of cognac and lemon. One even re-enacted what looked like a brain haemorage in a desperate warning that Joe shouldn’t mix his drinks. Our cultural excursion of Kazakhstan’s holiest city was cancelled the next morning on account of Joe being completely broken. Instead we drove to the rather uneventful town of Kyzylorda after eating soup for breakfast and getting fined by the police again (Happy Birthday Joe!).

We did manage to have Besbarback (Kazak’s national dish) for Joe’s birthday dinner inside a delightful disco come restaurant themed like the inside of yurt.

Our next big drive took us over the real Kazak semi-desert, through the Russian cosmodrome zone of Baykonur and onwards to Aralsk – the old seaport where the Aral Sea once lapped the shores, until about 40 years ago when soviet irrigation schemes pushed the shoreline 60km away. We’d planned to spend a few days driving out to the new seashore, visiting the ship cemetery and camping nearby – but our plans were thwarted when we got 2km out of town and Bob suddenly stopped.