a big beautiful mess

The Last Great Kyzylian Adventure

This is the third installment in the Great Siberian Adventure series. A co-Fulbrighter and I spent two weeks in the summer of 2012 teaching English at a kids’ camp in Kyzyl, Tuva.

The last great Kyzylian adventure was leaving.

It was our last night in Kyzyl. Elena had arranged for A. and me to be collected at 1 am by a taxi that would take us through the night back to Abakan to catch our midday flight the next day, so we decided to make the most of waiting up for the car. We went to a bar called Barfly, which had been recommended to us by numerous of our acquaintance as the hippest bar in all of Kyzyl.

Barfly was not as hip as we had hoped. The gate out front was padlocked shut and had to be unlocked by the hostess to let us in. The TVs showed info-mercials. No one was dancing, partly because only one other table apart from ours was occupied, at 10pm on a Saturday. Our misgivings only grew as we realized that there was not a single Tuvan in the place, in a bar that was supposedly the coolest bar in the capital of a republic that’s 80% Tuvan.


P1060362 - CopyOur waiter was a tall, gangly, nervous Russian kid with a bandaged hand. Half the beer menu was unavailable, and the bartender was MIA, so no mixed drinks could be procured. The night was salvaged only by drinking perhaps too much after ordering 500 mL of vodka, which arrived in one of those elegant spherical flasks, and which was way way too much vodka for the hour and a half we had. (We didn’t finish it, don’t worry.)


Before leaving, we went to the smoking room adjacent to the bathrooms, where we chatted (admittedly pretty loudly) in English, causing a man leaving to literally stop in his tracks and stare at us. We also met a couple of Kazakh girls who had sung in the Russia Day celebration the day before. A. befriended them easily.

From there, the night went downhill. We took a taxi back to the apartment and the two sleeping Mongolian girls who had arrived earlier in the day to replace us as occupants of our four-bed room in the apartment. We thought we would have time to get our things together before the taxi arrived. But in fact, almost as soon as we got back, Elena Baikalova called A. to tell us the taxi was already there waiting for us. I scrambled out of my skirt and into a pair of cut-off jeans, and we heaved our suitcases, giggling drunkenly, down five flights of stairs to the grumpily waiting taxi man.

I stayed awake long enough to see the third passenger join us and assure myself that he was not obviously a criminal or a sketchball, before falling into a deep and dreamless sleep, rocked by the hurtling taxi. We stopped at the same rest stop as on the way to Kyzyl two weeks before, at about 4 am. I only managed to eat a Twix bar.

When the taxi driver left us at the airport in Abakan at 6am, it was locked. No one was inside. A piece of paper with a phone number on it was taped to the locked front door. Our taxi companion called this number. A. and I stared around on still-wobbly legs, wondering what the hell was going on and eyeing the benches across the parking lot. Our flight was not due to leave until 12:40pm.

Shortly, a police officer arrived, unlocked the door, turned on the security equipment, passed us and our baggage through the metal detectors, and then locked us in and left. A. and I commandeered the one block of seats without armrests and fell promptly back asleep. Over the next few hours, we slept restlessly, nursed our hangovers, failed to buy anything to eat, moved our things several times, checked in to our flight, wondered why Russians package their luggage in saran-wrap.

Slowly, slowly we went through security, and were deposited  into a waiting area that opened onto an open-air patio fenced in from floor to ceiling. The gate area contained nothing but seating. No toilet, no shops, no water — and of course our water had been confiscated when we went through security. After a while, we learned from overhearing another passenger’s phone conversation that our flight was delayed an hour and a half minimum. We never were told anything by any airport officials (though they were dressed so casually that it was difficult to tell who they were anyway).

Finally, we got on the plane. I did nothing on the plane but sleep and eat. By the time we made it to Moscow I had thankfully regained my strength, because I had to rush to get to my connecting flight to Petersburg. A. and I said goodbye all of a sudden before I had to hurry off to sit and wait for a bus to take me and some other passengers from whatever godforsaken terminal we were in to Terminal D.

A friendly and sweet lady named Tanya was also on my flight, and she and I saw each other through security — where we arrived just as the first boarding call for our flight was announced. We made it to Peter on the correct flight, but our luggage, unfortunately, did not. We ended up waiting in Pulkovo, the St. Petersburg airport, for another hour and a half until the next flight from Moscow arrived, blessedly with our luggage. Then Tanya and I went together on the bus and the metro, which I was thankful for. Even if we couldn’t help each other with our suitcases, you feel a little less ridiculous and alone when you’re not the only one with luggage on the metro.

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