When I began this last journey to Central Asia, one that would last some five weeks, planning involved extensive picking and choosing of specialized gear for seventeen days in Kazakhstan by horse, then another ten in Mongolia by camel. I had allowed some days in both countries for rest, just in case the jet lag was considerable.
Because Lufthansa sent me on a rerouted, 30-hour extravaganza that resulted in Ukrainian Airlines’ losing my bag in Kiev, and leaving me wondering if I might ever see it again in this lifetime.
UA repeatedly said they had no record of the bag. Then found it, then kept insisting on sending the bag to New York where I have not lived since 1979. Apparently all Russians sincerely believe that all Americans live either in Los Angeles or New York. I continued to ply the local office with proof of my current location, my ongoing destination of Ust-Kamengorst, but UA-Kiev continued to offer to send my five-week gear supply to New York.
With the help of my friends at the questionable but charming Hotel Shugla, where a massage table in my $13 a night double bed with bathroom facility informed me that it might have alternative uses, we finally convinced the Kiev folks to forward my bag to Almaty. From there, we hoped it might make it to me.
At 3 am on the 22nd I planted myself in front of the Almaty luggage lost and found counter where Anna again took my information, found my bag location in Kiev, and waved cheerfully at me to sit down to wait for the incoming flight later that day.
This despite my having just shown her my Air Astana reservation- in Kazakh- showing that I was departing in two hours. I waved it at her again and flapped my arms meaningfully, making what I hoped would sound like an airplane taking off. She eyed security.
No, no, no- I showed her the paper. This time she read it. Understanding dawned.
Ah. “You go,” she said.
YES! We have communication.
She confirmed that the bag would arrive by 5 later in the day.
With this I confidently boarded, left, and landed in Ust two hours later.
My ride, Amangul, was stuck on the Mongolian border, so I took a taxi the very long way around to a hotel surrounded by decrepit, failed factories, but close to a river. Broken concrete littered the view out my window. Reception told me that tariffs had been raised recently.
For what? I thought. More views of rust?
Amangul, a blue-eyed Mongul force of nature banged on my door, all apologies, an hour later. In seconds she was on the phone with the luggage people. They required our presence at the airport. Amangul threw me in her filthy van (the product of three days’ travel on dirt roads) with the rest of her family and we hurtled through town the way I had just come.
I followed Amangul- which is like following a Panzer tank with a ponytail-into the airport and up to the information counter. There was initial confusion. There always seems to be initial confusion. Then awareness dawns, a list scanned-ah!
Your bag is here.
Honestly, no sweeter words were ever heard.
At this point I’d have given anything for a fresh pair of underwear, and I was about to get my hands on my entire supply.
As we drove back to the hotel in the decrepit van, Amangul’s daughter-in-law-to-be draped herself over my bag as if to protect it from wandering off again.
My bag has never been in safer hands.