My recent Christmas vacation was not to the comforts of home or a trendy urban hotspot or a gathering of old friends. It was the fulfillment of a travel obsession, a weird one at that. Ever since I’ve been globe trotting to more generally “acceptable” spots on the earth, I’ve felt a longing to see the Central Asian countries, Kazakhstan in particular.
You might wonder what is so special or magnetic about Kazakhstan? I’m not really sure if I could tell you then or now, but that’s what I’m trying to do here at least. Kazakhstan represented for me an adventure into the unknown, the no man’s land, the place where no one else was or could go. It was partly fueled by the hype around the movie Borat in which the protagonist claims to be filming his social goofs in order to show his ‘backward’ people how Americans live. Still another part was my fascination with the far reaching effects and uniqueness of a former Societ republic that served as a literal launch pad for Soviet mineral resources and space exploration.
So what did I find on my trip? Was it as otherworldly, alien and fascinating as I imagined? Did I return with a sense of traveler superiority over my compatriots who’ve only ever been to Istanbul and that was: “so exotic?” In all honesty, it certainly was a fascinating trip. I feel that it was a real adventure to a far away land. I am impressed by the cultural differences, the various ethnic peoples, the long history and the sheer expanse of mountainous land. It was tantalizingly “other” from many of the destinations I have been to. At the same time it was soberingly similar. Yes Asian steppe people love horses, eat their meat, drink their milk, but one won’t see Kazak warriors making horseback raids on Almaty. People there like anywhere else, love high fashion, drive expensive cars, go to work, drink coffee, ice skate and shoot fireworks. I embarked expecting to observe something alien and wild and I found people who live like I do just with a different panorama, alphabet and heritage.
Overall I’m happy that Kazakhstan struck my fancy so many years ago. It was not the most proper desire and informed way to consider a faraway trip, but now that I’ve been I can say with certainty I appreciate the country for what it is, not what I or others might imagine it to be. I feel that my journey makes me part of Kazakhstan and it is now a real part of me.