It was a hot Thursday afternoon in the Kyrgyz town of Karakol as I stood with a friend alongside the road, holding out our thumbs in an attempt to hitchhike. While the events that were soon to unfold were exciting (see 'Stories': A Hitchhiker's Guide to Losing Cameras), my focus here will be of the above mentioned friend: Gautier. Just one week earlier, we were both strangers in the comfortable Almaty Dom Hostel in Kazakhstan, but here we were, new country and several exciting journeys later.
Several years younger than me and just finishing up university, Gautier was already a well seasoned traveler, having been around the Persian Gulf, through South America, into Africa, and all over Europe including the meltdown site of Chernobyl, Ukraine (yes, you read that part correctly). Early 20s and seen more of the planet than most ever dream to in a lifetime, and now this was his next destination: Central Asia. But despite having done so much, there was nothing in-your-face about his personality and he never bragged about it. Gautier was, instead, chill and laid back, ready for a conversation and always up to go explore somewhere. For me, he was the perfect travel buddy to suggest, "Hey, let's go wander and see whatever we'll see." Case in point, even when confronted by a belligerently drunk guy at a cafe who kept talking about methamphetamine (you meet bizarre people on the road), Gautier remained stoic unfazed.
Most of all though, Gautier had this knowledge about odd yet interesting bits of information that helped make the adventures all the more exciting. For example, there was a zoo in Karakol which, despite being rather run-down and depressing. was home to this very rare species of horse called the Przewalski horse. Previously, I had never heard of such a thing, nor was I even aware that the small Kyrgz town even had a zoo, but Gautier did. And on top of that, he knew the whole backstory behind the horse and the specific reason why they had a hard to pronounce Polish name and were in this small remote Kyrgyz zoo (he explained, but I've already forgotten, therefore, I cannot pass the information on to you).
Ultimately, as travel usually goes, we soon parted on our separate ways, with me heading back to Bishkek and Gautier on a 20 hour bus ride to Tashkent, Uzbekistan where he would go on to continue to go on to such places as Turkmenistan and Tajikistan among others, encountering such things as the Pamir Highway and Turkmenistan's Door to Hell (google it, you'll be glad you did). Anyway though, I'll end with an over-used cliche and say for Gautier's upcoming adentures, "Let the good times roll."