Journey Through Eastern Kazakhstan, Part II
Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
92Trip End Aug 10, 2007
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The facilities in Oskemen were a bit basic, but for the most part going to a banya's not much different from showering or sauna after working out, unless you want to go local and get silly slapping yourself with birch leaves. One difference, though, is female attendants in the mens' showers. Banya attendants are the rough equivalent of hotel floor ladies or train car ladies - fine middle-aged specimens of Soviet-era womanhood clothed in dowdy dresses and sporting Marge Simpson-inspired hairdoos who display absolutely no discomfort wandering around a crowd of naked men in the shower room to demonstrate how to fill a wash bucket with hot water or find you a small mirror to help you shave.
I must have spent too much time in the sauna since even after pouring several buckets of cold water over my head and getting dressed, I still couldn't cool down. So I decided a Baltica 9 (strong 8.0% alcohol Russian beer) at the banya bar was just what I needed while I was waiting for the others to finish up. As I was ordering, a very drunk, rather obese older Russian man started leering at me and mumbled something to me to which I responded, "Nie Russky". It must have been something crude related to how I was sweating since the bar maid yelled something at him that was clearly, "because he just came out of the banya". It was too hot to go sit in the truck, so I thought I'd sip my beet outside until it was time to leave
Semey, also known by its Russian name Semey-Palatinsk, was the last notable city we passed through before crossing into Russia. Semey's main claim to fame is its proximity to an area known as The Polygon, the site of Soviet nuclear weapons tests up through 1989 and considered another ecological and human health disaster area.