Blood on the Tiles

Atyrau, Kazakhstan

In the morning, hunger hits hard and fast. Team Dinosaur trundles downstairs, dreading driving around Atyrau. The motorists here honk to say “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Screw you,” “Watch out,” and “Have a nice day.” Luckily, we need not test our road-frayed nerves.

“Breakfast?” asks the hotel’s proprietress.

Yes. We walk into the dining room, but it’s pitch dark. The proprietress switches on the lights to reveal an empty, opulent banquet hall outfitted with chandeliers and a stand-up Casio keyboard.

A cook pops out of a door, eyeballs us, then returns to the kitchen. What inventive Kazakh cuisine is she preparing? Runny eggs served with salty cucumbers, tomato, and circular meat of dubious distinction. Tea, a jar of instant coffee, and hot water.

“They do it better at Waffle House,” I say, supremely disappointed.

Halfway through our meal, men wearing flip-flops shuffle through the banquet room, carrying several cow legs loosely wrapped in plastic. Blood dollops drop on the tile floor. Now that you can’t get at Waffle House.

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