Shelby Sherman
One request right here.  Please tell us about the ark.
You did see it, didn't you?

Marty Leipzig

Nope. Saw the snark, the park, the lark, but no ark.

Actually, (if for nothing else than to waste a few minutes on a ridiculously hot Sunday afternoon and fulfill jonny vee's request), what I did see and to whom I did talk is good for a yuk or two.

I had some R&R time coming (speaking of which, next time I go there, I'm going to load up on Pink Floyd, ELP, Tull and such. Those tapes sell for major rubles over there...), so in the spirit of interdimensional amity (fundies, IMNSHO, exist in another parallel, although bent, dimension), I decided to catch an Airbus to Ankara, rent a Zhugli and overland to the Agri Dagi area for a bit of sightseeing, shopping and science.

I arrived in Turkey with a near death dealing hangover (1st class on Aeroflot is something that must be experienced...) and a desire to kill it off as soon as possible. I gathered up my bags and went schmoozing towards the nearest bar, opium den or cocaine parlor (*ahem*). I ended up in the airport duty free bar and pro station. I had just ordered up a round for myself when this rather swarthy looking sort of individual saunters up and asks me for a light. Wondering how he knew that I smoked (not realizing I was puffing away on a rather largish Turkmenistanish hand-rolled), I handed over a pack of "Ruth Chris' Steak House" matches. He thanked me and asked if I was from America. I affirmed that thought and he immediately says "You must either be working the oilfields of Russia or you want to find the Ark!"

Such prophecy.

I asserted that I was doing both.

He introduced himself as Sali (pronounced "Solly"). He was university educated as an interpreter and spoke English, Uzbek, Russian and Turkish; unfortunately for this half-deaf geologist, sometimes simultaneously. Sali was a slight character, in the Peter Lorre sort of mold; but jovial, convivial and able to tank away the most improbable amounts of alcohol. I knew right then I had found a soul brother. He also did not object to my cigars. A true find, indeed.

I asked Sali if he was seeking meaningful employment, and told him the tale of the great Ark search, fried synapses and general geological HolySmokian mayhem. He said that yes, his services were available and also muttered something about someday being able to buy a computer and getting on the "Information Superhighway" (No worries, mates. I sent him my old laptop and 14,400 modem upon my return. The power conversion problem from 220 VAC to 120 VAC is his problem).

So, I requisitioned Sali for a weeks employ (at the princely sum of $20 per deim!) and we were off on The Road to Mt. Ararat. Sali could never afford a car of his own, even for hire, so I ended up with all the stick and rudder work. It worked out best that way as Sali was indeed a very capable tour guide, confidant and knew seemingly everyone from Ankara to Dogabayuazit. I told him that I was interested in the geology of the area (his brother in law was a geologist for the Turkish Government...surprise, surprise...) and the quest for the Ark. (He never could stop snickering every time I mentioned the Ark...I found out later why...).

We left Ankara in a blinding sandstorm (he thought I was nuts for leaving then, he found out later how correct he had been) and made our way east. All the time, Sali was chattering away in either English or Uzbek (I made the fatal flaw of telling him I wanted to learn the language) about the historical significance of this particular area or what great person had trodden upon the soil there or what great booze was available over the next rise. We continued overland, past the great camel salt caravans, past the great expanses of the "lonely", past tiny, little hamlets whose names I cannot possibly remember. About mid-afternoon of day two, Sali noted that our provisions were running low (we started with a case each of vodka and cognac, 3 cases of beer and a bag of what can only be described as the Turkish equivalent of Doritos [what we were going to do with all that food remains a mystery]).

Of course, Sali came to the rescue. He knew of an oasis (where his sister and Brother in law [not the geologist, but a traditional] lived) where we could tank up both the car and ourselves. Best of all, it was only 25 km from Mt. Ararat. We rolled in about 5 pm to the only green area in 500 km circumference. The car had not stopped rolling when great hoards of swart individuals descended upon us. At that point, I was wishing I had not left my Kalasnikov 9.72mm back in Alma-Ata. But, these proved to be quite friendly, to the point of homicide, folks. They were also relatives of Sali's.

I do not know if it was the cases of hootch, the return of Sali, the infiltration of the Ugly American or combinations of the above that started all the ruckus; but I had a night that I shall not soon forget. Betwixt the dancing, eating and boozing; I was feted by some of the most congenial people I have ever met and witnessed to such an bacchanalia of back-slapping, drinking, eating and general joie-de- vivre. After I broke down and broke out the cigars did the locals really pull out all the stops.

So here I am. 13,500 miles form home, supposedly on a business trip and drinking elbow to elbow with some folks who can trace their lineage all the way back to Adam's father. It was under a starry sky, the likes of which most urbanites can only dream of and the likes of which I doubt again I'll ever see. Suddenly, things got quiet...

A matriarch came out of one of the damned-if-I'm-not-in-Albequerque adobe houses with a piece of wood and braided twine. She, with great fanfare and alcoholical approval, presents it to me and proclaims (in Turkish, which I understood...Thanks, Sali) me to be the keeper of the one, true (Goat-damn me if I lie...) anchor rope and piece of the "True Ark".

The crowd was devoutly silent.

I was profoundly vexed.

The laughter immediately thereafter was uproarious.

Seems that the cast and crew of this little fiesta kept themselves in beer and skittles quatloos by providing weary travelers with momentos of their "Ark Quest". Seems, of late, they've made a fortune creating and pawning off "Ark Bits" to unsuspecting passer-bys.

The hangover I reaped after toasting them all night was well worth it...


Hello, gang.

As you may have noticed, I once again was on an eastward sabbitical (6 weeks to be exact); raping, looting and pillaging the Earth in the name of Mammon. A fairly unusual trip, even for this wizened old rocknocker. It all started in the oilfields of Western Siberia (Novii Urengoy, the world's largest gas field) where I was to personally manhandle, stomp and Western Manage a group of drillers, pushers, gaugers and geotypes. I still cannot get over the vastness and the vast waste of this country. At least the vodka distilleries are up and running again, and I personally saw to it that the stock of the JV between Seagram's and KomiVinoCo would skyrocket (insider tip...Russian/Western JV's have public stock offerings. The stocks can be had for a song and I've made [in less than 2 years] a princely sum for mere peanuts...just another service with your subscription to HolySmoke...Fundy roadkill on the Infobahn).

Anyways, (look here, I just got in 5 hours ago, it's 2:00 am, and where I was working in Russia was exactly 12 time zones away. I've been on Areoflot for 16 hours and KLM for 18 after that in the last 48 hours. Suffice to say I'm a bit wonked, jet-lagged and ferschimmeled. So there.), I wound up my contract in WestSib and had some R&R time coming. I sallied off to Kraznoyarsk for a weekend of debauchery and ice fishing with a Siberian buddy of mine, and decided to hop down to Tashkent and check the progress of another project I'm trying to get going in Uzbekistan. Well, my timing couldn't have been worse, as it was the Constitution Day 3-day'er (holiday) and everyone was gone to their assorted dachas.

After some serious F&FA (fiddlin' and fuckin' around), I couldn't get a flight back to Moscow and my travel visa was about to go tits up. Scanning the departure boards, I came across a flight to Ankara that was leaving in just an hour. I figured "What the hell." and flew into Turkey. On the fright over (that was NOT a typo), I pulled out my PIM and looked up Solly's number (Solly of "The one, true ark" fame).

Rented me a Zhuguli (gad, I hate those cars) and went to look up old Solly. Sure enough, he was still at the university in Ankara. Drove over to meet him and he was still full of the last trip we took. "We going east again, Doc?", queried Solly, always on the make for a few spare dinars. "Those damn militarios. They won't let anyone on the mountains. Say the damned stupid fucks [Yes, Solly, I HAVE taught you well...] are costing too much money. They either fall off the mountain or get grabbed by the guerrillas. Sonsobitches. They cost me a fortune."

I was a bit taken aback by that last remark. "What do you mean, they 'Cost you a fortune'?"

"I was making good money as a guide. The goofy fundies [Solly got that from me...HolySmoke is truly international in scope.] pay me real good for Solly to take them to mountains so they can find their boat."

"Sounds like trade infringement.", I added.

"Not only me, but my family and other folks too. They were making good money selling ark trinkets and [Catch this shit folks...] making ark pieces to strew around the more used footpaths so the Arkonauts could find something and maybe come back with more money."

"You sneaky bastard." "Solly, you're deceptive, evil and a bad influence on me. I like that in a person."

"So we're going east?"

"Damned right, Sol." "Still the same per diem?"

"Yessir. But I do the driving and you buy the beer."

Yep. Still the same.

We loaded up and got stuff in the car as well. Back into the fray once again. We overlanded it east...

So, Solly and I are off once again on the road to Dogabayuzit. He remembered my nearly making us part of a camel caravan last time out (at a relatively largish, non-camelish velocity), so Solly insisted that he drive. Fine, fine, whatever works.

So, here we are again, traveling down section and seemingly back in time. Out past the great salt pans, past people who haven't changed much since the time Adam was still a glimmer in his Daddy's clayworks and rapidly noticing that it's getting colder and colder as we go.

Damn Zhuguli has a heater that could melt Antarctica, but unfortunately only has two settings: "Off" and "China Syndrome"; absolutely nothing in between. So, here we are, zipping along at 130 kph, heater blasting, windows rolled down and great blue clouds (and the occasional beer can) of cigar smoke arcing Venus toward.

Suddenly, I was wondering why we were slowing down. Solly has the damn engine firewalled, and the topography here is flat as a sheet of waxed paper; yet were rapidly coming under the influence of entropy.

"Fucking piece of shit; the transmissions slipping. Probably got it too hot..."

Thank, Sol. Exactly what I needed to hear.

"Oh. It'll be OK. We just need to stop and let it cool down."

"Um, Sol. It's getting dark, we're on a high plateau and I forgot to pack the North Face."

"Don't worry, Doc. We still have over half a case of vodka."

This was going to be an interesting night...

We pull over into a likely looking little cul-de-sac and position the car as a windbreak. "Well, this shouldn't be too bad.", I thought as I started to scrounge around for firewood.

Solly was under the car, swearing a blue streak. Seems the tranny case was hot enough to fry fundies and he wasn't terribly happy with the thought that it might be too fried to get us out of here.

He became even more uneasy when I dropped a load of wood that I had found.

"Doc. That's not such a good idea. There's bandits in these hills. They might see our fire and..."

I cut him off and remarked that (1.) we had seen nearly zero people in the last 4 hours before we toasted the transmission and (2.) if it was between possible bandits or freezing to death, I'll take the former.

Solly was unconvinced. "I hear these guys can be a bit rough." Seems that there's some real factionalization in that part of the world (funny...nearly the same area that sprouted two major religions...coincidence?) and these groups have their own idea of ethnic cleansing that goes back to beyond Adam's Greatuncle.

"Anyways, Sol. I'm just a poor, old, _misguided_ [BSEG on my part] oil company geologist. They're not going to waste time on a whacked westerner and his trusty sidekick."

"OK, you're the boss." "I just hope the Kirims (local nasty bunch) are taking the day off."

After a hasty meal of cherubim and seraphim, Solly and I kicked back under the stars (SUCH stars! Too bad I left all my camera gear back in Novii Urengoy), we fired up a large double maduro Turkmenistanian hand rolled each, and poured a few toasts to the events that conspired to dump us in this fix.

We chatted until the wee hours, and had just about conked all the firewood. We figured it would do no good to try and get out of here in the dark, so we were resigned to our impromptu campout.

That's when I noticed the shadows.

"Sol. Did you see something out there?"

"Stop it, Doc. It's too late for jokes."

"Dammit, Sol. There _is_ something moving out there <insert theme music from Aliens here>."

"I don't see anything..." Sol remarked as we both stood up, hiding bravely behind the now cooled Zhuguli.

The sound of the horse snorting behind us sent both our BP's and pulse stratospheric. Slowly turning around, we noticed by the flickering of the now dying (peachy metaphor, there) campfire was a band of 4 horsemen (now there's a lovely coincidence...), sporting "King of the Khyber Pass" rifles and swarthy demeanors.

Hands instantly shot into the air and I launched into a great oratory about being just a geologist and...

With a slashing gesture, the lead nasty cut me off in mid-oration. He started saying something in some who-knows-what type of Turkish dialect that for the life of me sounded like a cricket love-in.

"Um, Sol. You savvy any of that?"

"Yes. He wants ("Get out the wallet and car keys...here it comes.", I thought) to know what we're doing out here in the middle of nowhere."

"Having a picnic, what the hell does he think?", I remarked. Sol, being a very good interpreter and probable life saver, did not translate that but informed the lead character of our car troubles on the way to Agra Dagi.

The term Agra Dagi caused 4 rifles to bear down on us. "Great", I thought. "We're lunchmeat."

"You are searching for the ark of Noah"? asked swarthy fellow #2.

"Hell no. I'm studying the geology of the area. That ark business is all just a load of hogwash anyways."

With a huge roar of laughter, the 4 horsemen of the necropolis dismounted and came forth, hands extended. "Is too bad you are not searching for the ark. We could use some extra money."

<Insert deeply puzzled look here> "How's that?"

"We are freedom fighters ("Aren't we all, pal?", I thought.) but we are only a small group. We have very limited support from those whom we protect."


"When we find some errant infidel looking for the ark, we <ahem> detain him until his compatriots cough up some dough for his safe return". (A bit a paraphrasing, but the general gist is still there.)

"So, you nab the Arkonauts, and hold them for ransom?"

"No, no, no. We merely put them into "protective custody", only if they wander where they shouldn't be and may get hurt."

"So, what you're telling me is that you're using Christian myths to finance your little Muslim group?"

"That's basically correct."

After the laughter on both sides subsided, we all had real good headaches the next morning from all the mutual toasting we did that night.

Yeah. I like this job...

... "Dave. My mind. It's going. Have you heard of the 'Global Flood'"? ___ Blue


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