……you’d think it would be easy?
01.07.2014 - 02.07.2014 38 °C
To start our destination Tashkent, capital of Uzbekistan is only 60-70 kms away but that border crossing is for locals only ours was a 260 km round trip! The ride started with temperatures of around 25deg and the road meandered upwards to an elevation of about 800m through regions of intensive agriculture and villages centuries old until stopping abruptly in a dusty dead end village with a large gate…..apparently that was the border. Now remembering that you have to exit one country before you can enter another and this is where the fun started. Due to a little “white out” on many of the forms received on entering the Kazakh immigration quarantined half the group insisting they go back to the last town, 50k’s away to rectify the ‘problem’ whilst three of us, me included, were told to go through immigration and customs. By this time is was hot again and we were not allowed to wait for the others so off to Uzbekistan we went, generally friendly but they would only take three persons at a time. It’s fair to say that if there was only one or two people travelling it may not be so bad but with a group….the last one came through after six hours……and this was only due once again to some African diplomacy & USD50 that allowed the “problem” to go away . Alpha, Echo and I were through in about 2 hours and after a great little lunch in the border village, at one of those places where you are sure you going to catch something, we headed to the hotel arriving around 6pm. The rest of the group arrived at 9pm and the heat of the last 5 days and a 7 hour border crossing was evident in everyone’s demeanour……..
It still astounds me how quickly the ethnicity of the local people changes when you cross the border. The Kazakh’s have outwardly a definite Asian influence whilst within km’s the Uzbek’s have a distinctly Persian influence and a different language but they all speak Russian! Speaking 4-5 languages is common here.
The next thing about Uzbekistan is the currency 2300 Som to the USD and they only have 1000 Som notes so take a lazy 100,000 with you for dinner and a shopping bag to carry it in! Given there is a thriving “black market” you have to declare all cash on entry and receive stamped declarations showing official conversions………….credit & debit cards are rarely accepted but ATM’s will dispense USD’s……..and it is with these USD’s you can go to “market” and get 30% more….so I’m told…..
It was great to have a rest day in Tashkent but whilst this city showed heaps of promise riding in, with its wide tree lined boulevards, numerous parks, swanky shopping the reality was that it is quite a sterile place and everything is strictly controlled……..I will leave political opinion and statements out of this dialogue for obvious reason…….I’m still in the country!!
The highlight of the stay was what started with a lazy lunch with Alpha and Rommie at an outdoor café under trees and ended in the Irish pub where they didn’t know what Guinness was, with a gay lesbian couple, their married friend who was in Tashkent to receive treatment for a brain tumour, a civilian American military instructor and a Dutch lawyer, 22 year resident of Uzbekistan. I won’t bore anyone with the details other than to say it was one of those travel moments that will stay with you forever and I so wish for our new friend, Yuliya to beat that tumour and allow her to be back home with her children and family.
Samarkand tomorrow………..everyone’s been talking about this place, I love surprises