Day 449: The Great Game

25.03.10:

The plan today was simple. Well, I thought it was. First up, visit the Kyrgyzstan Embassy and hand over my passport, while that visa is processing put my application in to the Turkmenistan Embassy, then scope out the Afghan embassy (which my book tells me issues visas ‘on the spot’) and back to the Kyrgyzstan embassy get passport, rush back to the Afghan embassy, and maybe head on to Kyrgyzstan with my shiny new visa before the day is done. I plan to return here next week after visiting Tajikistan (a visa best got in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan) to pick up my you-have-to-wait-ten-days-for-it Turkmenistan visa. But ha! No.

The bus got in nice and early at 8.30am. Great. I grabbed a cab and headed into the city centre, picking a Metro station at random to be dropped off at while I texted my CouchSurf contact, Fred, to let her know I had arrived. En route, she called me back and told the taxi driver where to go – funnily enough, it was right by the metro station I has picked at random (I seem to have a sixth sense about these things). I dropped my bags and after a quick coffee, set out with Fred to do business in great waters. Of bureaucracy.

I fell at the first hurdle. The Kyrgyzstan embassy was closed for the day. Oh well, onto the Afghan embassy – only to find them closed for brunch. Rolling my eyes, we headed on to the Turkmenistan embassy, where we found out you had to arrive before 9am and put your name on a list and wait for three hours outside the gate to be even entertained with an application form (a process you had to repeat the next day to hand in).

Another thing to bear in mind is that embassies are a little like the staircases in Harry Potter – they move without rhyme nor reason. Why this is so, I have no idea, but that’s the way it is – from Liberia to Tashkent via Istanbul and Baku, not a single embassy has been where my Lonely Planet has said it was. This meant Fred and I spent most of the day in taxis trying to find the damn things.

One bit of silver lining on the horizon (loving the mixed metaphor) is that outside the Turkmenistan embassy I met with a guy called Atabeck, the most helpful guy IN THE WORLD. He was there getting visas for his family and used his turn to grab me an application form. I wouldn’t be able to hand it in until tomorrow, but it was a start. The idea that I wouldn’t get my Turkmenistan visa until April 9th at the earliest irked somewhat, but I guess it’s all part of the Great Visa Game.

Application form in hand, I headed back to the Afghan embassy. The guys there were incredibly helpful but they said I needed a letter off my embassy in order to get a visa. A letter saying I take full responsibility for my actions in visiting Afghanistan and any resultant nastiness that may transpire as a result. WAY TO FREAK ME OUT, GUYS!

I’m only planning to be in Afghanistan for a few hours, so although the $30 visa charge was fairly reasonable, the $93 my own embassy charged me was simply not. And to add insult to injury they took over an hour doing it, so that when I arrived at the bank to pay in the visa fee, it had closed three minutes before. I went back to the Afghan embassy with my puppy-dog eyes and asked if I could – you know – just pay the $30 direct to them (as I had done at the Uzbek embassy in Baku), but they couldn’t do it, and anyway I’d have to wait until tomorrow now for the visa anyway. I slunk away: a 100% unsuccessful day, I thought – but actually it wasn’t. Serendipity had come along and allowed me to make contact with Atabeck and we will learn more about his wisdom later.

In any other city, today’s vast number of taxi rides would have cost a small fortune, but this is Tashkent, and pretty much every car is a potential taxi, you just flag them down and climb inside – it’s less than a dollar to go anywhere around town. Happy days.

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