Day 465: Breakfast Of Champions

10.04.10: In what has to be the most touching thing that’s happened to me in the last 16 months of traversing the globe, last night on the bus from Shiraz, the little old lady (she must have been in her nineties) sitting in front of me who didn’t speak a word of English, turned around and offered me her phone, gesturing for me to listen to it. I put the phone to my ear and the voice on the other end introduced himself as Hossein. He explained that he was an English teacher in Khorramshahr and that I was sitting behind his grandmother. “She’s concerned that the bus is going to get into Khorramshahr very early – at 5am, and that you’re not going to have any breakfast. She wants you to come to her home so she can make you something to eat. Would that…

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Day 464: Persepolis

09.04.10: Last night’s taxi took me to the coach station and within minutes, I was hurtling down through the good night towards Shiraz near the Gulf. When I arrived in the morning, I knew that there were defo no boats to Kuwait, but I was having trouble working out from the ferry company website when the boat did actually leave. It took me a couple of hours and a few phone calls to find out that the boat left from a place on the Shat-al-Arab waterway called Khorammshahr tomorrow morning. I booked a ticket for the overnight bus to Khorammshahr and elected to spend my afternoon wisely by visiting the nearby ancient Zoroastrian site of Persepolis. Zoroastrianism was the religion of Persia before the Arabs turned up and ruined everything (much in the way the Italians and spoilt all our Pagan-y fun in Blighty). The Zoroastrian…

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The Final Fifty…

So, I have fifty countries left to visit, and then I’m done. I can go home, put my feet up, stuff my face with Anzacs and have a nice hot cup of tea. But like Sam in the last episode of Quantum Leap, I ain't going home any time soon - in fact, the leaps are going to get harder. Much harder. The final fifty include some of the most difficult places on Earth to step foot in. I’ve still got to (somehow) get into Turkmenistan (the North Korea of Central Asia), Eritrea (the North Korea of Africa) and North Korea (the North Korea of... oh). Add to that The Seychelles, Maldives, Taiwan and - gulp! - the Pacific Island states, I’ve really got my work cut out. So, where next? Well after Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, I’ll be heading into Iran. Now the original plan was…

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Day 455: Digging For Fire

31.03.10: I left in the morning with Nazik and did a bit of blah before meeting up with Aima again. I needed to buy a present for my girlfriend’s birthday, and I wanted to get something exceptionally cool and Kyrgyz-Rhymes-With-Burgers. Aima helped me out, and in typically boy-buying-things style I had found the perfect gift within minutes. We headed over to the post office to send it on it’s way to Oz Land, only to discover that it would cost more to send that the damn thing cost to buy in the first place – and that it would take a month to get there, making me look like the worst boyfriend ever. Oh well, at least I tried. After that we had a mooch around Osh Bazaar, the big-assed market on the western side of the city and I got to see Bishkek in action.…

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Day 454: Unpronounceabilistan

30.03.10: Wasn’t too happy when the guy from Vladivostok whom I was sharing the taxi with (and someone I thought was a friend) whipped out my passport and claimed I had dropped it in the night and he had ‘found’ it for me. I would have been happy if a) I believed him or b) he hadn’t demanded $100 for ‘finding’ it. A very awkward conversation later, I got away with giving him about $10. It was a nasty trick to play and hasn’t lifted my (I have to admit) rather negative view of Russians, but that’s all by-the-by. We had got to Bishkek for 9:30am and I got to the Tajik embassy in good time to submit my application and what’s even better, is that instead of the four days waiting time suggested by my Lonely Planet, I only had to hang on until Thursday…

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Day 453: My Kingdom For A Biro

29.03.10: By 9am I was back outside the Kyrgyzstan embassy. I put my name down on the list and headed over to the DHL office to see if my replacement camcorder had arrived. It was still being held in customs. Frustratingly, this meant I would be without a decent video camera for my trip around Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Couldn’t be helped, back to the Kyrgyz embassy. I waited my turn to go inside, and when I did I all but begged to get the visa there and then. If I had to wait until the afternoon to pick it up I could scratch another day – there’s no way I could make it to the Kyrgyz border before it closed at 7pm. To my utter disbelief, the guy in the embassy said okay and furnished me with a visa there and then. I couldn’t believe it.…

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Days 451-452: Movin’ On Up

27.03.10-28.03.10: Woke up at Baha’s flat wondering if anybody got the number of the truck that hit me before stumbling back to Fred’s. Her mate in Samakand (down south) had just split up from her better half and so Fred planned to head down there to give her some moral support. This meant that I had to find a new place to stay. Luckily, Tristan, the French guy I met last night agreed to take me under his wing. Even more luckily, he lived in the flat directly above Fred’s so it’s not like I had to walk very far. These flats are so typically soviet it’s almost hilarious – the exact same flats that I experienced in Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. To give them a veil of individuality some are covered in big blocky geometric shapes – no wonder it was a Russian who came…

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Day 450: The Incident

26.03.10: I had real trouble dragging myself out of bed this morning. I asked Fred to wake me up, which she did, but what I should have asked is for Fred to wake me up by throwing a bucket of cold water over my head. I got to the bank to pay in the money for the Afghan visa at 9.30am, meeting Atabeck there and (stupidly) thinking that paying $30 into a bank would be an easy process. Ha! No. It took the best part of an hour. Seriously. I had to go to three different desks (on different floors no less!) and fill out paperwork at all three of them. It’s quicker to book a seven-stop Round The World ticket at STA Travel. I know, I’ve done it. We now had our backs against the wall – if I wanted to get off to Kyrgyzstan…

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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…

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Day 448: Paranoid? Who Said That?!

24.03.10: I woke to find the two guys that I was sharing a room with sitting on their beds staring at me like I had just dropped from space and got their grandmother pregnant. This was disconcerting to say the least. I got up, gathered up my gear and exited as quickly as I could. When I left the hotel, I was given a tiny square of paper – my “registration” slip. This is so the government here can keep tabs on you as you tour around their country – I can’t leave without it. To say the Uzbek government is paranoid would be a massive understatement – in fact, I’m not going to post this blog entry until I’m out of the region, just in case. Not content with being the third hardest country in the world to get a visa for, you have to…

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