Day 447: The Aral Sea Disaster

23.03.10: The train arrived at the town of Beyneu at about ten minutes to five in the morning, enjoyed a cup of tea in the little station cafe and after about an hour, I clambered on board the train for a place called Kungrad in Uzbekistan. We got to the border about midday, and the border process was quite alarmingly swift and painless. The stamp guys got on the train, grabbed everyone's passports and after half an hour, gave them all back - I didn't even need to get up from my seat. Which means.... I'M IN UZBEKISTAN! Wooooo! 149! 149! 149! Soon enough, I found myself snoozing as the pitiful remnants of the Aral Sea sped by far to the east. The Aral Sea disaster. I have to admit, before I read about it in the Lonely Planet I had never even heard of the…

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Day 446: Guns N’ Roses

22.03.10: I gave up all hope of a schedule months ago. When people ask me (and they do) when I think I'll be finished I just shrug and change the subject. If I can get to India by May I will be one happy ginger galavanter, but I've got a long way to go until then, and Eritrea and The Seychelles still hang over this whole challenge like a sword of Damocles. I tell you what though, when I was getting the knock back from the border with Algeria three weeks ago, if you had told me that I'd be here in Kazahkstan today, I'd have given you a big kiss. Even if you thought Apple made good computers and everything. As all good Lost fans know, time seems to have a way of 'course correcting' and The Odyssey is not immune to this. Imagine if…

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Day 445: The Naxçivan

21.03.10: This must be the most incredibly naff ship I've been on so far; all dirty floors, peeling fake wood wallpaper, murky corridors, broken lights, stained matress, rusty bulkheads, dripping plumbing, doors that don't close properly... Lovely! BUT AT LEAST THE TEA WAS FREE. And that makes ALL the difference in my book. I would suffer any kind of hardship as long as there was free tea on offer. And, in it's favour, The Naxçivan was incredibly quiet and smooth... so much so that I didn't notice for the best part of an hour that we had left port. Maybe there was no engine... maybe it was powered by the 1984 Soviet Olympic Rowing Team, chained and manacled to the Naxçivan's hull, their anguished cries for help stifled by the fact that they had their tongues removed before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Why the…

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Day 444: Shurely Shum Mishtake

20.03.10: So I had nothing important to do today, it was a big public holiday in Baku and the main road through town were shut. I was looking forward to meeting up with Lala again later on and she had kindly offered me a couch at her brother's flat. I imagined I'd go to the port, talk with somebody who knew what was going on, find out that the next ferry for Kazakhstan would be leaving in X-many days and have to wait it out. If I was lucky, it would be leaving before Tuesday. If I was REALLY lucky, it might be leaving tomorrow. To be honest, I really couldn't be bothered, what with all the celebrations going on, but I walked down the hill from Nick's to the Metro station, filled up my 'oyster' card (at 20p a trip, it's value for money HEAR…

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Day 443: Bless My Lucky Underpants

19.03.10: I called Alex (whom I met at the Irish Pub the other night) and asked him if he could get in touch with the Uzbek embassy to see if there was any chance they might be open after 4pm today. To my shock and surprise, they were - they were open until SIX. This is pretty unheard of where I've come from (which I guess is the rest of the world) - most embassies open for a couple of hours in the morning once a century when the moon is in the Eighth House of Were. THANK YOU ALEX!! Struck with a new sense of urgency (I was firmly convinced that I would be going to the Uzbek embassy on Monday morning) and seeing that yesterday's storm had passed and the skies were bluest of blue, I headed over to the Kazahk embassy to go…

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Day 442: The Dolphins In The Dole Queue

18.03.10: The Caucasus – it’s where us whities get our rather daffy pigeonhole ‘Caucasian’, a term lampooned by Lewis Carroll in his nonsensical Caucus Race in which everybody wins a prize - sounds like modern schooling to me. I would say that when it comes to describing the breeds of human, the term ‘Caucasian’ should be left to describe white skinned dark haired buggers (generally sporting a monobrow – think Noel Gallagher) while us fair and red-haired lot get our own categories… something to do with Vicky the Viking or Groundskeeper Willie would be nice. Gallagans, Vicks and Willies - that would sort the men from the boys. Or maybe we could just do away with the whole system of putting humans into different categories and just have one big box marked ‘human’, you know, separate us from the dolphins in the dole queue. Oh do…

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Day 441: Politics & Modern History

17.03.10: So after yesterday's half-crazied shenanigans, I found myself kicked off the bus at 6am in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE somewhere in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The sky was firing sleet down and the wind chill was making my face freeze. There was a large concrete roundabout under a large concrete overpass. I tried to hide under the shelter of the nearby tumbledown fleamarket while I consulted my iPod Touch to find my barings, but since it takes a good minute and a half to refresh a quarter of a page of a pdf (and I thought my ZX81 was slow) I got moved on by the gruff security guard before I could find them. Hapless and out of ideas, I jumped in a taxi and headed to the main train station. Hopefully I'd find a 24 hour cafe, and I did. Shivering, wet and…

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Day 440: You’ve GOT To Be Kidding

16.03.10: The day started slowly, with me finally dragging myself out of bed around 11pm. I spent most of the day packing my bag, organising my tapes and doing a bunch of boring stuff that possibly doesn’t warrant a mention in this great big bulging blog of mine. At 4pm, it was time to hit the road again… I had a good two and a half hours to make the train to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan – what could possibly go wrong? Ah yes. What could…? Rati had a couple of things to be getting on with, so he said he’d join Michael and I at the station later. We headed off to town, asking the cabbie to take us to the post office as it was high time for me to send some tapes back to the UK for safe keeping. When we got…

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Day 439: A Turn-Up For The Books

15.03.10: The Azerbaijan Embassy is only open for two hours every morning, but after last night’s little beerathon, Rati and I were in little mood to drag ourselves out of our beds. But somehow we did. Soon enough we were in a taxi which didn’t know where the Azerbaijani Embassy was going around in circles looking for the Azerbaijani Embassy. After asking at least fifty separate passers-by for (wrong) directions, our driver finally got us there ten minutes before closing time. Thank god he wasn’t on the meter. So we joined in the scrum outside the Embassy and Rati got chatting with the guard who gave us an application form and told us it would take three days to get the visa. THREE FRICKIN’ DAYS?!!!? What’s more, it would cost another (wait for it…) ONE HUNDRED AND ONE DOLLARS. I nearly burst into tears there and…

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Day 438: The Valley Of Oh Dears

14.03.10: After yesterday’s glum-fest, I didn’t think things could get any more glum. I WAS WRONG! After leaving my (Overlook) hotel I went over to the train station/bus stand to try to get a bus up the valley to go and explore the old monasteries up there. A guy called Gary offered to take me in his clapped out old Lada taxi around the sites for twelve euro. That’ll do, I thought, and hopped in. Man oh man, I heard the Soviets were awesome at sucking the beauty out of everything like some kind of giant aesthetical vampire, but I was NOT prepared for the devastation they had wrought on the Debed Canyon. If, as it states in the Lonely Planet the Debed Canyon “manages to pack in more history and culture than just about anywhere else in the country” then I didn’t miss much by…

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