Day 456: Bish Bash Bosh

01.04.10:

Sorry about the lack of blog updates this month – I’ve been hammering the website to make it all fabby and groovy for when the telly show starts in July and people pop in for a visit!

So, where I was I? Oh yeah, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!! So I was up and at ’em at the crack and to the Tajikistan embassy. Visa in hand, I raced over to the bus station to pick up a shared taxi back to Osh. My taxi driver, Rustlan, was a wonderfully friendly guy and the little old ladies in the back didn’t complain too much that I wanted to stop every ten minutes to take a photo of the INCREDIBLE scenery.

It was a long drive through the mountains to Osh, but the hours seemed to fly by and, once again, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be the last I’ll see of Kyrgyzstan. This feeling grew when Rustlan the driver offered to have me round for dinner with his wife, his young son and his mum. I can’t overstate this enough: this part of the world is the most hospitable you will ever visit. As well as feeding me some slap-up scran, Rustlan also organised for me to take an overnight taxi through to the border with Tajikistan.

Sounds easy? Ah, but there’s a problem. If you zoom into a map (you can use the Google map to the right if you like) and look at the wacko messed-up gerrymandered borders of the Fergana Valley area, you’ll see there is a small enclave of Uzbekistan called Sohk that’s complete surrounded by Kyrgyzstan. And guess which way the main road to the Tajikistan border goes? Yup…! Right through Sohk!! And do they allow free transit through this tiny spot of bother? Like buggery they do. So if I was to enter Sohk I would lose my second entry on my (incredibly expensive) visa for Uzbekistan… and then I’d have to get a brand new visa to get back into Uzbekistan proper. Madness, they call it Madness.

So I had to slip my taxi driver a few extra Kyrgyz sum to take the dirt track that goes around the enclave. ATTENTION ALL NORTHERN STANS! Listen: I have an idea – why don’t you make it so you have to get one visa for all five of you? Your borders were meant to be regional, not international and up until 1992 you were all one country anyway! Nutters.

Day 459: Doctorin’ The Docket

04.04.10:

I may have mentioned this before, but for some stupid reason you have to register three days after you arrive in Uzbekistan.  The problem is you cannot register that you’re staying with a private citizen without a ton of hassle and paperwork.  As a consequence, CouchSurfing is technically illegal.

What most people do is check into a hotel for the night and then doctor the docket that they’re given (as I did last week) so the dates imply you stayed in the hotel longer than you really did.  However our sweet French couple, Younne and Cloe neglected to register within their three day period of grace.  You see the Uzbek government is a little stuck in it’s ways and thinks that every westerner who would like to visit their country is James Bond come to blow up their secret volcano fortresses.

It’s when you hear about the government bugging hotel rooms that your eyes involuntarily roll upwards. Seriously, Uzbekistan, get a grip – we really couldn’t give a monkey’s what you’re doing – you’re a landlocked country in the middle of nowhere that 9 people out of 10 have never heard of. MI6 AND THE CIA DON’T CARE ABOUT YOU, THEY NEVER HAVE AND THEY NEVER WILL. There, I’ve said it. I love Uzbekistan but in the silliness awards, the government is rubbing shoulders with the brainless mooks that run Africa.

Anyway, Younne and Cloe tottered off to the railway station to ‘check in’ at the hotel there. They asked for a room for the night and explained they had lost their dockets for the past couple of days – damnit, it was only a couple of days, eh? Anyway, the bee-atch at the hotel smiled, took their passports as if to copy down the numbers, explained that she’d be right back and then promptly returned with a police officer in tow.

What a cow. What an utter cow.

Rafa, our CouchSurfing host had to head down to the police station and help them out. Luckily (and happily) Uzbekistan is NOT Africa, and therefore throwing tourists in jail is not a national sport, so after a few hours they were set free; although not before they were told that they faced DEPORTATION for their misdemeanour.

Crikey – at first we thought they’d be flown back home (I shudder to think what I’d have to do if that happens to me!) but then the police said they would give them until Wednesday to get a visa for Kyrgyzstan and then they’ll be escorted to the border.  The cop who booked them said that he had personally deported about fifty tourists since the beginning of the year.

Oh look – somebody from a rich country coming to take money from a rich country and spend it in our poor country… let’s deport them! Smart move, guys… you must be really good at chess.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – any conspiracy theory that hinges on politicians of the world having a higher IQ than an eggplant is doomed from the start – if you put all the politicians and bureaucrats in the world in a room, you wouldn’t have enough of a spark to ignite a stick of dynamite from the Black Rock.

Not wanting another run-in with the fuzz, I set out with Rafa to check into a hotel myself – not the railway one (for obvious reasons) but the one near the circus (a monstrous eyesore that looks like a big concrete hamburger). For $7 my stay here was safe. With any luck, I’ll have my Turkmenistan visa tomorrow and then I’ll be outta here.

I really, really like the Uzbek people.  If the government here would just chill out a little, many more people would like them too.

Day 460: The Wizard of Uz

05.04.10:

Today was yet another D-Day in terms of getting visas and getting going.  Within minutes of me wiping the sleep from my eyes I arrived at the Turkmenistan embassy to meet no other than Atabek, my friend from last week who had helped me out with the whole getting-my-Stanistan-visas shenanigans.  Again, the system for getting the visa required me to put my name down on a list and then wait my turn.  While Atabek held my place in the queue I darted over to the Afghan embassy to throw in my second passport for my second Afghan visa (another time-consuming trip to the bank required).  Upon my return, it looked like if I got my passport in this morning, I’d have the visa this afternoon.  Atabek and I waited for a good three hours, but finally – finally – they opened the gate and let us in.

Now there was something I didn’t quite understand about all this: I was told in no uncertain terms that it took up to three weeks to get my Turkmenistan transit visa, and yet, here I was after just one week after my application went in about to be given this coveted sticker in my passport.  I didn’t quite understand why, but hell, I’m not going to start complaining anytime soon.

It was the usual drop off the passport in the morning, pick it up in the afternoon shenanigans and so Atabek and I scooted to get some lunch. While I was stuffing my face with plov or lagman or whatever I asked Atabek what’s with the ultra-fast visa turn around malarkey. Oh that… yeah, I got my family in Turkmenistan to put in a letter of invitation for you.

Just to explain, I had tried to get a Letter of Invitation from the various visa agencies and they all said no, and they all said no for the same reason – Turkmenistan law has it that if you commit a crime in Turkmenistan while you’re there on a transit visa, you AND your ‘sponsor’ go down for it.  Not only had Atabek jumped me into the queue last week, he sped up the application process by a fortnight, placing his family in jeopardy should anything go horribly wrong – all this for a guy he barely knows just so he can get on with his utterly bananas quest to visit every country in the world.  When I said that the people of Central Asia are the most generous, hospitable and earnest on the planet, I wasn’t kidding!

I owe this guy SO MUCH!

After lunch, I picked up my Afghan visa in passport two and then grabbed my Turkmenistan visa in passport one.  Incidentally, they put my visa on the last page of my passport – covering a tiny let’s-waste-an-entire-blank-page-for-no-good-reason code stamp that was put in there when I entered Morocco all those moons ago.  I had done my best Donald-Pleasance-in-The-Great-Escape on it and tried to rub it out with a pencil eraser, thus freeing up a (much needed) extra page of my passport.  I now only have one page that is still blank.

Atabek and I then made plans for getting my ass out of Dodge.  He came with me to the carpool and we sorted me a place in a shared taxi that would be heading out overnight towards the Turkmen border.  Then I had the evening to play with.  I went out for a bite to eat with my French chums, Younne and Cloe, and had one last mosey around the centre of this city whose architecture leave me nonplussed, but whose citizens blow me away.  Later, I managed to say thanks and ta-ra to Rafa before I slunk off into the great beyond.

Back at the carpool, I said my hearty farewells to Atabek, thanking him profusely for all his help.  I clambered into the taxi and headed off into the night, south by south west and straight on till morning.