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 this evening, I needed to get to the Kyrgyzstan embassy before 11:30 and it was 11am before I left the Afghan embassy, having finally paid for the visa. The last thing I needed was to be involved in a traffic accident – but what happened was off-the-charts bizarre.
We were stopped at traffic lights in Atabeck’s car when the car in front of us REVERSED into our front bumper. The collision, such that it was, was at about 1mph so the damage was minimal (if not non-existent), but the passenger of the car in front jumped out and started kicking off that it was Atabeck’s fault. Yeah, that’s -right you jumped-up jackass – your silly wife reverses into a STATIONARY car and it’s the other car’s fault for being there. Right…
If I had been Atabeck, I would have just told them to get lost and gone on my way, but if they reported the incident to the police, we would have spent the whole day at the police station filling out (I can only imagine!) mountains of paperwork. So we pulled over and they argued the toss. I was looking at my watch – 11:23am. We weren’t going to make it. The guy (who, it may be noted, carried a passing resemblance to a certain George W Bush) wanted compensation for his dozy wife’s inability to tell the difference between first and reverse.
At this point, I was seriously contemplating doing a John Goodman on his stupid wife’s stupid car, but Atabeck, understanding the misery that getting the police involved would cause, gave the stupid thieving creep $5 and sent him on his way.
The consequence of all this was that we didn’t get to the Kyrgyzstan embassy in time for the morning session. We could try again this afternoon, but it was tremendously unlikely to yield any results.
The dominos started to fall. There is a cruise ship that leaves from southern India for the Maldives on April 21st. If I can get my Turkmenistan visa in double-quick time (somehow) I could be out of Tashkent next Friday with both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan under my belt. From there I can hit Tehran, grab visas for India and Pakistan and then head south like my rear is on fire and maybe, maybe arrive in Cochin, India at 3am on the morning of the 21st. It would be tighter than a mouse’s ear but I could have done it. Thanks to George W Bush and his hysterical wife, a 10-1 outsider has taken a tumble and turned into to a 100-1 miracle.
I would have to get my Kyrgyzstan visa on Monday. It looks like I’ve got myself a weekend in Tashkent. Bummer. Oh well, I’m sure there is lots to do in the most charmless capital city this side of Canberra. Tashkent was destroyed in a devastating earthquake in the 1960s and so every single building here is made of – you guessed it – reinforced concrete. Lovely. By lovely I mean horrible. The apartment blocks that are dotted around the city are the worst form of brutalist functionalism (right down to the concrete staircases which have no lights and are open to the elements), the big hotels are Las-Vegas-in-the-1970s tack and the state buildings are those concrete-innards-rendered-in-shiny-tiles that looked crap when first conceived and still look crap today. The roads are massive concrete boulevards (so the Soviets could roll their tanks down them, presumably) and the metro is a carbon copy of the Baku metro, right down to the 1970s carriages, impossible-to-spot signage and the heavy police presence.
But all that was to come – Atabeck and I still had work to do. After grabbing a bowl of Plov (the Uzbek national dish and my nominated collective noun for Uzbeks) for lunch, we headed over to the Turkmenistan embassy to hand my application form in. It took HOURS, but eventually Atabeck succeeded in getting it in. In the meantime I had picked up my Afghan visa only to discover that they had incorrectly set my date of entry as TODAY and the visa expired next Friday. Aside from the fact that there was NO WAY I would make it to Afghanistan before next Friday (I have to go through Turkmenistan), they had wasted one of the last three free pages of my passport with a useless visa. They offered to amend it, but it would take – arrrrrrrgh! – another day.
Frustrated but keeping calm, I met up again with Atabeck and we headed back to the Kyrgyzstan embassy for another crack at the whip. Again I had to pay in my hard-earned cash (all $112 of it –eek-) to a bank and this time I managed to pay it in before the bank closed, but the guy at the embassy was not having any of it – I’d have to come back first thing Monday morning. I had just lost two good travelling days that I wouldn’t be getting back. What a pain.
So one last thing to do and that was to pick up Al’s replacement from DHL. Guaranteed in three days? Ha! Not in Uzbekistan. It was being held up in customs, come back on Monday. The fates had conspired to keep me here for the weekend and who am I to argue with fate?
Atabeck gave me a lift back to Fred’s gaff and after thanking him profusely I managed to grab forty winks before heading out to meet Fred and her mates at a restaurant on the other side of town. There I met Tristan from France, Baha from Tashkent and Nurbek and Shamshod from the Fergana Valley.
Great company, good food and awesomely cheap booze meant that I ate and drank far too much and ended up with Baha in a club called Salvador Dali’s arguing with another French guy about African politics. Awesome.