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.