Tashkent Take 2… and this time we’re not legal!

(Emily) After a hot and sweaty night on the floor, James sat bolt upright at five to five – ‘It’s light!’ – and was stuffing his silk liner into its bag before I’d even got my bearings! We left the petrol station by half five, determined to reach the Kazakhstan embassy in Tashkent for opening time and hoping against hope that there would be a one-day visa application process (not common but we’d heard Tajikistan offered this service). Two things were playing heavily on our minds: the fact that our Uzbekistan visa ran out that very day and our rather serious shortage of fuel. When we’d filled up in Tashkent, it was to get us across the border and into Kyrgyzstan (where petrol is freely available again) but now we were having to turn back and re-do the 350km having already emptied our jerry cans into the tanks. We were all too aware that the return leg would take us once more through the mountain pass… to run out up there would not be funny. We hurtled along at quite a pace and, by not allowing ourselves any drink or toilet stops, made it to the pass in record time. Just as we pulled up to the military checkpoint at the entrance to the pass, the petrol lights came on. (Incidentally, the guards, who recognised us from the day before, seemed very shocked that we’d not been allowed through at the border – they too were under the impression it was open…) Luckily, once through the two tunnels at the top, the majority of the pass was on the other side – all downhill. I think this was the only thing that slowed our fuel consumption enough to get us to the first major town and, thank god as James was up to 77km on his reserve, an open petrol station. Inevitably, the queues were stretching back on the road but everyone insisted that we go straight to the front (wouldn’t see that happening in the UK!!) and we were soon tanked up and doing the last 100km run in to Tashkent.

We approached the city at 9.30am – not bad. However, as we’d feared, trying to find the Kazakhstan embassy was a nightmare. It really is the hardest city to navigate and even James’ usual bloodhound skills were thwarted. Amazingly enough, after half an hour of riding round aimlessly, a guy in a passing car slowed down and waved to us – it was Said, the guy who’d shown us to the B&B on our first evening in the city!!! He must be our guardian angel! Once again, he came to the rescue and led us to the embassy (after a small glitch of first taking us to the Kazakhstan cinema – slight loss in translation there!) It was 10.30 am by this stage and it just remained to be seen whether they would be able to issue us a visa on a same-day basis… But it was closed. Nooooooo! This surely was not happening!!! ‘Come back Monday and you might be able to get a visa for Tuesday’, was all we were told. But our visa runs out today and… oh, you really don’t care do you?

There was only one option left – go to the UK embassy (thankfully round the corner on the map though even then it took 15 minutes to find) and plead for help. Annoyingly, when we got there are half eleven we were told that consul was dealing with foreign visa applications and wouldn’t be in a position to see UK nationals until 2pm. More teeth gritting and we settled down on the grass by the gate to camp it out. The guards tried to tell us we couldn’t sit there but we were in no mood for it. Our luck finally changed, however, and someone came out to get us at about twelve (I think the vigil on the lawn helped!) and, to be fair, we were then helped out a great deal. Maksim (Uzbek but good English) took the details of our plight and started making some calls. Turns out the UK embassy, the Kyrg embassy and the Ministry of Internal Affairs itself all thought the borders were open – it took some convincing that we’d seen it with our own eyes and it was three hours before the MIA actually agreed this was the case. Ludicrous! Evidently, it was quite a problem that our Uzbek visa was about to expire (I’d naively assumed that we could just get a extension no probs…) and Maksim spent the afternoon driving us round to various police stations trying to get someone official to write a letter that would pardon us due to the circumstances of the Kyrg border being closed. It took a while; seems no one wanted to take on the responsibility of letting us off. Maksim said the embassy never usually went out personally to help clients like this so I think our situation must have been pretty serious! It wasn’t until half six that we were shown to a hotel and told to keep the hard-gained official letter with us at all times. We were also expressly told not to leave the city limits. Oooh, under house arrest, exciting!! Taking our boots off that evening was the best feeling ever!!

On the bright side, seeing as we couldn’t apply for our Kazak visa until Monday, we now had a few enforced rest days that would allow us to tinker with the bikes and re-charge our own batteries. On Saturday, James contacted Denis (of Steel Scorpions fame) to see if he knew any bike shops where he could get some bolts and other bits and pieces. Turned out Denis also needed some parts so they went off in the afternoon to what James tells me was basically a tin shack where Denis’ mate was running a workshop (that’s about it in the way of bike mechanics in Tashkent!) However, he got what he needed, and also got an invite to the VM bar that evening –we’d already heard about this place on the HUBB as a recommended place for bikers and it turns out it belongs to Yuri, VP of the Steel Scorpions who we’d met with Denis the other day! We were both still knackered and intended to go for one or two drinks only, but one thing led to another (a few beers, a trip out in Yuri’s car to get kebabs across the other side of town, live music back at the bar…) and it turned into quite a late night! It was a cool place; a very US bar vibe with snowboarding and other adventure sports shown on a big screen and decent music (even Springsteen, Dad!) The band were really pretty awesome and played a mixture of Russian and English songs, the most poignant of which being Beatles’ ‘Back in the USSR’ , a sentiment that Yuri and Denis and the rest of their Russian heritage friends long for; the crowd went wild for that one! We also managed to change a stack load more money on the black market (far better rates!) in order to be able to pay for our hotel in Sum and so when we left, James looked like he was wearing jodhpurs such was the amount of notes stuffed into his pockets!

Other than that, our time in Tashkent has been very quiet. The hotel, a two-star delight, serves its purpose but lacks the genial atmosphere of a hostel and most of the other guests are vulgar Russians who spend the day drinking vodka by the pool in very tight speedos! We haven’t even been in the pool – it’s too hot to go outside before about 7pm (I don’t know how you managed it in Egypt, Joanna!) – so have spent most of the time lounging in the comfort of air-con, doing the diary and reading. We’ve even watched a couple of films on our laptop (‘Australia’ – one of the worst films ever made, and ‘District 9’ – odd but good). I’m recovering from a pretty horrendous bout of ‘Delhi-belly’ or rather, ‘Uzbek belly’; must have been something we ate at the cheapo café up the road on Sunday evening. I was so bad that I couldn’t accompany James to the Kazakhstan embassy yesterday morning. (Turns out this was probably just as well – apparently it was a complete bun fight and it took three hours to be seen and even then only after a significant bit of blagging on his part… and there was no toilet!) On the plus side, the four days rest has seen my ankle return to pretty much normal size for the first time since the accident : )

This afternoon we took a taxi pick up our Kazak visas at the embassy. I say ‘taxi’ but actually in Central Asia it’s customary to just flag down any old passing car and hop in! (The ‘know your killer’ ad campaign clearly hasn’t made it over here – there are never any belts in the back…) We got there in good time – 4.30 for a 5pm opening – but it was gone six before we had the goods. Still, at $20 each at least the enforced detour hasn’t cost too much. That said, tomorrow morning we may well have to go to the airport to get our Uzbek ones officially extended – why it can only be done at the airport, and why we had to wait until now to do it, I really don’t know – and this might prove costly. I think it’s a bit of a cheek to charge us when we made every effort to leave the country but I doubt they’ll see it that way. Suffice to say, we will be mighty relieved when we’re back on the road tomorrow and finally out of Uzbekistan. Touch wood.

6 Responses to “Tashkent Take 2… and this time we’re not legal!”

  1. julian says:

    Is Tashkent/Uzbekistan into Kazakstan not an option to get to China? Bypassing Kyrgystan to north?
    Love fromatlas(asinbooknotcharles)dad XX

  2. John & Bex says:

    Hi guys! Loving the write ups and hearing of your random experiences!! Just been checking out where you are on a map! Impressive progress! Looks hot too – You can see the heat in your photos (if that’s possible?!). Hope you have more luck at the border! Big love John & Bex x

  3. Jess says:

    I liked ‘Australia’…

  4. mama/kate: says:

    Er, Australia? Must have missed something.
    I’ve simply run out of superlatives with which to describe you indomitable pair of badasses! xxxxxxx

  5. mama/kate: says:

    Oh right, Australia! Gotcha. Actually I found Hugh Jackman very easy on the eye. xx

  6. Martha says:

    With you Jess!

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