We loaded up the bus and it started !!! Yay!!! Filled up with gas down the road…so nice to get it from a gas station and not on the black market. It was 5.9 Tajik som to the dollar, which meant it cost about $110 to fill up the bus and the jerry cans….but that would see us through the rest of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and well into Kyrgyzstan…..
So of all of the ‘Stans, Tajikistan was the one we were most concerned about before starting on this trip. We had heard that it was the most backward and the least developed of the former soviet states. We were completely mistaken. Just after the border there were beautiful, well maintained highway style roads. We passed through stunning mountain scenery that literally took your breath away in the dawn light. We reached a toll booth who wanted a dollar to pass, which was a bargain! We gladly gave the dollar if it would help keep these roads in good condition! We got in and out of Khojand (the next city) fine…Andrea has perfected the art of asking taxi drivers where to go…..
Next we passed along the south shore of huge reservoir. This was sadly the last few moments we had in Tajikistan because we had opted to go the shorter route. We wanted to make sure we had enough time to get to Mongolia and did not know how the bus would handle the roads (we didn’t know that great condition of the roads). So we only really had 80 miles in Tajikistan. Actually, thanks to our break-down the night before we actually doubled our time in Tajikistan and really got a feel for the country. We are lucky to have had that experience.
We reached the Patar crossing much too quickly….why do all border crossing towns look very depressing in this area of the world? This was a very quiet border…no one else around….. and it is BRAND SPANKING NEW! All of the equipment is supplied by the UN and the EU…. This border was so new that the guards still wrote in paper ledgers while their computers sat unused in the corner of their desks.
We were pretty efficient getting out of Tajikistan….getting back into Uzbekistan was more of an issue…. Just down the way we reached a much more decrepit border post… They were very disorganized and we knew from experience that Uzbek border crossings take time. We had to fill in the same form that we have filled in already at the previous entrance and exit borders of Uzbekistan… in duplicate again. But we had made a mistake so had to re-write them… in duplicate again… We think part of this delay was that at the Oybek crossing they didn’t give us a copy of our declaration back. They made us take the bags out of the car and searched through things, which was the now the second time that this had happened. It took about 2 and a half hours to get into Uzbekistan.
We quickly got through Kokand (Qoqan) with Andrea’s skill as a direction asker….and were onto the Tashkent road. We then turned off in the direction of Namangan. Back onto original route and following Google aerial maps again.
Namangan was a HUGE new city! We wanted to get to a post office so we Asked a Local! He showed us where the Post Office was, so that we could post a couple of postcards.
Negotiated out of Namangan in the direction of the Kyrgyz border. We reached the town of Uckqorghan, where the border is, but apparently the crossing I thought we were taken was not in use, so it was about 10km down the road to the nearest one. No biggie, we just asked directions to hone in on it.
Getting out of Uzbekistan for the second time was the worst border experience yet… First was the normal filling out of tons of paperwork. Not a problem. Then the van search began. Each bag was removed and searched thoroughly. Not a problem. Then Andrea was in the van getting another bag for them to search when they directed a big drug sniffing dog (German Shepard) to jump into the back of the van, practically on top of Andrea. When Andrea jumped back they did not call of the dog they just pressed it to sniff some more. Then they went through all of our books, in case there was something religious. They asked us about each book. “Is this religious? Is this religious?” They found our digital camera and started to go through each picture one by one to see what photos we had taken. Mind you we have taken over 1500 photos already on this trip. They got to 700 before we finally stopped them and took the camera away. Also they started going through the laptop so see if we had any secret files!! The funniest part was that we had a trash bag where we put the empty water bottles and the aerial maps that we have used, so they didn’t intermingle with the new ones. Well they thought that we were using them to find secret places…..they spent quite a while on this one…..we tried telling them they were print outs from Google Earth (and showed the logo at the bottom of the print screen) but they were very interested… Mind you this was only one stop on our journey through the border. We still had to stop another time to get our passports stamped which took FOREVER!!! This border really felt like it took forever and we really thought that the bus was going to die again.
Luckily the bus was fine and the Kyrgyz side of the border was super low key and they just wanted to see our passports….no passport machine, declarations or any of that nonsense. They spent about 15 minutes with the passports and then stamped them and we were on our way. With another time change.
The scenery changed immediately over the border and we were now in the mountainous landscape of Kyrgyzstan! The road is in great condition, however it really winds up and down and twists and turns. The bus is having a bit of a hard time on it and it has two mountain passes to go tomorrow. I think we will have to take it easy so that it will make it! The scenery is spectacular though!
We managed to get to Kara Kol just before dark and asked the locals about the hotels. We got another passenger who was very nice and she showed us where the hotel was…..doubtful we would have found it without her. We were a bit confused when they said the Intourist, as that wasn’t mentioned in our Lonely Planet, however it was getting dark and the price was right ($22 per night). It is the old Soviet travel hotel, which hasn’t been renovated since…..a bit grungy but not too bad. Classic old Soviet – no hot water – no water pressure…..sheets and towels handed to you at front desk.
Really confused because the Loney Planet guide said that Karakol had apple orchards and tree lined streets… we did not see any of this! Well there is actually another town called Karakol in Lonely Planet guidebook and it is on the other side of the country….no wonder it didn’t align!
We will sleep well tonight and be off on the morning!