The BBB started fine this morning!!! Woo Hoo!! We went down to the illusive money changer’s bazzar and actually found money changers! They came right up to the car window….2450som to the dollar….best rate yet. We parked near the Registan which is a beautiful old aprt of the city with huge turquoise domes mosques and towers. We walked around but the area was closed for rehearsals for what we presume are independence day celebrations. It is 20 years since Uzbek became an independent state. So from what we could see there were hundred of young people dancing in formations to singers practicing traditional but catchy songs. It was very cute seeing young girls practicing their dance routine… Those of us who have ever been on a dance team of in a performance have all experienanced that feeling of… wait… should I put my foot there?... But even with the rehearsals going on, we could still walk around the outside and admire the incredible architecture.
We had actually parked right near a local bread market and walked down the alley way of bread sellers. The smell was amazing and we bought whatever smelt the best! We ended up buying a local bread called NON (HOH in Cyrillic) with black sesame seeds imbedded in the crust and some stuffed somsas ( every country has its meat and onion filled pastery… take for example pasties/bridies/empanadas). These were excellent. Still fresh and warm from the oven.
We drove out to the Tashkent road (which we thought was our way out of this crazy city) but it was pedestrianised. So in good form we Asked the Locals (we are getting good at that). We were directed to another road after roaming some dodgy back alleyways for a while.
A couple of hours later we started getting a wee bit low on fuel, but the gas stations were all closed due to fuel shortages. Big surprise… So in good form we Asked the Locals! Everyone gives a different answer when you ask how far something is… Some said that the Benzene was 2 kilometers away, some said 10 kilometers away… some said right over the next hill, some said in the next town down the road… Finally we were really low on fuel and asked a wee Usbeki boy on the side of the road where to find benzene. He was tending his goats with another couple of adult men when we asked. Right away, he hopped in the BBB and directed us to a few of his buddies who were selling black market gasoline. We got 70 litres of gas at 2500 per litre (just over a buck)….official rate is about 1700…
We thought that they were trying to screw us 20L bottle that they were counting as 30L. But actually they were right and it did hold 30L the marking on the bottle was wrong. It is really interesting trying to haggle with someone or discuss the appropriate price for black market anything with someone who does not speak the same language as you. It leads to young boys showing grown men how many five liter bottles fit into a bigger bottle while kneeling in the dirt on 100 degree days.
Finally , we dropped off the boy who helped us get gas near his house and then we were off again to Tajikistan.
Following Bruce’s Google map print outs of the area we found our way through hill and dale on our way to our first border crossing for the day, Bekabab. We stopped at one of those check point posts we are becoming so fond of around here (I hope you can here the sarcasm in my typing) because we were not exactly sure where we needed to go next. One of the check point guards actually did speak a little English and introdunced himself as George. George was in charge and one of his guards actually took me aside and drew a very nice map with distances and everything to get us to our next point. We thought that this map would take up right to the border but it ended up only taking us half way. Although we could follow his hand drawn map just as well as any professional map. Thank you border guard who works for George!
When we finally made it to Bekabad, we drove right into a huge market area which was situatated right on the main road. People were EVERYWHERE and cars were parking and backing up and moving in all manner of direction. It was hectic! Andrea hopped out to get some water and a snack and by the time she returned the bus was swarming with locals! Bruce was trying to talk to them from inside the bus because he literally couldn’t get out there were that many people crowded around him. We really aren’t that entertaining people! I swear!
Finally we got some directions on how to get to the actual crossing from several of the gathered locals and headed off in the direction of the “granitsa”= border crossing in Russian.
We passed through several places that we thought were going to be the border and none of them turned out to be. One of our fake out borders was actually a damn that we had to drive over one car at a time. It was actually quite beautiful. We reached the Bekabad crossing a few kilometers later and it turned out that this crossing was only for locals. We already kind of knew this from Lonely Planet but we had hoped it had changed since the book was published. It only about 4Km out of our way and would have saved us about 40km. We didn’t even get close to crossing though! Not even a chance on this one. The first tier of Border guards were not very nice and approached us with big guns slung over their shoulder but totally within reach. There was a local who was making it even more difficult to talk to the border guards because he kept getting in the way saying “give me money and I will take you where you need to go!” The guards got agitated and kept repeaking “Oybeck ! Oybeck!” We didn’t understand and they weren’t much more helpful than that… So we thanked them for their help and left. We clearly needed to get out of that situation and we did.
On Bruce’s intuition we managed to find the road north from there towards Tashkent. The foreigners’ crossing is in a village called Chanak about 35km north of Bekabad, according to Lonely Planet. However the village is actually called Oybek, which is part of what we didn’t understand with the border guards at Bekabad when they were babbling away to us.
Anyway we made it to Chanak/Oybek and managed to find the border crossing. We made it through the Uzbek side no problem and the border guards spoke some English. Everything was fine until the last border control guy with huge square jaw (obviously military) made us open our bags for him (this was the first time we had to do that at any border). Still it wasn’t too bad and within 5 minutes we were on our way again…..then on to Tajikistan Border.
We were welcomed by a guard saying “Welcome to Tajikistan!”, which we thought was a very pleasant gesture.
On Tajik soldier uniforms they have a patch in big bold lettering of their Blood type. This made me not afraid but sad. We had to stop at 2 more posts within the first 10 feet of the border where we ended up playing $10 and $10 for 2 pieces of paper. In retrospect, we think that one of those pieces of paper was a fishing license… and the van got disinfected. Oh, well, so if anyone wants to go fishing in Tajikistan, we have a valid license…I think!
Last stop was customs. We pulled in and left the car running so that it wouldn’t stall on us again. Bruce went in the room to talk about paperwork… Andrea was hassled by a guy who wanted $5 to show her an English translation sign that told you what to do if you felt like you had the flu. Andrea did not pay this money and the guy laughed it off. They obviously try to get money when and where they can.
This last post took a long time. They had a lot of paperwork to fill out and then they wanted $100 US to pass through the border. We argued with them and chatted with them and asked them to reduce the price because this wasn’t a “bus” it only had 2 seats. After about an hour of talking and arguing and chatting and yelling and 6 pages of paper work and paying $45 (Bruce went all Scottish on them and they finally reduced the price) we were ready to go. We got in the BBB to head off…. and as soon as Bruce put his foot on the pedal… the BBB died. It would not start again. The sun was setting so there was no way to warm it up to get it to start again. We went back to the guards and asked them to help us push the bus out into the setting sun, hoping that it would start again. It didn’t. We couldn’t go forward… and we couldn’t go back… So we asked if we could camp down in the Bus at the border, in no-man’s land. The guards said that it was okay and that there was a little restaurant in the guard post where we could eat.
We cleaned out the van and set up our sleeping stuff and went to get a bite to eat. We were offered a place at the table with the border guards that we had been chatting to and fighting with to have grapes, bread, water and later we had Tajik soup (very good). We talked with broken English, hand gestures, Pictionary, and laughter. We had a very nice meal with those men and Andrea also met and introduced herself to the restaurant ladies.
After dinner we went back to the bus, washed up a bit and went to tuck in when one of the guards came over to us. His name is Sayid. He said some things we couldn’t understand until he said “douche”, which means Shower. He made for us to follow him and started to walk away. So we grabbed our toiletries and followed him into one of the buildings in the border area. Turns out he was giving us a little suite to stay in for the night. There was a couch and a sleeping mat with a couple of pillows and an air conditioner, as well as a small room with a sink and a shower that sputtered brown water. He showed us how to use everything and thanked him profusely! Thank you Sayid! It was surreal. They were actually giving us a room for the night with air conditioning! Andrea hopped back out to grab our sleeping sacks, books and camp pillows etc. We had a room for the night!
It is strange how sometimes the most frustrating and awful situations can turn out to be the most memorable. That evening was hands down the most profound night of the trip so far. The kindness of the border guards after hours of argument was stunning. Thank you Sayid and all of the Tajik border guards for really making an impression on us both. Your generosity will be paid forward.