Well, this will be a several-part entry; this part is the first part. A friend of my dear friend Jamie, and her husband, will be traveling in Uzbekistan this week and will end up in Tashkent on this coming Saturday. Interesting to coordinate with them! They're coming from one of the neighboring countries and I know from experience that this isn't always easy. I worry a bit that they will find themselves struggling to make border crossings, find flights, and perhaps end up delayed terribly. Well, I have to believe that they are seasoned travelers and will manage just fine. It's all a state of mind, really: the difference between a winging, whiney, helpless foreigner and a competent, successful foreigner has so much to do with what's in the head. I've met folks who seem to have no difficulty traversing Afghanistan, but one can't deny the fact that it's an incredibly dangerous place filled with sights and sounds and realities that would strike most travelers dumb with terror.
Well, be that as it may, I have been in somewhat-frequent contact with them via e-mail and we've established a meeting point and (very) approximate meeting time in Tashkent - someplace that any taxi driver would know. We'll meet there, then catch a taxi to my house where they'll take up residence in my upstairs guest bedroom for about 3 days. I will be so happy for the company and am looking forward to it very much. I've even begun doing a little shopping in anticipation!
I will update this with stories of successes, discoveries, and probably one or two near-misses! Hopefully it will be a wonderful visit for them and they'll enjoy Tashkent very much. They're planning to tour Samarqand and Bukhara as well, so they're going to get a good taste. Well done guys! Stay tuned...
WELL - back to it! This morning I saw my two guests off. I do have some discoveries to share for those of you who are interested in travel in Uzbekistan. Here's the scoop.
Number One: These two great wonderful folks, experienced travelers, were using a Lonely Planet guide book to Central Asia. Now, ALL RESPECT to the Lonely Planet folks, but things are a tad bit different, apparently, when you're not traveling under the glossy patina of a Lonely Planet Author. Here's the main discovery: my two friends were surprised to discover that, in fact, registration in Tashkent is NOT simply a matter of 'oh just head over to the Oviz office and give them your passport and they'll just stamp you and send you along your way' type deal. NO WAY. As you may or may not know, when you EXIT Uzbekistan, you are required to be able to show physical proof (in the form of stamped chits or a stamped/signed official entry in your passport) of exactly where you stayed on EACH and EVERY night you were in Uzbekistan. Let's be clear: you may be charged up to $750 US per night for any night you don't have a proven registration! If you stay in a relatively decent hotel, they do this for you - you need to ASK them when you check out for your registration slip, and it also helps (personal experience here) to ask them the night before if you have an early morning departure - the person with the key to the authorized stamp drawer might not be on duty, and then you're out of luck. ANYWAY, so my two American friends had done a good job and gotten chits for their nights spent in Bukhara and Samarqand, but then here in Tashkent they were to stay in my house. I'm not a hotel, and I certainly can't stamp a registration into their passport! So Lonely Planet says, in those cases, you just go to Ovir and register your address where you're staying. Let's just say we began counting the number of people that had to become involved: 7 people (including my landlord, one of my company's best logistics team members, a call to a highly-placed person to get some official lubrication, 60 dollars, two taxi rides back and forth to fetch airline tickets and registration chits and cash and so forth) and 3 hours later, my two guests had their stamps in their passports and were good to go. They've not contacted me today, both left this morning early, so I assume they were successful in their departure.
This is a lesson - without the direct intervention of my extremely well-connected logistics person, and the lucky happenstance that my landlord was in town and available to taxi over to the office, well, my two guests would have had to go stay in a hotel. that's always an option, for sure, and apparently is the best option.
Other lessons learned for future travelers? Don't put your suitcases or anything else in the trunk - you'll find that your previously-negotiated taxi fare will get REnegotiated and, well, since your stuff is in the back, there's a sort of undeniable hostage situation that can develop and you are suddenly paying 80,000 soums for an 8000 soum trip. Eek.
Meanwhile, on the up side! We can recommend highly the restaurant Al Delfeen, near the Oloy (Alsaky) Market. This is a real local joint with AMAZING Middle Eastern food. It's billed as a Syrian restaurant, and the hommos and all the rest is just amazingly first class - some of the best food I've had in Tashkent, actually. The lentil soup is perfectly amazing - remember to put the fried-bread crouton things into it and squeeze the lemon onto it. Truly lovely. Careful with your contact lenses - the hookahs being smoked all around you might get your eyes irritated. Three of us BARELY finished our meals for 37,000 soums, about 30 bucks.
The Uzbekistan Peoples' HIstory Museum was cool as well - for those who are into that sort of thing. Lots of Uzbek archaeology stuff and you get a real sense of how long this region has been populated. Remember, for those of us who are Americans, OUR side of the planet was populated much much later - so if you've been impressed by Clovis points and wampum beads and skin scrapers, go to a natural history museum in Central Asia. You do double and triple-takes at the time lines being reported. (FYI, in the Americas, better data have sort of peeved off the Clovists and pretty much proven that humans came over earlier than 12,000 years ago in exclusive pursuit of large game down into the plains - now, thanks to groundbreaking (pun intended) work by folks such as Dr Anna Roosevelt in the Americas - it's becoming accepted that humans began their presence in the Americas earlier, maybe like 14,000 or 15,000 years ago, and were very keen on coastal migrations). Anyway, the point is, if you're looking at an arrowhead from one of the sand dunes in Nebraska, you're probably looking at something less than 14,000 years old; when you look at an arrowhead found in Uzbekistan, well, you'll be astounded at the age!
And, ehem, frankly, a little skeptical at some of the pottery that looks like greenware just off the local junior college's art department firing shelf that's being reported at 1.5 MILLION years old. But, well, you'll just have to come with a smile and a forgiving sense of appreciation.
What else to report that would be of use to my fellow travelers? Well, let's see - it's about 40 bucks to get a car from the airport to the Tajik border crossing (100 bucks from the InterContinental Hotel, though!), and planes neither land nor take off in heavy fog here in Tashkent - which is a relief. The Demir supermarket IS, in fact, the bomb, and, finally, Jumanji Restaurant remains the only place in Tashkent that I've found so far that serves tofu of any sort. (really good menu, by the way).
That's all for now! I hope this has made your future plans easier - good luck!
Sleepless in Tashkent