We left Bukhara this morning about 7:30 AM by train for Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The train cost 22,000S for the two of us. We arrived in Tashkent about 3PM. We are staying at the B&B Ali Tour at $35/night for a room with bath. This is another LP author's pick. The owners, Alisher and his wife Dilya, are extremely friendly. We had just checked in when we were invited to join them and a man in a suit, who they introduced as the minister of tourism, in a drinking match with vodka and beer. Vodka and beer won the match hands down and we went to bed after about an hour and stayed there until evening. Before we gave up on the vodka and beer we did have an interesting discussion with the minister. Arvid's gambit was to ask the men what they thought of Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. "Man should be president, not woman." And did they think she would win? The minister said it depended on who had the better mafia
. Alisher seemed to agree. This reinforced what we had read about politics in this former Soviet nation. Not that there aren't Americans who believe their country is run by the mafia. But they're mostly conspiracy weirdoes. Here the gangsters do run the country. Irina suggested Alisher should run for election. He said, "If I stuck my head up someone would shoot it." That's not just a joke here, before we leave Tashkent, BBC World News reported that Uzbek Security Forces assassinated an Uzbek journalist living in Kazakhstan who had been critical of President-for-life Karimov. Most people flatly refused to talk to us about politics. When we asked about the journalist's assassination no one had heard of it. Of course it wouldn't be on the local news.
October 23, 2007
Tashkent doesn't have any historic sites as far as we know, and nothing really all that interesting to see. But it is quiet, clean and safe (as long as you stay away from politics). The economy seems to be doing well and beggars are rare. And it does have an international ATM; it's at the Inter Continental Hotel. One thing we've noticed is that the people seem to be a little aloof. In public people generally avoid eye contact and there is very little smiling
. If you stop to speak to a person on the street they are very pleasant and willing to help. But they rarely approach us. It's the kind of atmosphere you'd expect in a police state, where you don't know who you can trust. The one really beautiful thing in the city is the subway, but you can't take any photos down there. The subway is just as clean as the one in Singapore, but not as sleek and modern. The subway cars are far from stylish with their boxy utilitarian shape, but the stations are works of art. Each station is done in a completely different style. Wish we could show you, but it also serves as the city's air raid shelter so because of security concerns photos are not permitted. There are police and soldiers behind every other pillar so we didn't chance it. We already stood out as foreigners. The security, mostly women, were never out of sight.
October 25, 2007
Last night Alisher's wife and some family members took us to her niece's wedding. Actually this was the second day of the wedding. Another guest at the B&B came with us, a Russian named Constantine. He is from St. Petersburg. He advised us against going there until June because it is too cold during the winter. We are way south of St. Petersburg and it is already getting too cold here. So we've made up our minds not to go north from here
. We have investigated the possibility of going east to Turkmenistan and then through Iran to Istanbul but the route is problematic. The first problem is that it would take 2 weeks to get a visa to Turkmenistan and in order to get it we would have to first get the Iranian visa. Turkmenistan won't let you through to Iran unless you can get into Iran. Because we are U.S. citizens Iran has strict restriction on us traveling there. If we were say Irish we could get in with no problem. In order for us to get into Iran we would need to go through a travel agency and go with a group (it's not likely we'd find a group taking our route) or we'd have to hire an escort for the entire time we would be in Iran. We checked it out and the cost through a tour agent would be about $5000 for the two of us for two weeks. We might have found some cheaper arrangements if we wanted to take the time. But over all it looked too daunting and not worth the price. So we've decided to go directly to the Middle East via Istanbul. Cutting Russia and Eastern Europe out will also speed up our westward movement. After all we're trying to get around the world. We feel like we are cheating when we take to the air but we'll be flying out on the 27th.
October 26, 2007
We have been accumulating stuff since Peshawar, Pakistan which we need to mail back
. Actually it is quite a bit. Irina spent the afternoon yesterday trying to find the main post office and even though she was only a few blocks away no one could tell her where it was, which seemed very strange. This morning Alisher looked up the address and wrote it out in Uzbek. We figured out the metro connections and finally found it. For a main post office it was surprisingly empty of costumers. We found the directions for packing and labeling shipping boxes and went off to the bazaar for some used boxes, then we returned to the B&B to pack them. We had four good sized boxes full and Irina laboriously sewed fabric around the boxes as shown in the instructions at the post office. India's post office had also required the boxes to be sewn into cloth fabric coverings, but there were men outside the post offices to do that for you. When we returned to the post office we discovered what a hassle it is to deal with the Uzbekistan Postal Regulations and petty bureaucracy. When the female clerk saw our boxes she first walked away and refused to wait on us. Finally, she and her supervisor decided they had to deal with us. They had us open up all the boxes and started inspecting everything . . . every little thing. They refused to accept anything from Uzbekistan that was "special"; they interpreted this to mean anything that had handiwork. For instance, Arvid's plain hat was okay, but another just like it but with a small embroidered design on the top was not. We had to have a permit from the Minister of Culture to export anything that was handmade
. They would decide what that meant. Each item they examined was the subject of extensive conversation between the clerk and her supervisors, and occasionally on a particularly difficult technical issue the manager was consulted. They had a big problem deciding whether the stuff from Pakistan and Afghanistan were exempt, but they finally gave in. When they were finished with this process they had accepted only enough stuff to fill one box. So okay we figured we could just put that stuff in one box and at least get that shipped off. But no. Even though each article had been inspected by several people it still had to be itemized. The clerk would write down the name of the item and then weigh it and record the weight. In most countries they would let us fill out a form itemizing the contents; like "cloths - 6 item - value - $6" They might dig through the box a little bit to see that nothing dangerous was in it, or they might not even open it; but they weighed the whole box to determine postage. But here each little petty thing was recorded and weighed. We did give the values. After that we had to copy the clerks list onto a form in triplicate, plus fill out a slightly different form. Then we repacked the one box, put the cloth fabric back on and put it back up on the counter. The lady who had been rubbing her back as if under stress now threw up her hands, shook with rage, shoved the box back. Irina had hand sown the fabric covering and this was not allowed. It had to be machine sown.
Another customer took Irina and the one fabric cover out to a tailor who machine sewed the fabric. Arvid stayed behind to repack the remaining boxes. When Irina returned we put the box back into the fabric cover and handed it to the clerk. She looked like she had gotten a bone stuck in her throat. Sputtering and hissing she tromped off to her supervisor who came back to explain that the seams had to be on the inside. We offered to turn the fabric inside out but that did not satisfy her. We had been there for over two hours. It was nearing closing time and they asked why we had not brought the stuff in the morning? Apparently that it what you have to do to mail something out of Uzbekistan. We left with our 4 boxes and figured we'd take them with us on the airplane to Turkey, which is what we did.