Marionette

April 23, 2013After a stuffy and steamy overnight ride back to Almaty, it was nice clear day and I was pumped to get my visa and finally put the Uzbek visa saga to rest. Having arrived about 9AM, I got to witness the nightmare, which is Almaty traffic, from a city bus. Once in town, I went to the train station to drop off my excess stuff, then kill time until going to the Embassy at 2PM for my visa. In that time, I was able to go to the Kazakh Museum of Fine Arts, which was less than impressive. That included seeing a Japanese artist in the flesh selling her art- one of which had just been painted. Then it was lunch and on to the Embassy.I was pleased to see two Americans when, so we chatted a while waiting for the gate to open. Sometime before 2:45, it did and there was the usual scrum to get inside. I wasn’t about to be denied, so I made sure I was one of the first in, along with the other two Americans. Julie and Will work in Almaty and were planning on going to Uzbekistan separately for vacation. After handing over out passports to the consul, we waited and chatted. Julie got hers first and was out of there in about an hour and a half. Will waited longer because he wanted two entries and was denied. He left at about 4:30PM, kindly offering his couch and leaving his contact information should I not get my visa. By now, some of the rest of the people had been let in. That included an Englishman, Paul, and a couple of Finnish guys. Paul had decided that teaching English in Japan for 14 years was enough and had been traveling overland from Japan, through China, to Almaty and eventually back to England. So, we chatted a bit about politics and what not.

Then there was me. The consul told me that it wasn’t ready. I explained that I only showed up because he told me to do so and that I had a non refundable hotel reservation in Tashkent the following day because I made plans around what he said. Initially unempathetic, he softened and said he would see if he could process it, then shut the window. My one consolation was that he hadn’t handed over my passport and told me to come back Thursday (they are closed Wednesdays). About half an hour later, he tells me that my reservation was for that night, therefore I might as well wait until Thursday. Knowing damn well that I hadn’t gotten my dates wrong, I took out my phone and pulled up the email to show him. “I will call the hotel again and see.” Shuts the window again. Whatever. He never checked the first time. Another 15 minutes later, he then goes over the supposed descrepancies in my visa application. After fully explaning my itinerary and why I needed two entries, he shut the window again. By this time, I am getting pretty excited because it seemed like he was actually trying to process my visa. Finally, at 6:15, he hands over my completed visa WITH the two entries I needed. AWESOME! I suppose that he didn’t want me to be too satisfied with how things had gone, so he demanded the $240 expedited fee for US Citizens. I forked it over and didn’t look back. I hope I never see that building again, so long as I live.

Since I knew that there was no reasonable chance of catching the last train to Shymkent at 7PM, I resigned myself to another uncomfortable overnight bus ride. Before I could do that, I had to go to the train station to pick up my belongings. There I saw the same woman that tried to help me with the kiosk, which brought a big smile to my face. She had that “Weren’t you here just a few days ago?” look on her face and then asked why I wasn’t getting on the train. I could only tell her that I didn’t have a ticket. The reality is that the kiosks won’t sell you a ticket less than 30 min before departure and the line was too long to buy at the counter. I wish I had gotten a picture with her, but I had already focused on getting to the bus station in time. After grabbing a kebab wrap, I was off. I paid more for this bus than I did for the last, but it certainly wasn’t for greater comfort. As soon as someone leaned back at all, the back of the chair was into my knees. The good news was that the bus was far from full and I had the row to stretch out. Whew!

That's $240 worth of visa, folks! At least the consul gave his autograph to add value!

That’s $240 worth of visa, folks! At least the consul gave his autograph to add value!

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