April 30, 2013
I was told to arrive at the Embassy of Tajikistan at 8:30. So, I was up early, had breakfast and made it there more or less on time. I would have been on time, but the cabbie agreed to take me without really knowing where he was headed. So be it. I was ready to get my visa and head west to the historic cities of the Silk Road (Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand).
There was an orderly crowd of people gathered around an open gate waiting to hear their name so they could go inside. I simply went up to the guard and said “Tourist,” just like the backpacker forum said, and got waived in. There were a couple of Japanese females behind me in line and they were applying for their visa. I told them that it would be a few days, especially since they didn’t have their paper work ready. I handed my passport to the consul and he promptly said, “Return at 3 ‘o clock.” Seriously?! I could see that he had a stack of passports next to him that also needed processing, so there was no use arguing and holding up the line. I left and wished the Japanese women safe travels.
The rest of the day was a series of holding pattern errands that needed to get done. I went to the train station to buy a ticket then realzied I couldn’t do so without a passport, went back to the guesthouse to do laundry, exchanged money with my black market buddy, ate lunch, got a very functional pair of sandals for about $4.50, and then went back to the embassy to pick up the visa. This time I got there early, but wasn’t waived inside until 3PM sharp. There were no suprises. I paid for my visa and got out, just outside the gates, I saw the Japanese women. They were back to get their visas as well. When they told the consul that they had arrangements to be in Tajikistan the next day, he agreed to process the visa the same day. They paid the same price as I did. That made it official. My US passport gets no love in these countries. I guess I should just lie about the urgency of my itinerary next time. C’est la vie.
With my passport in my hands, I could now purchase my train ticket, which was a painful experience. I can’t understand Russian or Uzbek, so I was in the wrong ticket line and had to switch lines after getting to the window. Then, there’s the usual scrumming with people thrusting passports and money towards the ticket agent. The locals don’t know any better than I what they are doing when they try to buy a ticket, and then there’s the waiting for the computer to update the seating. This translates into a 30 minute wait with only 4 or 5 people in front of you while doing NBA style blockouts to make sure newcomers don’t slip in. I’d get my debit card stuck in a kiosk any day over this nonsense.
The rest of the day was just getting my picnic dinner ready for the overnight train to Khiva, repacking my bag with my clean clothes, and taking one last subway trip to the train station. There, train travel also means going through a metal detector and having your bag x-ray’d. I also had a guard joke with me about having a gun, drugs, or a bomb on me. Even I had to laugh at this.
On board, I shared my kupe with three other dudes that were friendly and happy to share their food as well as their vodka. Thankfully, they didn’t bring much vodka, so things remained tame and I was the last to bed sometime before 11.