May 8, 2013
5:30 and I am up with the sunrise ready to cross the frontier into Tajikistan. My host was up as well and we shared tea and bread along with his son. I learned that the 1 year old is actually his second son, with the first son dying in circumstances not revealed to me.
As promised he helped me find the taxi stand where they go to the border. I, again, negotiated hard to make sure I have enough money to make the journey to the border post. I found a car and noticed that the hawker was more interested in chatting with his cabbie friends than filling up the car so we could go. So, I did what you do as local in these situations, which is get out of the car and start shopping around. This seemed to help get the process of filling the car going again. Once the car was full, another person arrived to drive the car and asked me, alone, for more than what was agreed. I scoffed as he started the car and drove off. At the border, as I expected, he continued to ask for more money, but I had already factored this in and gave him the rest of the Uzbek soom I owned. I showed him my empty wallet and he had no choice but to let it go.
Creating fresh tracks on the rain fluffed dirt, I was relieved to be done with the incessant haggling of Uzbekistan and the frustrating journey to get to Tajikistan. As I stepped inside the Uzbek checkpoint, I was pleased to see that there were less than 10 women waiting in line. I filled out my customs form and tried to figure out which woman was last in line when three of them pointed across the room to where a single man was standing. Apparently, there are separate lines for men and women. This was looking even better! Second in line! That optimism lasted as long as it took to realize that there was only one person processing people and she was female. This meant that she would only process females because luggage searches are standard. It wasn’t until 8:30 when any men showed up to work, more than half an hour after I got there. They didn’t like the way I filled out the customs form and made me wait before they decided they would tutor me on how to fill it out they way they liked.
The rest of the crossing went smoothly, which was a relief because I didn’t have any hotel registration to account for my whereabouts last night, and that could have been a problem had they decided. The folks on the Tajikstan side of the border were refreshingly pleasant and less bureaucratic. So, all told, 1-1.5 hours to cross the border. All I had to do now was exchange a bit of money and find a cab. As usual, finding a cab isn’t difficult, but waiting for it to fill can be. Because everyone gets the slow methodical approach to crossing, the trickle of people crossing meant this would take awhile. So, I took out my journal and sat on a bench under a tree to pass time. It was pleasantly peaceful there. The locals were all older and chatted in low tones next to me and I took breaks everytime a nearby thunderstorm rumbled to see if it was approaching. It did start to rain a bit, so I went into the cab for a deserved late morning nap. When I woke up after an hour or so, we still needed two more people to fill the car. After 2.5 hours we had our third passenger and I was offered the opportunity to pay 50% more so we could go. I welcomed this because I had business to take care of in Dushanbe. It was now 12PM
The roads to Dushabe were marginally better than those in Uzbekistan, which helped move the journey along. However, the driver had to go 30 minutes out of the way to drop off the first passenger. This and his agressive style of driving would become critical once we reached Dushanbe because we ran out of fuel. So, we waited another 15-20 minutes as he networked over the phone, which eventually resulted in another cab driver showing up with about 10-15L of gasoline so the second passenger could be dropped off. Having learned his lesson, he took no chances and I joined him for a trip to the gas station before I got my drop off at the travel agency.
It was about 2:30 and I was fairly certain that I would not get my GBAO permit to cross to the eastern half of Tajikistan before tomorrow’s holiday. Nevertheless, I went in to try anyway. As I have become accustomed, I asked a second time if there was any chance the permit could be processed that day. The pretty travel agent (Mehri), who I had corresponded several times previously, paused and then made a phone call. Her contact in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was apparently still willing to process a permit to see her pretty face and get a bribe, so I was in luck. I paid for the service and was told to come back at 4:30, which I was glad to do.
I found a place to stay, dropped my stuff, and promptly went back to get the permit, which was the most rewarding thing I had done in a few days. Dushanbe, while the nicest of the large Soviet cities so far with its surrounding hills and mountains and tree lined boulevards, doesn’t offer much for the tourist, so gaining the ability to leave Friday morning was a relief. I picked up food at the bazaar and went back to hang out with other backpackers for the evening.
There, I met a Korean that had been traveling by bicycle for the past 7 months, starting in Malaysia, and a German who had a month to get from Bishkek to Ashgabat in a month. Philip, who lives in Berlin, was a great conversationalist and we talked over beer until midnight or so. It was the perfect way to reward myself after a painfully drawn out journey to Dushanbe.