Day 22: Crossing over to Kyrgyzstan

I was cold all night. My knees & feet felt frozen. I went to bed feeling quite itchy – I wasn’t sure if something had invaded my sleeping bag. The cold and itch were compounded by worrying about needing to pee in the middle of the night. In the end, I didn’t need to, but it kept me up.

When day light appeared, I did need to use the loo, but of course, as luck would have it, the car door was jammed. I couldn’t get out. I panicked, sure that I would soil myself. In my panic, I woke Moritz up, who managed to unjam the door and let me out. It was a strange way to start the day.

It was a beautiful morning. I sat by the lake and scribbled in my journal, while Moritz slept. The serene sounds of water lapping on the shore had a calming effect on me, after the sleepless night and the morning anxiety.

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Both of us had stomach aches that morning. Had the pasta sauce we used for cooking gone bad? Perhaps the extreme Central Asian summer heat had spoiled it.

After a quick breakfast of muesli bars and tea by the lake, we packed up our stuff. The first order of business was to look for bottled water. We were running dangerously low.

We ventured into the ‘town’, which had been completely deserted last night. It was still deserted, but we found a couple of men hanging out on one of the street corners who pointed us to the only shop in town. The town was miniscule, but the shop was still hard to find.

After being pointed right, left, up and down a few more times, we found the shop. Well, of course. It was basically the front room of an old woman’s house. She had gone for a walk, and when she saw us in front of her house, she unlocked the shop and let us in.

It was a ragtag group of items, stocked neatly on shelves. There were plenty of household items, candy, sugary drinks, but absolutely no water. There was even an abacus for tallying up the bill! I regret to say that we have no photos of this quaint, taciturn woman and her charming little shop.

We bought the least objectionable soft drink in lieu of water, and started for the Tajik border.

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Just before the border, we had to stop at an office for the Ministry of Transport. I had stayed in the car, and Moritz went inside on his own. After processing our paperwork, the official inside declared that we didn’t have all the required documents, and as a result, fined us USD 52. I was annoyed.

What made me even more suspicious that the change that Moritz had been given in Somoni didn’t add up to what we should have left after paying USD 52. I should know – I was managing the trip’s finances.

The guy had provided a semi-legitimate looking receipt, written in Cyrillic script, which we couldn’t read anyway.

He let us through the gate, but demanded our receipt back. We refused. That’s not how receipts work.

He insisted, and we explained, with gestures, that if he has given us a receipt, then we get to keep it. He shook his head in frustration and let us through.

Next was immigration control. One of the officials took our passports inside to get them stamped. We waited outside, with an older, more senior official who appeared to have more authority. He was friendly and spoke some English. While we chatted, we decided to ask him about the receipt. The whole exchange just 10 minutes earlier had been very bizarre.

He took a look at it, and asked us where we got it. We explained that we had received it at the Ministry of Transport office just 200m down the road. He was incredulous. He didn’t know what it was.

He asked one of his men to fetch the guy who had issued the receipt. The guy came over and what ensued was a heated argument. The issuer of the receipt yelled at us – we had no idea what he was saying – and tried to wrestle the paper away from my hand aggressively.

I was pretty mad at this point too. I yelled back that he couldn’t have the paper. The paper was worthless anyway, but the fact that he was physically trying to take it away from me made my sleep-deprived head explode.

Further conversation ensued between the senior official and the Transport Ministry guy. The exchange ended with the latter angrily fishing a wad of bills out from his pocket and returning us our money. We were stunned.

We never expected our money back. All we wanted was some clarification, but the senior official took it upon himself to fix the matter. He apologized, wished us safe travels and sent us on our way.

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There was a very long stretch of no-man’s land between the Tajik immigration side and the Kyrgyzstan immigration side. There were literally no roads, just sections of reddish dirt cleared along the mountain. We figured neither side cared much about fixing this slice of the road.

As the car bounced up and down, we heard a loud snap.

We got out and discovered that one of the springs that the Alichur mechanic put in had snapped, thanks to the crappy roads. Yet another mechanical set back.

The right side, as a result, was bumpier. It’s unlikely we’ll go very far with this, especially if the roads continue to be this bad on the Kyrgyz side.

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The Kyrzgyz border guards were nice. They asked if we spoke Russian or Kyrgyz, and when Moritz said a few dirty words in Russian, they burst into laughter. One of the guards gave us recommendations on what we should visit in Kyrgyzstan. He told us that the Issyk Kul (lake) was very beautiful, and was popular with Kyrgyz people for the summer holidays.

The immigration officer was very creepy. He did not speak much English, but grunted “Bangladesh?” from time to time during my interview, almost as if he was testing me to see if I answer the same every time.

Another guy, who was responsible for checking our car papers, asked us how long we’d stay in the country.

“About 3-4 days,” we replied.

“Your car is welcome to stay for up to 4 days,” he said ominously. He made it clear that even though we had visas to stay in Kyrgyzstan for 10 days, the car had to be out in 4 days.

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The Kyrgyz side had amazing scenery and nice, smooth roads. After the Tajik part of the Pamir highway, it felt like driving on the German Autobahn! The drive was efffortless, compared to what we had been subjected to before, and we just couldn’t get enough of the extraordinary scenery, dotted with beautiful horses and numerous sheep.

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We arrived in Osh, the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, by early evening. The city is located in the Fergana Valley in the south of the country and would be the first big city for us after leaving Dushanbe.

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We drove through the Osh bazaar while attempting to find our hotel. The bazaar trades everything under the sun, from fresh produce to handcrafted Kyrgyz products. The unusual thing about the bazaar, though, is that most stalls are made from containers. How so many containers came to be in a land-locked country like Kyrgyzstan is a mystery to me.

While at the border, we met a Norwegian Mongol Rally team and a German guy working at the Tajik office of GIZ (the German development organization), travelling back to Osh to drop his family off at the airport. We all, coincidentally, ended up in the same hotel, and the same restaurant for dinner.

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Back at the hotel, we washed our clothes and researched options to donate our car. We showered, provided updates to family and fell into a much needed sleep.

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We were mentally preparing to exit the rally early. We had completed 3 weeks, and were due back at work in another 7 days.

There was no way in hell we’d make it to Mongolia in 7 days from Kyrgyzstan.

This post is part of a series covering my trip across Central Asia in four weeks.

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