Day 453: My Kingdom For A Biro


By 9am I was back outside the Kyrgyzstan embassy. I put my name down on the list and headed over to the DHL office to see if my replacement camcorder had arrived. It was still being held in customs. Frustratingly, this meant I would be without a decent video camera for my trip around Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Couldn’t be helped, back to the Kyrgyz embassy. I waited my turn to go inside, and when I did I all but begged to get the visa there and then. If I had to wait until the afternoon to pick it up I could scratch another day – there’s no way I could make it to the Kyrgyz border before it closed at 7pm.

To my utter disbelief, the guy in the embassy said okay and furnished me with a visa there and then. I couldn’t believe it. Still in shock, I charged back to Tristan’s flat, picked up my bags, said goodbye to Tristan’s house mum and headed off to the bus station. By noon I was on my way to the bordertown ‘Osh’ in a shared taxi. I was assured that I’d be at the border for 5pm. Well, yeah, they might well say that…

At this point I had bigger preoccupations. First up I needed to alter my registration slip that I got back in Nukus to say I had been staying at the hotel all this time. As I may have already mentioned, CouchSurfing is kinda illegal here. It was pretty straight forward to change the ‘24’ into a passable ‘28’, but with my customs declaration I had bigger issues. I had filled it out in black ink, and I had gone and lost my black biro. The only ones I had were blue, and I needed to knock off one (now missing) camcorder off my declared list of stuff. I guess you don’t need to be told that Uzbekistan is ultra strict about stuff like this, and a discrepancy like that is the kind that they would probably wet their pants over. They would think I sold the camera and pocketed the cash woohahahaha because I’m made of capitalism and evil. My mind flashed back to Africa and all the hassle I was given there even when my papers were in order.

I got the driver to stop at various shops along the way, all of which sold biros, BUT ONLY BLUE ONES. After the twenty-fifth shop I was beginning to think they didn’t actually sell black pens in Uzbekistan. I started to panic – I was stuck in a Terry Gilliam inspired nightmare in which my freedom hinged on finding the right colour pen. But by 6pm I began to think that it didn’t matter anyway – I wasn’t going to make it to the border before it shut. We were still plenty of kilometres away and it was getting dark. When at 6.30pm my driver was idly driving around the streets of Andjian (home of the infamous massacre) and I was convinced I didn’t stand a chance of getting there in time. Tristen had made it quite clear that given the Uzbeks love of paperwork and soviet-era bureaucracy it takes two hours to cross the border. He had told me in no uncertain terms that unless I left at 9am from the capital Tashkent I stood no chance of getting to Kyrgyzstan today.

Oh ye of little faith.

At 6:35pm my driver had got out and been replaced by his dad, who assured me that he’d get me to the border on time. I have to say I wasn’t convinced, but I had to at least try. As we approached the border I kept my eye on the clock as the minutes eked away… 6:56pm, 6:57pm… It was now dark and it was three minutes past seven when we got to a passport check at the side of the road. My driver convinced the guard to wave me through and then, half a kilometre further on, I was at the border.

There were a few people hanging around outside the gates, but my driver pushed me to the front and said something to the military guy on the gate about me being English. The guy thought about it for a second and then opened the gate. I couldn’t believe it. I was in.

But then on the walk to the customs post, my legs went funny. THE CUSTOMS FORM! I hadn’t doctored it. To further complicate matters I was the ONLY person there and I guessed (correctly) that they would go through my stuff with a fine-toothed comb. I went into the customs office. There were eight people there all ready to put me under the microscope.

Okay, I had two ninja moves I could pull at this point. One would be the Derren Brown, but given the language difficulties I doubted that my cunning linguistics would work. The other was the Boris Johnson. I went for the Boris. I bumbled, dropped stuff, got the giggles, opened up stuff they weren’t interested in, rushed about, zipped and unzipped my bags, pulled out the most random assortment of stuff I could think of, banged on about Liverpool (Steven Gerrard, I owe you one) and generally did my best to bamboozle and bemuse with my buffoonery. And it worked. They didn’t even ask about the missing camcorder, I think they lost track of what I did and didn’t have.

I smiled, shook everybody’s hands and departed, almost wetting myself with relief.

Now my big worry was that the Kyrgyzstan border post would be closed and I’d be stuck in No Man’s Land for the night. But again, no worries. I couldn’t believe my luck. Not only were the Kyrgyz guards incredibly friendly, they also gave me a lift into town from whence I could take an overnight shared taxi to the capital Bishkek. With a little luck I could get my application for my Tajikistan visa before the weekend and be back in Tashkent before next Monday.

But more importantly, I am now in COUNTRY NUMBER 150!!


I have now stayed with or drank with or danced with or shared tea with or struck up a conversation with somebody from over 175 countries around the world. Today Planet Earth seems a terrifically small one.

Graham Hughes

Graham Hughes is a British adventurer, presenter, filmmaker and author. He is the only person to have travelled to every country in the world without flying. From 2014 to 2017 he lived off-grid on a private island that he won in a game show, before returning to the UK to campaign for a better future for the generations to come.

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