Day 461: The Forbidden Stan

06.04.10: Groggy and grumpy I awoke from my nightborn passage through Uzbekistan. Like Alexander The Great so many years before (and Michael Caine and Sean Connery more recently), I was in Samarkand – the legendary and (arguably) most famous city of Central Asia. Stumbling bleary-eyed out of the taxi I lost my phone and before I knew what the hell was going on I had slept-walked into another taxi and was hurling out of town. Sacrilege, I know. I’m sorry. I’ll tell you a little story: About eight years ago I was travelling through the Andes with an old flame of mine (she’d hate me saying that, but watchagonnado?) and I got increasingly ratty with what I saw as her lack of interest in the soaring grandeur of one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. I couldn’t believe somebody would come all this…

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Day 460: The Wizard of Uz

05.04.10: Today was yet another D-Day in terms of getting visas and getting going.  Within minutes of me wiping the sleep from my eyes I arrived at the Turkmenistan embassy to meet no other than Atabek, my friend from last week who had helped me out with the whole getting-my-Stanistan-visas shenanigans.  Again, the system for getting the visa required me to put my name down on a list and then wait my turn.  While Atabek held my place in the queue I darted over to the Afghan embassy to throw in my second passport for my second Afghan visa (another time-consuming trip to the bank required).  Upon my return, it looked like if I got my passport in this morning, I’d have the visa this afternoon.  Atabek and I waited for a good three hours, but finally – finally – they opened the gate and let…

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Day 459: Doctorin’ The Docket

04.04.10: I may have mentioned this before, but for some stupid reason you have to register three days after you arrive in Uzbekistan.  The problem is you cannot register that you’re staying with a private citizen without a ton of hassle and paperwork.  As a consequence, CouchSurfing is technically illegal. What most people do is check into a hotel for the night and then doctor the docket that they’re given (as I did last week) so the dates imply you stayed in the hotel longer than you really did.  However our sweet French couple, Younne and Cloe neglected to register within their three day period of grace.  You see the Uzbek government is a little stuck in it’s ways and thinks that every westerner who would like to visit their country is James Bond come to blow up their secret volcano fortresses. It’s when you hear…

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Day 458: Can You Imagine?

03.04.10: So where to next? The plan is on Monday to head off towards Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Three of the hardest countries in the world to visit and visit safely and I’m planning to step in all three in just one day. Impossible? Nah. Just takes a bit of planning, that’s all.  So the bulk of today was spent using the treacle-slow free wi-fi in the Blinoff café sussing out my next few moves, checking on the security situations and pulling anything I could off the usual suspects – bulletin boards, thorntree, all that kind of jazz. Later on I was joined by Rafael’s mate Oybek and his rather fetching ladyfriend Alla, along with Younne and Cloe from last night. After stuffing our faces full of cheap but yummy food, we set off into the night to go to the ‘Can You Imagine?’ night at…

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Day 457: The Land That Time Forgot

02.04.10: By 5am I had made it around that pesky enclave of Sohk and had arrived at the border of Tajikistan. Chances are you know Afghanistan and Pakistan rather well, and Kazakhstan too thanks to a certain Mr. Sagdiyev, maybe you’ve noticed Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan while glancing over an atlas, and maybe once you pulled 10 letters out of a Scrabble bag and they spelt out KYRGYZSTAN by sheer luck, but I’m guessing you know nothing about Tajikistan. Well, don’t feel bad, neither do I. For instance, I knew nothing of the brutal civil war that raged here during the 90s and resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths. I didn’t know that until 1991 Tajikistan was completely closed to foreigners for over 100 years. In fact, the amount I don’t know about Tajikistan is only equalled by the amount I don’t know about the history…

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Day 456: Bish Bash Bosh

01.04.10: Sorry about the lack of blog updates this month – I’ve been hammering the website to make it all fabby and groovy for when the telly show starts in July and people pop in for a visit! So, where I was I? Oh yeah, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan!! So I was up and at ’em at the crack and to the Tajikistan embassy. Visa in hand, I raced over to the bus station to pick up a shared taxi back to Osh. My taxi driver, Rustlan, was a wonderfully friendly guy and the little old ladies in the back didn’t complain too much that I wanted to stop every ten minutes to take a photo of the INCREDIBLE scenery. It was a long drive through the mountains to Osh, but the hours seemed to fly by and, once again, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be…

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Day 453: My Kingdom For A Biro

29.03.10: 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.…

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Days 451-452: Movin’ On Up

27.03.10-28.03.10: Woke up at Baha’s flat wondering if anybody got the number of the truck that hit me before stumbling back to Fred’s. Her mate in Samakand (down south) had just split up from her better half and so Fred planned to head down there to give her some moral support. This meant that I had to find a new place to stay. Luckily, Tristan, the French guy I met last night agreed to take me under his wing. Even more luckily, he lived in the flat directly above Fred’s so it’s not like I had to walk very far. These flats are so typically soviet it’s almost hilarious – the exact same flats that I experienced in Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan. To give them a veil of individuality some are covered in big blocky geometric shapes – no wonder it was a Russian who came…

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Day 450: The Incident

26.03.10: I had real trouble dragging myself out of bed this morning. I asked Fred to wake me up, which she did, but what I should have asked is for Fred to wake me up by throwing a bucket of cold water over my head. I got to the bank to pay in the money for the Afghan visa at 9.30am, meeting Atabeck there and (stupidly) thinking that paying $30 into a bank would be an easy process. Ha! No. It took the best part of an hour. Seriously. I had to go to three different desks (on different floors no less!) and fill out paperwork at all three of them. It’s quicker to book a seven-stop Round The World ticket at STA Travel. I know, I’ve done it. We now had our backs against the wall – if I wanted to get off to Kyrgyzstan…

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Day 449: The Great Game

25.03.10: The plan today was simple. Well, I thought it was. First up, visit the Kyrgyzstan Embassy and hand over my passport, while that visa is processing put my application in to the Turkmenistan Embassy, then scope out the Afghan embassy (which my book tells me issues visas ‘on the spot’) and back to the Kyrgyzstan embassy get passport, rush back to the Afghan embassy, and maybe head on to Kyrgyzstan with my shiny new visa before the day is done. I plan to return here next week after visiting Tajikistan (a visa best got in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan) to pick up my you-have-to-wait-ten-days-for-it Turkmenistan visa. But ha! No. The bus got in nice and early at 8.30am. Great. I grabbed a cab and headed into the city centre, picking a Metro station at random to be dropped off at while I texted my…

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