17 Aug, 2009
The Uzbek Border
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
It didn’t take long to reach the Uzbek border the next day. All of us arrived and started the six-part registration process with no problem (other than in the middle of our applications the border guards having taken a two-hour lunch break). We had been there for over five hours and I had just finished the car import paperwork when I saw Collin standing outside of the border zone. I motioned for him to come over to complete the visa-stamping process but he motioned for me to come to him. He had just been rejected entry into Uzbekistan.
Although both of our visas were the same and I was stamped with no problem, it seems that the border personnel managed to notice that Collin’s visa didn’t start until the following day. What could we do? Wait there in no-man’s land until the next day. We said goodbye to our departing convoy and said that we’d try to catch up with them the next day.
And what a no-man’s land it was! Trash everywhere, skeletons of stripped cars and buses, and many other locals in a similar position as us waiting around as well. Cows and camels wandered around picking at the heaps of rubbish for something to eat. It was close to 100 degrees, so we took our camping chairs out of the car and set them up in the husk of an old van, which provided us with some shade. Some of the border guards that had processed us earlier saw us and asked what we were doing. We explained our situation, to which they just kind of smiled in a ‘tough luck!’ way and went about their business. After about an hour or two of sitting around doing nothing it started to get cooler out. That’s when a scruffy looking guy came over to where we were. He pantomimed that he was a bus driver, his bus was about 100 meters behind where we were sitting, and he was also stuck here for the night. Would we care to join him and his friends for dinner and sleep in their bus? Well, sure beats sleeping in a rusted-out van with no doors or windows!
We headed over to where the driver and four others were sitting on some ratty looking mats and blankets sprawled out on the ground beside the bus. One guy asked is we had any vodka, and I went to the car to grab one of the bottles that we picked up for about two dollars in Atyrau. They were very happy that I had some. We passed around the bottle, doing shots from tea cups while having a dinner consisting of some sort of thin soup with small bits of meat and potato (cooked on a makeshift firepit behind the bus). We were also provided with rock hard bits of nan bread, which you dipped into the soup until they became soft enough to chew. It wasn’t a gourmet meal by any means, and we were very worried about getting sick later on, but we were happy that they were offering what they had. None of the people there spoke more than a few words of English, so we sat around conversing in an odd mixture of Russian, Uzbekistani, English, and body language for a few hours, and a good time was had by all. We never really found out why the various people were stuck in no-man’s land, but each was there for a duration of time ranging from two days to ten days it seemed. At around 11:00PM everyone decided to call it a night, and the original guy that invited us over led us to his bus where he indicated that we should sleep in his and his co-pilot’s beds for the night–they would sleep outside. We tried to refuse such hospitality but he was insistent on the matter. And with that, we had the bus to ourselves as we dozed off for the night.
We woke around 8:00AM and were provided a breakfast of tea and the same thin soup and bread as the night previous (this time without any potato or meat). The border opened at 9:00AM, so we thanked everyone and said our goodbyes before entering the border yet again. It turned out that I still had paperwork to do, and it ended up taking another couple hours. We were on the road again a little bit past 11:00AM.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.