I made a mistake, way back in Bishkek, the Beast of Bishkek beat me. When applying for my Uzbekistan visa, I got the dates wrong, and as a result, I will possibly have to sleep in NoMansLand on the Uzbek, Tajik border for two nights. There's only 50m between countries, so there's nowhere to hide.....but wait, I've got time, surely I can resolve this problem......
Monday, and I'm early to the Uzbekistan Consulate. The plan is to try to change my visa dates. An hour before the Consulate opens, and there are over 50 Tajik crowding the still locked door. A lone soldier tries to shift them away from the entrance, but is having no luck. He starts to make a list of everyone there, supposedly to create some order. It doesn't really work. As the lone westerner, and with no Russian or Tajik language, I'm ignored....too hard. Eventually, I squeeze through the crowd, and am ushered to a window. Still very little English, but I'm told to wait 5 minutes. Then Nick turns up. He wants a visa, and is trying to get 30 days, instead of the 10 days the agent has offered him. We push to the front again. Wait 5 minutes. And then, surprise surprise, we are permitted to enter.....ahead of all the Tajik......wow.
Nope, I cannot change my dates to an earlier date. I can change it to a later date. That is not going to help. Nope, Nick cannot have 30 days. Only 10 days, as stated and offered by the agent. In neither case were we offered any chance to argue. Decision made. Nick was even charged the "speedy visa" rate.., and has to wait three hours to get his passport back...... Hmmmm. Seems we both have some planning to do.
My next stop is the Police Station, where I'm told I may be able to extend my Tajik visa. I go to three different windows before I find the right one.....explain my needs......and the guy behind the counter shuts me out. I get no response. He just serves the people behind me.....am I invisible? I make my self big. I half crawl through the window, so all he can see is me...... He sits down at his desk, turns his back, and does paperwork......what?
A lady comes up behind me. She speaks English. She coaxed the beuracrat out of his desk, and explains what I need. I'm in the wrong place. I need to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It's a huge new building......but completely locked up. There's no signage anywhere, Departments, Times, Dates......nothing. A dwarf, on a tricycle, signals me to follow him. He points down some steps at the back of the building. No signage anywhere. At the bottom of the steps are three people waiting at a locked door. After 15mins it opens, and a guy exits, and then it slams shut again. Ten mins later, it opens again. I put my foot in the way so it can't shut, and am abused by a security guard. I'm getting a little annoyed, and shove my way in. Apparently the office is closing for lunch. I'm to come back at2pm.
I get back early, and the door is open, and 50 people are queuing. Once again I'm the only westerner, and am ushered through another locked door, before anyone else. My problem is explained. No they can't give me an extension, but they will give me an "exit visa", on the 20th, which will cover the days that I would have been stuck between borders.. Yehaa. A result. We hope.....
But what of my Iran Visa. Six weeks ago, in Bishkek, I had applied to an Agent for a Registration Code. This should take 7 to 10 days, but I haven't heard anything, except asking me to pay more, as now the application is urgent. I need the Iran Visa before I can apply for the Turkmenistan visa, which is a five day Transit Visa......soooo complicated. Lots of emails being sent......and finally, a number arrives. All I have to do now is visit the Iran Consulate, and the visa should be a formality. ... Three days I visited......and still the Consulate has no number.......I'm getting worried. Time is getting short.
Nick has run out of time. He can no longer follow his original route. He is having to back track, to Bishkek and Kazakhstan, and then fly to Turkey. He is rather disappointed, and annoyed, but such is the beuracracy in these ex Soviet states. You go with the flow, or you don't go at all.
In the meantime, we are finding cycling in this city pretty damn scarey. There seems to be a pretty strong feeling amongst the motorists here, that bicycles are targets, or pests. Buses, cars and Mushukas (minibuses) have all been part of a plot, to force us off the road, and Steve, Nick and I have all had "close calls". Drivers are very aggressive,
with lots of tooting, and very close passing, waving of fists, and verbal abuse. The traffic patterns are certainly very different to any where else I've been. Mushukas, and private taxis especially, having no regard for cyclists, seldom indicating, and very prone to suddenly swerving to a stop on the hard shoulder. You certainly need your wits about you, and cycling after a night of tooth pain and pain killer overdose, is not wise......