Dushanbe to Uzbek border 110km
To Dry Mountain Pass 101km
They abandoned me..... Every other cyclist left the Green House Hostel on Monday afternoon.... but I don't care. Monday, I got my Tajikistan visa extension. I was no longer an "overstayer", and even though I'd only asked for three days, and I was told the options were three or seven days, they have given me 14 days. I will never understand the logic of Central Asian visa's.
So the cyclists have all taken off to Vero's. Vero is a French national, who lives and works in Dushanbe. She is a Warmshowers host, and is known for never turning anyone away, except in August, when she was away in France, and cycling the Pamirs. But now she's back, and a free Warmshowers host beats even the cheapest hotel.
I decided to spend my last night at the lodge, night number 29, and call in to say "Hi" to Vero, on my way to the Turkmen embassy on Tuesday morning..... and to say goodbye to all the cyclists..... What a lovely setting. A small yard, with fruit trees, a lovely veranda with dining table and loungers, and Vero and her partner are amazing. I'm really sorry I didn't get to stay there.
But off to the Embassy. A smile as you enter is always a good sign. I need to go to the Pakistan National Bank, it's just around the corner from the Greenhouse, 7km away, and pay my visa fee. On the way there, the streets are pandemonium. Police are standing at every intersection and entrance, and directing traffic off the street. I'm told to ride on the footpaths. ....and then......when the streets are totally empty......the President and entourage zoom past. They must have been going over 100 kph. They were motoring. Gone like a flash, and traffic can now come back onto the street. Oh to have that sort of power.......
Money paid into the Uzbek account, and it's back to the Embassy. ....and believe it or not...... I get my visa. On the way back to the Hostel, I call into Vero's, and dance through the lounge and along the veranda. Everyone is glad for me....glad I'm finally leaving.... Only problem is, today is National Independence day in Uzbek. Is the border open? Vero checks. Yes, it should be for tourists.
I've done 30km this morning, just collecting my visa. It's 70km to the border. Going to be a big day, but I'm so excited to be finally leaving, I'm packed in a flash, and on the road. I stop for a couple of food breaks, but am getting weary close to the border. Perhaps I'll camp in Tajikistan. Looking for a campsite, I stumble on the border. It's 7.30pm, may as well cross.
I'm the only person crossing, but it takes three hours. The Tajik side is quick and simple. The only problem is "No registration after 30 days". The letter from the hostel solves that. The Uzbek side is not so simple. The Customs man is meticulous. He opens every bag. He undoes every item, even unfolding my socks. He looks at every photo, well almost, on my phone and Notebook, and looks at many of the videos. He looks up every drug and prescription I have, on the Internet. He struggles with Ondansatron. It's a small wafer you take to stop nausea and vomiting. He apologies it's so thorough, but we are being watched by three cameras. When he's done, and I've repacked, he turns off the lights, and locks the doors. Customs is closed.
Soldiers escort me off the border site....."but Mister.....you've got a puncture in your trailer tyre". Bother. I repair it in the dark, and cycle away. It's almost a full moon, so eventually, after a couple of not so good sites, did you know that cotton fields are really wet, I find a dry, flat spot amongst the cotton, stealthy put up my tent.....and sleep. ....except my Expede mattress has a leak..... bother.
Up at dawn, and stealth out of the plantation. The roads are pretty smooth, it's not too hot, and there's not much wind. At one stage I'm stalled in traffic, cycling through a market. A dork, grabs my trailer flag, and tries to slow me down. It breaks. He sneaks off into the crowd. Then a car drives into the trailer wheel, which gets jammed under his mudguard. ....bother.
The Uzbek people are really nice. Lots of waves, friendly toots, shouts of encouragement. I stop for an icecream. An old fella wants to know whether I'm married, and when was the last time I had "snuggly bugly"? "Wife" or "woman" is signaled by stroking the eyebrows, and portraying the beasts. Anyway, I've obviously been missing out, so he offers to find me a "wife" for a few days. I hastely cycle out of town, up a long steep hill, to a windy pass high in the mountains. It's very very dry, but I find a camping spot. A couple of good days, back on the bike. I feel as if I'm smiling alot.