Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Category — Uzbekistan

Day 165 (Uzbekistan/Tajikistan): Tashkent - Gorskiy - somewhere behind Konibodom (this cabbie needs cruise control)

daily distance: 52km
total distance: 9875km
riding time: 4h

Here is the picture I couldn’t show you the last time I posted. 


It was time to leave Tashkent. I was glad I did and could get back on the road. The break had been long enough I feel and now I was ready to hit the road again. Running around Tashkent one last time (thanks for all the patience Ahmad), I ended up at the taxi station for the Fergana Valley. It is a busy place and when you get out, there are 20 hopeful drivers barraging you. All names of substantial towns were shouted at me and in the end I settled for one driver and got a decent price after the initial offer had been twice as much.

This guy needs cruise control though. His driving style was unorthodox to say the least. He kept getting on and off the gas pedal, slowed down when he talked to another passenger (about 20 km/h less and he did that often, turned out the lady was an English teacher half way through the ride), and he talked a lot, but sped up when another driver overtook him and went silent right away. On the downhill he kept switching off the engine all the time to conserve gasoline … But no passport control at all (quite in contrast to the other time I made the trip) and he got me there in under 4h. So all was well. A couple of things though. First, doing the trip three times now makes the area look very different. On the bike I couldn’t enjoy the scenery because the road was in the state it was in. Second, a word about police here. They are everywhere. That goes for the whole of Uzbekistan, but here is a typical scene. Driver does his thing and all is well. He maybe rolls a few inches over the line. A police guy waves him out. “You will get a fine.” This means trouble. But of course the officer has a solution. “You can avoid that of course …” And there it goes. Most people do of course pay. And the sums are substantial. For the area covering the Fergana Valley crossing I heard a sum of more than $1000 that has to be paid to the chief of police there. That is pretty staggering. You can figure out for yourself that it is being passed upward (where does it end you can ask) and that the total is much higher given that everyone in the pyramid somehow benefits.

Sherzod’s family really wanted me to stay for another night and I was considering it, but in the end decided against it. It was a hard decision to make, but I didn’t want to lose any more time. The Pamir is calling and it is getting cold - the last two days were nippy in the morning already. So I set out with a heavy heart - but will hopefully be back at some point.  

The ride was uneventful - it was slow going into the wind. A hard wind and I just barely made it to the border in time before they closed it down.

That was when the trouble started. The Uzbek side felt that they should search me completely. Empty all bags … something I should fault myself for. They had asked me for the money I was carrying and I hadn’t declared everything. When they saw the rest they said they would keep it. That’s when the searching began. I had to take all my belongings out. “What is this and this?” was all I heard. Having a sleeping bag was the problem all of a sudden. Then some copies of my passport. They couldn’t understand that I was taking more money out of Uzbekistan than I had brought in. The cards meant nothing to a couple of them - until the boss came in and said that “Yes, you can get money with this.”

At some point it was clear that they wanted a bribe, I was unwilling to give it to them. And so I thought this could be fun, grabbed my money in the middle of things and stuffed it into the biking pants (figuring that they would be loath to grab it from there). All the while I thought about the closure of the border in a few minutes and sure enough when I finally left (I was let go without a fine) it was past 5pm. This could be fun. A 10m noman’s land. Pitching there could be interesting. But the Tajik side was still open and everything was done very quickly. Open the book, close it after noting the details. Customs check … forget it. They wanted to go home and made short shrift of it. Good, works for me.

The Uzbek side of the border …

and the Tajik side.

I pedaled on for a while until it was dark. Bought a SIM card and got in touch witht he lcoal German Agro Action staff, found a place to pitch and turned in.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot - I have been warned yet again of the people on the other side of the border. Some things don’t seem to change.

September 4, 2008   No Comments

Day 164 (Uzbekistan): Tashkent (visa - two down)

The day of reckoning … for some reason, I had some butterflies in my stomach again. Just like in Tehran. I got in line before the Chinese embassy, many more people being there than on my previous visit. I talked to another biker and found out that Bastien is in town also, but I decided that I would try to be in touch with him only if the Tajik visa didn’t come through.

The Chinese visa … came through without a hitch. I have a shiny new visa in my passport now. And ran off with it to drop it off for the Tajik visa. Spent the rest of the day around town, waiting and waiting again. I was hopeful because I hadn’t heard anything until lunchtime. But wait. That didn’t prevent the embassy from sitting on the passport before for a full. Quite apprehensively, I went to the office and waited around … until the driver came back. Blank face … but a yes. I got both visas!!! And can move on.

And I would like to show you the picture to prove it … but the internetcafe is unable to even move the picture from the flash card to the computer. Sorry.

I decided that I wouldn’t head to the Fergana Valley any more tonight, but would do the trip tomorrow. No need to really rush anything. And I wouldn’t have to do the trip at night. Instead, we ran around trying to get everything sorted. And thanks to Ahmad we did. So, tomorrow I am off to the Fergana Valley by taxi and then to Tajikistan the same day. Moving closer to where the donations will be going … if you want to donate, go here for more info.

September 3, 2008   No Comments

Days 162 and 163 (Uzbekistan): Tashkent (playing the waiting game … again)

Another couple of uneventful days - so I am folding them into one posting again. There are also no pictures again. Taking a bit of a break from that as well. But more pictures will appear again soon (bandwidth permitting of course). Actually, there is one …

So, Monday I showed up early at the Chinese embassy to drop off my application for a visa. All forms in order, all the paperwork in one place it was a bit of a no-brainer.

“Application form?” - “Yes.”

“Passport?” - “Yes, here you go.” 

“Flight ticekt?” - “Yes.”

“Hotel reservation?” - “Yes, that one too.”

“Come back on Wednesday, one-day is not possible. The consul is not here.”

Bonk. The nice idea of making this as quick as possible just got thwarted. Same day was out of the question now. Oh well, let them keep the passport for two days (others have had it longer) and pick it up early morning on Wednesday. That’s what I did. So, keep your fingers crossed that two days from now I will at least have a Chinese visa. Then I can take care of the Tajik one - maybe that’s enough to cool the tempers there. That ’s the mild way of putting it I guess.

The problem is that I am running out of time on my Uzbek visa on Saturday with no onward visa at the moment. Who could have known that this process would take this long for the Tajik one? I had prepared things three weeks ago while still in Iran. You would think that it would be enough.

The remainder of the day was spent in an internet cafe - the large part of day 163 as well. I am downloading some podcasts for the next few days and weeks - this time without having to go through itunes, thank goodness. For all those owning an ipod and wanting to do without the big clunky program (or those who simply want to update on more than one computer), head over to podcastready and download a program called mypodder. Small, easy to use and not tied to one computer as you install it on your mp3 player as opposed to the computer you are using.

September 2, 2008   No Comments

Day 161 (Uzbekistan): Tashkent (mountain air …)

I was going to meet up with Ahmad - and met up with lots more people in the end. After getting together around mid-morning, Ahmad asked whether I wanted to head out of Tashkent with friends, both acquaintances from earlier seminars here in Tashkent.

It promised to be a good day and of course I said yes. So, after a brief visit to the home of one friend and packing up some stuff, we headed out of Tashkent to a lake by the name of Charvak.

It’s an intensely beautiful area and reminds me of the Alps …

The lake has a good deal of fluctuation between summer and winter as is visible from the picture below. Hint: take a look at the top of the picture and you see what I mean. People are also concerned about the general amount of water that the area has seen. It has steadily decreased over the last years I am told. And given that this area supplies most of Tashkent and beyond with water it is perfectly understandable why people should worry.

August 31, 2008   No Comments

Day 160 (Uzbekistan): Tashkent

This is the day when nothing much happened. My batteries on my camera (the small one) both died a tragic death a little while ago, so I had to look for replacement batteries and a charger. This proved to be much easier than I thought. Together with Islam we went to a street filled to the breaking point with electronics stores and sure enough after four “No, we don’t have this kind of stuff”, we found what we were looking for. I am now in possession of an original Canon charger and two batteries. Let’s hope they do the job until the end of the trip.

Internet cafe time was followed by a long and interesting and extremely enlightening discussion over dinner with Islam before heading home to catch up on some more sleep.

Here is something to think about. Internet censorship is just as rampant here as it was in other places during the trip. But instead of reading an official message that this site is blocked, what happens here in Uzbekistan is interesting.

As a reminder, this is what happened in Iran. Sometimes it was this …


and most of the time it was this …


Here is the Uzbekistan blocking message.


You get re-routed to the MSN website. Now, maybe someone in the Uzbekistan blocking administration is a fan of that company up in Seattle. But maybe - though unlikely - said company has entered a contractual relationship with the Uzbekistan blocking administration. Or maybe someone paid someone something, aka as bribing (as is so often the case here). You never know.

August 30, 2008   No Comments