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Published: June 30th 2013
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The Turkish Airlines plane touches down at 1:20 AM, so I'm bone tired. The cabin attendants gave everyone an Uzbek declaration form to fill out which was in English. Should have asked for more of these, as duplicate forms are always required, and the blank ones to be found at the airport are all in Russian, or Uzbecki. They appear to have been translated from O’zbek to Russian, and then to English, as they are entirely less than clear, especially if you have been traveling for 36 hours. “boomaga ne pariatke” ie. your papers are not in order, says the first customs man in Russian. The visa my agent in New York obtained for me was fine, but the declaration forms had to be re-done, in duplicate and this time, in Russian. Currency has to be declared, both in numerals and words, as did all electrical-mechanical devices more complex than a nail clipper had to be listed, with their declared values. In my possession a cell phone, charger, a camera with its charger and a travel transformer for converting 220v into 110v., and I can’t recall what was paid for any of these. Mercifully, I
left my computer at home, as this was not to be a working vacation. No need for one of these when all the seat backs have a wonderful choice of movies any more. I later find out that none of the hotels in this part of the world have computers for their guests, though some claim to have WIFI.
As I stood there, re-writing the papers, on the chin-high x-ray baggage machine, the travelers behind me start to get restive, while the incessant glare of the border guard does not help. Finally, I give him back the two forms, and he signs and stamps one, which he returns to me. Another customs man assured me that I would have to match it up with another one just like it at the end of my trip, when I leave Uzbekistan. Little does he know that I have to exit and re-enter here before I return home. One can only suppose he has no desire to stay at the airport any later than necessary, as we were the last arriving flight of the evening. This may have been why he accepted my papers on the second go-round, regardless of
the mistakes. My tour group group, plans on both to Turkmenistan and then to Tajikistan, so it figures I will surely have mastered this in the process by the end. Indeed, I may even write about it!
It took an hour and a half to get from the plane to the parking lot, making this this the slowest segment of my travels. It is now nearly 3:00 AM in the morning. I can not begin to describe to you how drab this post-Soviet aging airport terminal appears. I dreaded to think what things would be like if there was no one to meet me. Not only was I thoroughly exhausted and demoralized, it was pouring rain, and I had no idea which hotel I had been booked into. The online travel guide said the XYZ Hotel, or equivalent. Upon first getting into the public area past customs and immigration, there are a dozen or so people waiving placards, but none with my name. Fear is upon me, like an animal. I double check the hand written signs and then croak out; “Moi Eamia Geof Giles, Kto-to zdece dla menya?” Russian for “My Name is Geof Giles, is
Anyone Here for Me?”, at least that is what I think I said. Blank stares. No local money, the exchange booth is long closed and I don’t even know where I’m going, assuming a cabbie could be found at this hour. The upside is that the air smells sweet, cool and fresh, something almost challenging about it.
I continue on out to the parking lot, and there, as if by magic, stands a man with a hand sign bearing my name; Oh be still my heart! His name is Bakhram, and identifies himself as my local tour guide. Consternation turns to lucidation. Credit where credit it due, my tour operator Undiscovered Destinations, has chosen a solid, stand up kinda guy to be my guide, and as it turns out, his English rates 9 on a scale of 10 to boot. After a quick introduction he introduces me to the driver, and we're off to the Shodlick Palace Hotel, near downtown Tashkent. Its late and the bleary eyed desk clerk takes my passport, gets me a room key and points out the general direction of the elevators. I've never liked being separated from the one document that is
so absolutely essential for travel these days, so I blanch at the idea that I've neglected to get one of those 'passport-card' the State Department now issues. Bakhram tells me he’ll be there at 10:00 AM to start off for the Fergana Valley region, and to get some sleep in the mean time.
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