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Published: June 29th 2016
Lead up to my summer trip:
The planning of this trip has been in progress for about six months, as I found there was so much to learn about and plan, and yet I feel totally unprepared. When I got back from spring break, I had to send my passport away three times for visas, and got another visa online. Uzbekistan presented a problem, because the cost for Americans to get a visa is quite high, and should not require a letter of invitation (LOI). And yet several of the nearby embassies/consulates in Germany and the surrounding area did require one. This would add almost another $100 to a visa that already cost about $200 in the end, all told. At the last minute, I realized that two colleagues were on their way to London that day, and London was a place that did not require the LOI of Americans. I had been planning to send it there, but could not work out how to have a self-addressed stamped envelope with UK postage on it. I could even buy the postage online, but could not have the package tracked without someone going to the post office to register it. In the end, my colleague took it with her to London, mailed it and got the return postage AND paid the fee for the visa through the post. Amazing. It was so generous. It took about 10 days to get it back. The same exact 10 days it took for the e-visa to come through for Azerbaijan.
Next up was Tajikistan. I sent the passport to them a day after I received it back from London, on a Wednesday, and already had it back in my hands on Friday! That is quick service. Turkmenistan took a different turn. I sent them my passport and they had it for 5 weeks. I applied for a five day tranist visa. A tourist visa has to be organized through a travel agency and as a tourist, you require a tour guide the entire time. And it is very expensive. I had spoken to the woman in the embassy and she said a flight into the capital would probably be the best, as the cargo ferry from Baku was irregular and the visas are time limited on both sides. I agreed , bought the flight and sent it my application. I called a couple of times in the five weeks, and towards the end, I even had my boss call in Russian to explain the urgency. It was Tuesday, I flew out on Sunday, and needed the passport back by Friday at the latest. All very last minute. In the end, they called me at work on Thursday morning, my last day of work, and told me the visa was denied. I knew it could happen, and it has been happening to others, but I really didn't think it would. I thought being done in Geneva would make a difference. But no. After some ridiculous frustration and tears, on several occasions that morning, and the completion of the school year, I went home and started making all kinds of phone calls. In the end, I needed to cancel my flight to Turkmenistan as well as the flight home from Almaty in August, because I purchased them together. Luckily, I was eventually able to get a refund after calling the embassy and asking them to send me an email stating that my visa was refused so I could pass it on to the airline. I did get my passport back on Friday, and spent most of the day trying to find new flights. Getting home was fine, but traveling from Baku to Uzbekistan was difficult. I eventually settled on a flight with three different connections, spanning 12+ hours, two of those flights within and between cities in Kazakhstan, the last country on my list. So out of the way. I was feeling sick most of the time from the stress of having to do so much last minute. I also had a stomach bug and spent an hour waiting to see a doctor the evening before my flight only to have him tell me there was nothing he could do. I knew that was true, but thought I should go just in case. Bummer. I also had some packing issues and had to go to school twice for something. It really was a series of unfortunate events. The almost comical part is that I spent so much time reading about this and planning and still felt like I was starting from scratch. Not a good way to begin a trip. I thought that by stage in my travel career, things would be smoother and I would be better at packing and organizing, but it never gets easier somehow.I went to sleep late on Saturday, still stressed about the whole thing and not wanting to leave at all. Poor Jeroen, having to deal with this.
Anyway, hoping for the best and leaving tomorrow for 6 weeks. My whole summer vacation from school, and I don't anticipate relaxing at any point. Poor school kids next year.
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