Check out this forecast, and you’ll see what I mean about melting. Temperatures around 40°C for the next two weeks, no rain, no cloud, nothing. Just hot hot hot. Obviously if you’re reading this some time in the future, that forecast may well be for 3 feet of snow, but trust me right now it’s all heat.
I tried walking around the other morning at 10:00, but it was already too hot to do anything. Instead I headed for the coolness of the Metro, to find one of the many parks around Tashkent. There really is an incredible amount of greenery around this city, probably as much as I have seen in a city anywhere in the world. So I sat next to a fountain, reading a Dostoevsky book I picked up the other day. There are huge armies of women that maintain many of the parks, and I watched some of them at work. To deal with small weeds growing up between the paving stones, they dig them out by hand – but they have about 20 miles of paving stones to deal with. Very slow, but I guess it employs more people, and may be better for the environment than dumping a load of Roundup on the paths.
The reason I’m still here is that although I’ve finally gotten all my visas, I’m still waiting for my spare parts to arrive. With this heat, I wouldn’t be doing much riding anyway, but I would like to get up into the mountains. It ended up taking 5 days to get all my visas together, with varying degrees of ease. Chinese was straightforward – took in passport Monday morning, collected Wednesday morning for $60. Asked for 90 days, but only got 60 – so I think best to ask for longer than you want. Should be able to extend this later though. Kyrgyzstan visa was easy – all done within 30 mins, $55 for one month.
Kazakhstan was more of a hassle though – all the online resources I could find say that NZ passport holders no longer require an LOI. But when I got there they said I needed an invitation, and they were giving the same story to as Japanese couple. I’m sick of the LOI tax, so asked about transit. They’ve given me a 5 day transit visa, luckily valid for one month, not exact fixed dates ala Turkmenistan. No idea how I’m going to cover the distance I need to in 5 days, but I’ll work something out, may even be able to extend the visa a little. We’ll see. Originally I was told to return the next day to pick up my Kazakh visa, but on returning I waited an hour before being told “come back tomorrow.” OK, back again…good thing the Metro here is good…and I get my passport back, $20 for a 5 day transit visa.
And yes, from the above you can see that I am now going to go via Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, a detour from my original plan. I’ll put up another post about this in future, explaining why. Tajikistan can wait, maybe in future I’ll put together a loop involving the Karakorum and Pamir Highways.
Random thoughts on Uzbekistan:
- Could someone please explain the pencilled-on monobrow to me? Women the world over spend thousands carefully shaping their eyebrows, with the monobrow being seen as a cardinal sin – yet here if you can’t grow your own monobrow, you just pencil one on
- Police on the Metro – how do they decide who to stop? After many journeys on the Metro, unmolested, unlike most other tourists, I was stopped for the first time. The difference this time was that I was dressed in some new clothes brought locally – n.b. these are modern clothes that Russians would wear, not Uzbek clothing, and was with a Russian local. But I’m not sure they policeman could read. He looked at my passport, then I had to find the visa for him, then he asked if I’d been there since 2006, as he couldn’t seem to read the dates. Not quite following the Russian, I just said yes, he said “OK, no problem.” I retrieved my passport and went on my way. At least he didn’t ask for money, like the diplomatic police at the Kazakhstan embassy. Apparently the Kazakh police are much smarter, and when they want money, they demand it, and it’s difficult to get out of it. Here it’s easy to plead ignorance.
- Related to the above, it’s been interesting to see just how many people think I’m Russian, and local – people keep asking me for directions. I need to learn how to say “Do I look like a local to you?” in Russian. I could just tell them to F— Off, and then they’ll be sure that I’m Russian.
- Racism. Wow. You would think that with modern communications, international media, etc., locals would be used to seeing people with different coloured skin. But no, any black people walking around (and there are very, very few), will have to deal with people staring, pointing, and saying “nigger, nigger.” Locals (at least the Russian locals) really cannot deal with Africans or Asians. Quite interesting, different to the much more cosmopolitan cities of Western Europe, etc. Not that racism is non-existent there, but it tends to be beneath the surface.
I think I’ve found a local pub that will be showing the rugby today, and at a more convenient time than that for my New Zealand-based readers. It seems to be an expat bar, so I’m expecting high prices, well above what locals could afford, but it will be worth it if I can watch rugby, and flip over occasionally to the yachting – let’s hope things go better there than last time!