Nice sunset view as we pass over London, England, on our way to Albania.
Where are Kevin and Ruth now? Shkodra, Albania.

Where are Kevin and Ruth going next? Hiking the Peaks of the Balkans, June 13-24!

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Welcome to Uzbekistan, country #62 - crazy border crossing!

Most of the group departed Ashgabat in the wee hours of the morning at like 3:00am for their flight back to Istanbul. From there, they were headed to a variety of destinations, with some simply going back home to work, while others were continuing travel.

Ruth and I were the only ones planning on crossing the Turkmenistan land border, and we made arrangements with Johnny's tour operator here, Ahmet, to get us to the border.

We had originally wanted to take the train to Mary, stay there a night, and then carry on to the Uzbekistan border at Farap, however the train was sold out. Also, our Turkmenistan visas stipulated which border crossings we could use, and Farap was not among them. Ahmet said it would be difficult to change that, so he got us flight tickets to Dashoguz at the northern border, where a driver would meet us and take us to the land border.

We were charged $100 USD ($138 CAD) each for the one hour flight to Dashoguz, and the land transport to the border of Uzbekistan. Very reasonable.

But the flight didn't leave until about 3:50pm, so we had some time to kill. There is a lot to explore in Ashgabat, so we continued on foot to see what there was to see.

Another beautiful day in Ashgabat.

More empty parks and fountains.

We walked through the market.

I was actually looking for a place to get a haircut. We eventually found a barber, but he was already busy cutting and there were two more waiting. We found a lot of female beauty shops and hairstylists, but not many barbers for men.

We then made our way to Ashgabat Park, or First Park as it is known to the locals because it was... the first park in Ashgabat and many of the trees are over 100 years old. As with everything else in Ashgabat, it is a bit odd, with life size statues of dinosaurs throughout the park. This is also where we found many people. A lot of mothers with young children, but there was also a small amusement park that had a lot of people despite it being a Monday.

There's a big fellow!

Rides for the kiddies.

The dinosaurs were very well done!


My, what a long neck you have!





They had a "drop zone" type of ride that was popular.

Waiting to drop.

There they go!
Don't forget, you can click on any photo to make it full size. Then click again to zoom in!

We stopped at a cafe for lunch.

Those drinks are non alcoholic mojitos. We also ordered food, but they warned us it would be a long wait because everything is made fresh. We figured we had time because we didn't have to be back at the hotel until 2:00pm to get our ride to the airport. But we waited quite a while and still had to walk back. 

Finally, the food arrived.

We both had the same thing. The bill, including drinks and tip was 220 manat ($12.25 USD, $17 CAD).

More scenery walking back to the hotel.

Our driver arrived right at 2:00pm and took us to the airport. Quickly into the departure area waiting for our 3:50pm Turkmenistan Airlines flight to board. Not many foreigners can say they have been on three different flights with Turkmenistan Airlines! I wonder if they have a frequent flyer program...lol!

Our flight boarded quickly, and we departed at 3:46pm!

The flight was uneventful and we landed in Dashoguz an hour later. We were sat right at the back of the plane, but our bags were in a compartment a couple of seats ahead of us and it took a while for the crowd to thin out so we could get them. Then once inside, it took a while for our carry on bags (which they insisted we check) to come out of the baggage carousel.

When we finally got out of the arrivals area it was almost 5:15pm. Our driver approached us right away, rushing us by saying "we must hurry, the border closes at 6:00pm!"

We hadn't even thought about the fact that the border might have operational hours. Nothing we could have done about it even had we known, other than to do a possible overnight stay in Dashoguz and do the border the next day. Which in hindsight, is probably what we should have done.

No matter, our driver Isean was quite happy to put the pedal to the floor and get us there as quickly as possible.

The only photo I took along the way.

Dashoguz is not a tourist town, and there is really nothing of interest to see there. And based on the route we took through the outskirts of town, that is essentially true from what we saw. I didn't take any more photos, but mostly because we were too busy talking to Isean as he was driving.

His English was very good. We asked him about Uzbekistan and the best way for us to get to Khiva once we get through the border. He said we would need some $USD or local cash. There would be taxis waiting on the other side and they would try and fight over who would get to take us to Khiva. He said to offer $10 USD, and not a penny more. But I only had $20's, so he said he would try to get us some Uzbekistan som (pronounced soom) at the border.

Then we got stopped by the police for speeding! Isean went out and talked to the guy, and was quickly back in the car. "I told him I was in a rush to get to the border with two foreigners, and gave him some cash". We have no idea how much he gave the cop, but we gave him the balance of our leftover manats since they weren't of any use to us outside of Turkmenistan. Hopefully it was enough to cover the bribe.

We know not to take photos at border crossings. While you might get away with it, we don't figure it's worth the risk. So while I would have loved to show you in photos of what went on, I will do my best to describe it for you!

It's in the middle of nowhere with a few dusty buildings outside a guarded gate. A few people hanging around, some with baggage. Isean approached a group of guys, and we followed him. After a short handshake and conversation, the guy produced a huge wad of bills. It is officially against the law, however it is regularly done at many land border crossings. I handed the guy a $20 USD bill, and he handed me back a load of 10,000 som notes. A $20 USD bill should have been worth about 240,000 som, and I think we only got 210,000 from this guy but that's the price you pay in some of these situations.

So, a 10,000 som note is worth about $0.85 USD (about $1 CAD)!

Isean shook our hands and wished us luck and pointed us towards the guard at the gate. 

He checked our passports (the first of about ten passport checks in the next half hour or so), and pointed us across to a building. Not many people around because they were starting to close things up. Inside the building, there were Turkmenistan military guys, and an x-ray machine that we had to pass our bags through. On the other side, they tried asking us some questions, and finally went and got a guy who could speak a little English. He wanted to know where we had been in Turkmenistan. They filled out some forms which we had to sign. No idea what they said. They were fairly firm with us, but when I brought out the phone with the photos of Yangykala Canyon, they really lightened up and we had a bunch of them around enjoying the photos. Only one of them seemed to know of the place, and the rest were oohing and awwing about the canyon in their own country that they had never heard of.

They shook our hands and pointed us to another desk where they yet again checked our passports and visas and stamped us out. We were told to wait on the other side of the building where a bus would pick us up to take us across the neutral zone.

It was all very barren, other than a lot of barbed wire fences and iron gates. And it all looks very intimidating, and I'm sure years ago we would have been afraid to do things like this alone. But now we just roll with it!

A rickety old bus finally pulled up and dropped off a few people heading in the opposite direction. We were the only ones who got on the bus. The guy asked if we had any left over manats, but we had given them to Isean. He didn't seem bothered by that, and drove us through a barren stretch of land about one km across the neutral zone to the gate to enter Uzbekistan. By this point it was just after 6:00pm and the guard had to get up and unlock things for us. 

He directed us into another building where we were stamped into Uzbekistan. It didn't take very long because Canadian passports are allowed 30 days without a visa. More guards checked our passports as we exited. Eventually, the last guard at the gate into Uzbekistan checked them one more time, and opened the gate for us. I gave him the thumbs up sign and asked "Uzbekistan?" He smiled and said "Welcome to Uzbekistan".

We walked about 50 meters where we saw some men hanging around, and a few vehicles. None of them spoke English. By this time, the sun had set and it was getting dark. I pulled out ten 10,000 som notes (about $8.50 USD, $11.50 CAD) and asked "Khiva?" and pointed in the direction of town.

They all gathered around, interested in the cash. Now, Khiva is about 60 kms (36 miles) and about an hour's drive. But we had read that taxis are pretty cheap in Uzbekistan.

I had 100,000 som out, and one guy got out his phone and typed in 450,000 som, which is ridiculous. Isean had told us that the locals would pay 100,000 for two people, and that all we had to do was to stand our ground and one of them would eventually bite.

But they weren't budging. So we started walking away with our bags on the isolated road towards a nearby town. We figured we would find someone in the village who would take us. 

But one older fellow ran up to us, and agreed to take the money. By this point, one other guy had hopped in his car and was following us too, insisting that he should take us. We stuck with the older fellow since he was the first to offer.

Really nice guy, and despite the language problem (he only spoke Russian) we got a good feeling from him. I showed him where we wanted to go, and handed him the money.

It was totally dark when we arrived in Khiva, and our guesthouse was not easy to find. But this guy was good and he stuck with us until he got us right to the door. In fact, we think we have arranged for him to take us to Bukhara on Friday. We'll see if that comes together.

We are the only guests here!

Our room.

Bathroom.

Not bad, for about 225,000 som ($18.50 USD, $26 CAD) per night with breakfast included. We're here for four nights, so will be able to spend some time relaxing after the hectic schedule we've had since we left Canada..

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And in Canada...

6 comments:

  1. Whew, glad you made it across the border; that sounds like a bit of a challenge!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It felt a bit intimidating but not really a big challenge.

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  2. I’m not sure I would have liked to negotiate that border crossing but I definitely liked the photo of the cake shop

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was definitely our strangest border crossing and it did feel a little intimidating but everyone was fairly pleasant to us, especially with the language barrier that we had to deal with.

      Those cakes looks so beautiful and I am sure they were delicious too!

      Delete
  3. I think I held my breath through this whole post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think we may have held our breath a time or two as we made our way through the border crossing, thankfully it all went well.

      Delete

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