Oh man this shit was just the beginning.
We said are you kidding me, no f-ing way, we are not getting into another stuffed mashrutka and paying the price we agreed on as if we were getting a private taxi. So we went back to the front of the station and started all over again negotiating with drivers in Russian the best we could. One driver promised he would just take us and not fill the car with others and we said great let’s do it. We left the station, drove for five minutes down the main road...AND THEN TURNED BACK TO GO TO THE STATION. What the HELL is going on, we asked? OH - he had to pick up another person. At the station. That we had left. You said it would just be us and ALSO WTF, we said. That’s it just this one more, the driver promised. JFC, fine, we said, come on let’s go. We again left the station, and then the driver stopped the car along the side of the main road where a crowd of people were standing. He wanted to pick up another person from this crowd! And not someone he knew about, he was just going to ask if anyone needed a ride. FFS. We yelled HELL NO! Just take us to the f-ing border right now! He reluctantly left and started driving the three of us to the border -- at the fastest speed I’ve EVER witnessed any car go, race cars in Talladega Nights included. I was petrified. This guy was such an asshole AND he was a dangerous driver?? Oh my god. We sped down the roads passing every car and weaving through lanes and cutting off EVERYONE else on the road and just holding on as tight as we could, terrified.
When we were sufficiently in the middle of nowhere, nowhere near anything we could see or walk to besides highway and desert, the driver pulled into a gas station along the side of the highway. He said he needed gas, and didn’t have money to pay for it, so we had to pay for it. Are you KIDDING ME? I started screaming at him in English, I knew he could understand my hatred and disgust at him even if he didn’t know every amazing curse word I used. We are not paying for your gas, you crook! But then he popped the trunk and started pulling our bags out, threatening to strand us along this highway in the middle of nowhere if we didn’t pay up. As much as I despise giving in to people like this, we really had no choice, so I gave him a little money. But no, that wasn’t enough. Apparently gas is very expensive in Uzbekistan or something because he kept asking for more. I really didn’t want to give any more and set a dangerous precedent in case he kept stopping along the way and demanding more money, but luckily that didn’t happen. Just this one instance of extortion so I guess we were lucky. He got back in the car -- I don’t even remember if he actually pumped any gas -- and flewww down the highway for another hour while I sent him death ray stares from the back seat. He drove mostly in between the two lanes, stopping anyone who dared even think about passing him. I continue to wish him very ill thoughts, naming him like Arya except I don’t know his name but the universe knows who I mean. Get ‘em.
Finally, finally, he dropped us near the border. We walked up to the gate, took a deep breath to get over the horrible experience we just miraculously survived, and then another deep breath to prepare for one we expected to be equally terrifying. See, the Uzbek border brings with it a lot of rules, and a lot of horror stories. We never heard anything as strict and scary as the stories about Uzbek border guards. They can delay travelers for hours, going through every single nook and cranny of their luggage, opening every container, going through pockets, everything. Worst of all, Uzbekistan has a VERY STRICT and VERY SERIOUS no-drug policy, and their list of banned substances includes things that we can get over the counter in many Western countries. So we had to be careful about every substance we were bringing in, and make sure we had prescriptions ready to show. But the banned substance list is serious, and it’s not something you can get around with a prescription. If you try to bring any of them in, you could go to jail. One of the substances on the banned list? Ativan. I know. Because we did our homework (do your homework!), we knew about this trouble before we left for the summer, so I only packed about as much Ativan as I thought I’d need up until this day, so I wouldn’t have to throw much out. I still had a few extra I had to toss back in Kazakhstan, but nothing worth crying over. It’s just so funny and perfect that the one thing that would have helped me deal with the shitshow that was this country was the one thing I had that they outlaw. COOL GUYS.
When we got through Kazakh exit, we were given the forms. We knew we had to declare every kind of currency we had on us and in what amounts, so we had counted up all our shiz on the train. This is more annoying than it sounds when you have traveled to 10 countries! We had dollars, we had euros, we had pounds, we had soooo much Chinese yuan that converted to like just a few dollars but takes up so much space, we had Mongolian money, we had roubles (a significant amount since we would return to Russia after Uzbekistan), we had Kyrgyz money, Kazakh money. Man alive this really makes one appreciate the euro zone. We wrote everything down and then had to declare our valuables, including our phones, readers, and the baby laptop. We had read about other white travelers who had to unpack everything and who were detained for hours so we were super nervous. But, luckily, the border guards on duty for us were SO excited to meet Western tourists that they were pretty much just friendly and trying to ask us all sorts of questions, not about what we were carrying but about us and the west and whatever. We SO lucked out. I mean there were no toilets anywhere to be found but still, quite lucky. I guess I could have brought my Ativan in after all but better to be safe than to end up in an Uzbek prison in the driest desert with no toilets, right.
Oh but then we had to find another taxi to take us to Tashkent. Guyssss. I never want to take a taxi again. But there are no buses! There’s no other way! You just find a guy with a car and you hope that they are trustworthy. Ish. We found an old man with an old car and mistakenly thought ‘hey maybe this old guy will be more legit and somewhat decent than the younger asshat men are.’ We showed him the name of our guest house in Tashkent and he said ‘oh yes I know that place!’ We were relieved. The guy drove us through the nothingness and into the city, where he immediately stopped, got out, and started chatting with two young women. What is going on NOW, we wondered. Then the two women got in the car with us. I know. What’s going on, we asked?? One of the women spoke a little bit of English and she explained that the driver didn’t know where the hostel was, so they were going to help them. Let’s go over this again. The man who told us he was familiar with the hostel not only lied about that and didn’t know it, but DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THE ROAD IT WAS ON. And here’s the kicker - neither did the two women. They were just helping by using their phone maps --WHICH WE HAD TOO. And they showed us that they didn’t know how to read their phone maps, because WE were the ones who ended up instructing the driver on where to turn and how to f-ing drive. It was ludicrous and so frustrating and like, are there ANY taxi drivers in central Asia who aren’t complete assholes?
Finally, after we screamed NO, LEFT - NO YOUR OTHER LEFT about 40 times, we found our guest house, yelled at the driver to get out of our sight for ever and never come back here again, and entered the house eager to shower and relax. Naturally, the room wasn’t ready yet.
We’ll talk about that guest house and about the rest of Tashkent in the next post. Until then, I need to go take an ativan.