No rest for the wicked…or the sick and exhausted. Sleep didn’t come easily and it was too soon after blacking out that I rose in time for a communal breakfast of bread, jam and fruit. Then it down to business. I collected the things I had prepared last night (passport documents etc) and rode into the city in search of a printing business near the Uzbekistan embassy. I printed six pages for a grand sum of 2s. It was about 8.55am when I approached the Uzbekistan embassy and the area outside the office door was already crowded by a mass of people. What followed was the most horrible visa-getting experience I have ever had. I had heard you just have to push your way to the front of the line to be served, so this is what I proceeded to do. For the next 45 minutes I was crammed in the midst of the crowd, squeezed in on all sized by similarly sweaty bodies as the hot sun beat down on us. Occasionally I would inch closer to the front, only to be shoved back again. All the while the crowd was getting more impatient and the officers at the door more violent as they tried to keep everyone bay.
I was very nearly about to give up when Dorothea, a German cyclist I met in Sary Tash turned up and joined the throng. I was surprised, then a little angry, when she, being small, female and foreign, spent just five minutes pushing to the front before being let inside. I then began to wonder whether she would try and get me in too. To my delight her head appeared above the crowd at the entrance to the office. ‘Give me your passport and papers’, she shouted. I managed to hand these over to her and she disappeared back inside. A few minutes later she appeared again. ‘Do you have passport photos?’ This time I handed her my whole backpack and told her they were in my passport wallet. After another few minutes, she appeared again and managed to pass me a completed application form to sign. I was amused to find that the attached passport photo was not of me, but of a Pakistani guy who gave me a copy of his photo to remember him by. In the moment we had, I told Dorothea this as I passed her back the signed form. She passed me back my backpack of things and again disappeared inside the office. All the while I continued to be rammed and crammed as I tried to hold a position in the crowd. Dorothea emerged a few minutes later. We retreated out of the throng and into some space where we could breathe. Once we had shared our thoughts about how awful the system is, Dorothea explained that we were now waiting for our names to be called, at which time we could go in to pay and collect our passports containing fresh visas. How long we would be waiting was anyone’s guess.
After about fifteen minutes I decided to take just one minute to move my bike closer so it was within eyesight. Of course it was in this minute that our names were called. When I returned to the crowd, Dorothea was gone. Bless her though. A few minutes later her head appeared again. ‘Money?’, she shouted. I pushed into the crowd and managed to hand over my money wallet. Soon enough she appeared for a final time, shouting out that I had to go in and pay myself. I forced my way to the front, got shoved back by the guard and then managed to convince him that I had to go inside to pay. I entered what was in contrast to outside a little slice of heaven. It was cool and I could stand without having bellies pressed against me on all sides and elbows bashing my face. I paid my US$75 and then it was over. Dorothea and I escaped back onto the street and again took some time to calm down from the ordeal. I decided I might still have time to get my visa application into the Iranian embassy. I jumped on my bike and found my way there, where I was happy to find it empty of other customers. It was air-conditioned inside and there was even cold drinking water available. I submitted my paperwork without issue and was sent off to an Iranian bank to pay the fee. I knew I had to keep hurrying if I was make it back to the embassy with my payment slip before it closed at 12pm. In my haste, I didn’t think about the fact that I didn’t know where the bank was. I called my friend Torsten who explained roughly where I could find it.
Things went wrong from here. I ended up at the wrong bank, despite asking at the door if it was the Iranian bank where I could pay for my visa application. ‘Yes’, the doorman said. I then waited patiently for 15 minutes for the previous customer to complete his business before approaching the counter and finally learning it was the wrong bank. I eventually turned up at the right bank at 12.02pm, two minutes after it closed for lunch. I chatted with the bank workers as they emerged from the building for their break, then was left to come to terms with the fact I was too late. As I sat outside getting over my mild misery, I checked the opening times of the Iranian embassy and learned that it closes at 12.30pm and not 12pm. My misery resurfaced as I realised I could have begged the bank workers to complete one quick transaction and still have time to get back to the Iranian embassy. Oh well. I again sat for a few minutes getting my mind back on track. Still feeling exhausted from yesterday’s ride, and with little sleep last night, and with the torturous experience at the Uzbekistan Embassy, I was feeling quite ill. I decided I would wait until the bank reopens at 1.30pm and at least sort out the payment so I can return to the Iranian embassy in the morning, ready to submit everything. I found a fast-food restaurant a hundred metres down the road and rested there as I enjoyed a burger and chips.
The guys at the bank were friendly and the payment was processed efficiently. I dashed back to the Iranian embassy just in case they would let me in, but no, tomorrow it is. As I started making my way back to Vero’s, I bumped into Sebastien, a French cyclist also staying there. We walked home together (me wheeling my bike), stopping off at a café on the way where I filled my stomach for the third time of the day. At home I attempted to chill out, but my mind and body doesn’t quite seem ready to settle yet. I still feel a bit ill and out of sorts, mostly from pure exhaustion. At the same time I can’t completely relax yet as I want to get my visa business sorted before the weekend. After that I will be able to start relaxing properly.
Torsten and Lisi were working on a video as a gift for Vero. Vero is leaving Tajikistan soon, ending a bit of an era of hosting hundreds of cycle tourers. The video is a photo/video montage of previous guests expressing their thanks. I ended up taking the lead role as video editor. We worked on it on and off through the rest of day, taking us to dinnertime, which was tonight prepared by Mathilde. She made two amazing salads, which were topped off by an incredible dessert of ice cream, biscuit, sliced banana and chocolate sauce.
Home sweet home
|Distance ridden today
|Total distance ridden