Nirvana for bureaucrats. (October 2014)


After exiting Kyrgyzstan and walking the 500m through no-man’s-land we had an interesting hour getting through the Uzbekistan border point.

First we had a doctor (I know he was a doctor because of his white coat) check our temperatures, this was due to the ebola outbreak in Central Africa. Then there was passport control, where we had to fill out a long and complicated form twice, as there were no photocopiers, or even carbon paper.

Then it was the customs officers time to go through every piece of our luggage, especially Thea’s.

They looked at every package of medication, then checked it on the internet. They took both our phones and laboriously went through photos and emails, looking for videos.

They also went through Thea’s camera and computer but for some reason didn’t bother about my, ever increasing number of cameras.

They were very pleasant about it all and we were spared the body search, that most of the other travellers were subjected to.

Once we arrived in Fergana the next hurdle was getting some local currency. There are no ATMs here so you have to find a bank and then use our card to withdraw cash.

We wanted 400,000 Som (about AU$200). They didn’t understand and gave us US$400. We then had to try and get that converted to local currency.

This took another half hour.

We only converted US$200, but as the exchange rate at the time was 2,372 Som for one US Dollar we had a ‘sack full’ of money. The largest denomination is a 1,000 Som note and we had withdrawn 474,290 Som.  We spent the rest of our time in Uzbekistan trying to find places to store the vast quantities of currnecy we were accumulating.

The joys of travel.

Once we were through with the red tape we had a long afternoon walk around Fergana.

The streets are wide, the buildings are mostly new and it’s remarkably quiet.

Everything is there for the people, except that there are so few of them. There was even a bizarre children’s playground, with strange cartoon character sculptures, but no kids to enjoy it.

Fergana is a very new city and the government is encouraging people to move there. So much so that they are building many new houses and apartments. The houses come complete with furniture and are sold for 15% of their market value, the buyer then has fifteen years to pay the rest.

MAN and Isuzu Trucks are made under license in Uzbekistan, as are Chrysler and Daewoo cars. Uzbeks only drive locally produced vehicles in an effort boost the local economy.

This proved to be the origin of all the Daewoos that were everywhere in Osh, Kyrgyzstan.

Our time in Fergana seemed brief, this was for two reasons.

Firstly our guide short changed us with a two hour jaunt around the city, instead of the full day tour we were expecting.

The second reason is that we became preoccupied with proof reading Hayden’s PhD thesis. This wasn’t a hassle as the hotel had a pleasant garden, next to the pool, where we found a spot in the sun.

Our truncated tour around Fergana included yet another tour of a silk factory. This one was at Margilon, situated just 18km from Fergana. It has been a traditional centre of silk weaving for over 2,000 years.

The silk workshops were housed in a number of old, rundown buildings. The weavers and spinners work away frantically, as soon as the tourist walk through the door.

The attraction of these workshops, apart from the craft involved, was the wonderful natural light that came streaming through the large dirty windows.

We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, which in itself wasn’t that exciting.

However what occurred over dinner was rather interesting.

It’s was low season in Fergana and the hotels were rather scarcely populated.

One particular table in the restaurant was set and then re-set several times. A variety of fruits, salads and strong alcohol was on display.

The hotel staff were obviously under pressure, as they spent more time on this empty table than they did on the occupied ones.

I assumed that there was a group of local heavyweights coming for a clandestine meeting.

My imagination was running away with me.

When this mysterious group finally arrived it turned out to be a mother, her son, their father and a group of some dubious friends.

I can only assume that they were important, as they came through the back door.

We will never know.

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