This is a sad day.
Of course, this lil’ bit of feel good had to come to an end at some point – it’s not all apricots in the sun – and now the disastrous Central Asian visa situation turns out to have something of a sting in the tail.
I have been rejected – not once, but TWICE, my people. Not only do the Iranians not want me cruising into town this summer, but now the Turkmen have also decided they can do without my snarky comments about their national cuisine and everyday standards of dress. Iran off the menu, so too Turkmenistan. After over two months of waiting, the esteemed embassies have decided there’ll be none of my sort, thanks awfully – but not entirely helpful to wait until I’m practically next door.
This poses a problem – how on earth am I going to make it back to the European Rhubarb Trading Centres with my way West blocked by diplomatic nonsense?
A few options:
- Option 1: Re-apply for the Turkmonsters – involving a wait of another fortnight, and no guarantee of success
- Option 2: Head North – boats also leave from Aktau in Kazakhstan to Baku in Azerbaijan. However, they leave roughly every seven to ten days, and Aktau is hardly PARTY ZENTRAAL there on the edge of the steppes. It’s also damn expensivo. And I’ll need another Kazakhstan visa.
- Option 3:Head South – Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and boat bound for the Gulf from where to re-assess and sniff out what traces of rhubarb remain. Fraught with hassle, and, indeed, a fair amount of conflict.
- Option 4: – at least in China I can order a ferocious gongbao jiding and get a cold beer without butchering too many of the local languages. Not exactly commensurate with the ‘Heading West’ theme.
- Option 5: Get the Uzbek shenanigans out my system, then fly to Baku from Tashkent. I know, I know. It means getting on a plane, thereby disappointing all you rhubarb purists.
Bit of audience participation here, folks, so:
- If you want Option 1, text message GO RHUBARB 1 to 35469
- If you want Option 2, text message PARTY ON STEPPES Y’ALL to 35469
- If you want Option 3, text message HEEEEELL YEEEEAAH to 35469
- If you want Option 4, text message ZAI LAI YI FENRRR to 35469
- If you want Option 5, text message A PLANE, SERIOUSLY? to 35469
I’ll let you know the results by Friday, when I should be somewhere in the desert snapping photos of medressas and speaking dispicable things about Turkmonsters.
There is the strong smell of rejection in the air, people. Small packets of lurve and ‘high fives’ may be left in the comments whilst I mull over my options.
It’s been a busy couple of days. As I enter my last full week in Beijing it has occurred to me that I have approximately six years’ worth of detritus that needs to be packed/shipped/stored/chucked/flogged. That’s quite a pile of stuff. After the various purges of the wardrobe, there are hundreds of books, photos, knick-knacks, kitchen bits & pieces – all of which need attention.
To add a dash of pressure, I’ve decided to bring my start date forward… to tomorrow. Cue packing frenzy and stressful afternoon.
Not at all helped, of course, by news from my Iranian travel agent that it’s highly likely that I will be rejected for my Iranian visa. I must admit, i was starting to wonder how long it might take, given that I applied around 3 weeks ago.
Well, after a flying start in the way of preparations, things seem to have hit a sticky patch. I am now subject to the various whims of Central Asian and Middle Eastern consulate bureaucracy, which I had tried my hardest to avoid.
I did my homework, dammit, I worked out where all the embassies were located, when they were open, how much things cost, how long they’d take to do. I came armed with officious-looking headed letters with red chops and everything, several hundred passport photos in various poses (smiling, non-smiling, blue back ground, white background, straight-on, off-to-one-side eyebrow-slightly raised etc.) and wads of red 100 RMB notes.
I smiled. I oozed charm. I befriended the dudes on crowd control. I even made friends with others in the (interminable) queues.
But now, it appears, the Uzbeks have run off with my passport and the Iranians are still in two minds whether to let me in altogether. Could it be that they are not fans of the rhubarb, my friends??
The Sanlitun embassy district in Beijing is really quite an attractive place. Generally I only wander around these streets on the way to another night of ridiculousness on Sanlitun bar street, long after the sun has gone down, and only bump into the odd crocodile of soldiers guarding the embassies, or the lone Uighur selling slices of that strange nutty cake-like thing on the back of an ancient three-wheeler. It tastes fairly average but it’s always fun to have a natter with the guy and give my pitiful Uighur language skills an airing.
Anyhow, the embassies of many countries are located in this leafy world of diplomatic-ness, including Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, both on The Rhoute. Most keep fairly strict (and somewhat erratic) hours of business – but it is quite amusing how you can tell immediately whether a place is open for processing or not.
The first time I went to check on the Kyrgyz situation, I was pretty sure I’d got the address wrong – nobody was around, aside from the grumpy old woman upstairs. The next day, however, it’s a real bunfight with thousands of chaps vying position outside the frosted glass door. Madness.
I still have a couple of weeks before I kick off proceedings with a train ride out West to Sha’anxi province. Despite it being on most tourists’ shopping lists for their fortnight sprint around China, I’ve still not made it to the ancient capital Xi’an in the six years I’ve been in China.
I know, it’s mildly shameful. Whilst I have managed to see some of the more amazing corners of China during that time, Xi’an and its funny clay figures have never managed to push their way to the top of my China Travel Wishlist.
Anyhow, since it is generally regarded as the start of the great trade routes to the West, I suppose to ought to swing by meet a few of the Silk Road types, even though we won’t officially be picking up our fleshy-stalked friends until we get to the Hexi Corridor in Gansu.
On a roll, boys and girls. Not only did I secure my Kyrgyz visa last night after waiting 90 minutes at the ridiculous embassy #1 (before a farewell Sichuan spicy frog meal with the lovely Lily and husband Xiao Cui) but I tipped up at the Kazakhstan consulate today to get things moving.
Obviously, I called before. It was a Thursday. Their website claims they are open Mon, Wed, Thurs and Fri. it also claims they are open Mon, Wed and Fri, and NOT Thursday. Intrigued, I pick up the batphone.
(Dragostea Din Tei runs through my head)
“Ni hao…” I continue in Chinese, explaining my predicament.
There is an uncomfortable silence on the line. She doesn’t speak Chinese. I sure as hell don’t speak Russian. Or Kazakh, since you asked.
“Liu..wu…san..er..liu..yao..qi..qi“. I am given another number to dial. I get the distinct impression I have mined the entirety of the poor girl’s Chinese ability.
Anyone who knows anything about Central Asia (which, admittedly, isn’t many) will know that the visas are hands down a complete and utter pain in the backside.
Clearly it was a prime feature of Communism back in the day to inconvenience any potential traveler to the region and keep out as many undesirables (and desirables as well, probably, just because they could) as feasibly possible. Indeed, China generally makes it impossible for people to come in at all (cf all the empty hotel rooms during the Olympics), and as I understand it, Russia asks for ridiculous information such as which hotels you’re going to stay at EVERY NIGHT, before they will even consider charging you an arm and a leg for their visa.
So, it was little surprise that the gloss of preparing to go to this part of the world quickly wore off when I began my visa trawl. I picked the most vowel-challenged country of the bunch – Kyrgyzstan, to begin with (incidentally, I am extremely proud my ability to spell the country without having to consult the oracle known as Wikipedia. I can also spell Kazakhstan, having finally learnt where that ‘h’ goes).
I’m not planning to go until early June, so getting things ready in early April should be no worries. I’m just not interested in picking up visas as I go along – I have better things to do in Tashkent than sit in a back rooms for hours at a time, being asked questions I don’t understand and encouraged to part with my dwindling dollars (however, quite what the plethora of activities that awaits me in Tashkent is, however, I’m not too certain). The organisational guru in me (which has, recently, remained somewhat dormant) kicked into overdrive.
So, I pick up the phone to check what the deal is.