Tag Archives: visas

Visa Woes Part XIX

I actually entered Azerbaijan twice – the first time courtesy of an entirely disinterested border guard on passport control.

Wearing that exasperated expression common to all people who find themselves suffering from serious computer issues, the (female) guard smashed two hammy fists on her keyboard and thumbed through my passport repeated.

“Where is your visa?”, she enquired, wearily. I pointed at the large sign above the desk which read ‘NO VISA’, and mentioned that I wanted to get one at the airport.

She rolled her eyes, muttered something inaudible (and likely unprintable), stamped my passport, and ushered me through. I was in. I had managed to save myself USD100, courtesy of an unconcerned border guard. I skipped to the luggage carousel, and began to think of the delights on which I could spend this unexpected windfall.

My recent experiences of Uzbekistan nagged away in the back of my mind. All the police roadblocks, the passport checks ad nauseam in the Tashkent metro, each minor official and hotel-owner examining my visa with unparalleled precision: I had no idea whether I’d find another paranoid police state in Azerbaijan – given the hefty price tag for the visa, it suggested as much.

My Swiss travelling companions had been dispatched tail between legs to the ‘Visa’ desk in the corner, which was closed. I looked inquisitively in their direction; my lost expression soon alerted another guard. Moments later, I was surrounded by half a dozen men and women in green uniform, demanding to know why I didn’t have a visa.

“You have entered the country illegally”, explained a hysterical woman with fierce green eyes and chestnut hair. “Where is your visa?”
“They let me through!”, I explained, the word ‘illegally’ still ringing in my ears, and visions of being chained to a radiator pipe in darkness multiplying in my mind.
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Just one time…

…it would be just great if things could be easy. Just once.

No sooner had I decided on the now-fabled Option Five, then I encounter yet another obstacle.

Sure, you can fly from Tashkent to Baku… just not this week. All seats booked on the four weekly flights. And only three business class seats available for the week after that.

So, if I do decide to ‘pimp up’ my escape route in the front of the plane by taking the next available ridiculously-priced seat, I will already have outstayed my Uzbek visa. Flying seems to be tricky.

If I were to cross any border overland, I’d need another visa, which means at least another three days in Tashkent for each one. Heading North, I’d need a Kazakh visa – then I’m stranded since I can’t come back into Uzbekistan without getting another visa… all the way miles and miles into the steppe in Astana. Heading South, I’d need an Afghan and Pakistani visa, plus all the hassles that would involve. I can’t even head East any more since my Kyrgyz visa is no longer valid.

So, quite how I’m going to get out of here, I don’t know.

Admin and goodbyes

I’ve now made it back to sunny Bishkek after three days up in the Tian Shan staying in yet more large, circular felt houses. It has been fairly exhausting – plenty of trekking, taming wild equine beasts and swimming/paddling in freezing lakes.

I can’t say enough good things about this country. Kyrgyzstan is absolutely stunning. From huge, wide-open grasslands to sheer, icy drops, it is raw nature all in one place. Haute cuisine there is not, but you do start to develop an appreciation for boiled mutton.

The clock is ticking and my time in Kyrgyzstan is drawing to a close. Tomorrow I will largely be couped up in a shared taxi for 14 hours en route to the second city, Osh, which is rumoured to be older than Rome itself. That’s more trivia for you, folks.

After that, it’s time to keep my fingers crossed that the border in the Fergana Valley is open (there were some fundamentalist shenanigans going on a while back, but I hear that’s all over now… so no need to fret, mother).

In terms of admin, it’s still a waiting game for how the rest of my rhoute will pan out. The Iranians have still not made any kind of decision about whether they’d like me to drop by in July (perhaps not such a bad thing given current events), and Turkmenistan has only just started processing applications for letters of invitation (they wouldn’t touch anything until they knew what was going on with swine flu – not all that helpful for those already on the road).

If all goes well I should be able to pick up my visa for Azerbaijan in Tashkent next week, and then, suddenly, getting to Georgia we’re almost into the Schengen Zone so I can throw away my passport. Maybe.

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