Given that the Uzbek border is only about 30 km from Osh, we thought that it made no sense arriving there too early and having to wait for the border to open (hoping that it would be open on a Sunday, contraty to border opening time in China…). So, we left Osh around 9am and made our way to the border, or so we thought. We actually rode in the wrong direction for about 20km, and had to turn around. The border was indicated no where… and it is only asking the locals, again and again, that we finally arrived there around 10am. Leaving Kyrgysztan was easy, the border officer even spoke German and they stamped our passports without problems. So we reached the Uzbek border, were a first officed checked our passports and let us in. There, another officer checked our passports, and let us drive another 100m forward, were other officers expected us: the Customs Officer. First they were 2, then 4, then 10, then 15, then the number started to dimish again. The crowd obviously enjoyed our company and the officer in charge of filling in the custom forms took his job very seriously, trying to understand our bikes registration papers (which are in CHINESE!). So, it took us 2 hours until everything was “harasho” and we were able to enter Uzbekistan. In the meantime, the officers asked us all possible questions, looked at our maps, checked Mark’s side boxes, touched everything on our bikes, wanted to understand whether we were Chinese or Swiss (apparently being Swiss and living in China made little sense to them!), were impressed by the various talisman I hang around my bike and luggage (especially the one from Krystyna, ie the “protectiv eye”), etc. Now that it’s over, we can say that it was fun. Mark actually even took a picture with two young zealous border officials, but he was then asked to delete it, “now”…
11:15am, we leave the border. We decide to go on for a while before stopping for lunch. We run into a couple of check points, at which we show our passports and are kindly welcome and invited to continue our way. We then see a truck barring the road and think, oh, another check point. No, actually, this wasn’t a checkpoint, it was a road blockage. The policeman, who spoke basic English, explained to us that President Karimov was going to Kyrgysztan today and that the road was blocked. We may have to sleep here and wait for tomorrow. Not too enthusiastic about these news, we stay there and chat with the policemen and the kids playing around there. It then came out that the president was very near to where we were and that, with a little bit of luck, we could go through in 10-20 min. So, we decide to wait. 20 min pass, 30 min pass, 45 min pass. Nothing. Then, one of the younger man hanging around there and who also spoke basic English, invites us for some “Palau” (Pilaw rice…) at his home, next door. Given that the president seemed to take his time, we were quite glad to be able to hide from the sun and the heat. The young man, called Malvonbek, took us to his house, a very big house (the family obviously seemed to be quite whealthy, and Malvonbek goes to private bording school), where his mother prepared Palau rice for us. They served us tea, butter, bread, and treated us really kindly. We stayed there almost 2 hours (it took some time to prepare the rice) and chatted, as far as we could, with Malvonbeck and the Basic-English speaking Police Captain. They were extremely kind and interested in who we were what we were doing, etc. We even managed to talk a little about Climate Change, and the police Captain told us that Global Warming was also affecting Uzbekistan to some extent. It was the first time, that we met someone on the way, who was actually familiar with the concept of Global Warming! (Remind me of telling you next time how we actually managed to describe the concept of Global Warming / Climate Change with our 3 words of Russian, and there 20 words of English…)
Around 2:30pm, the president had passed, and so we were able to continue our way to Fergana. Although there were only 50km left, it took us about two hours, because of the repeated check points on the way, at which you have to stop and register… But, we made it, and Fergana appears to be an adorable city, resembling some of the southern villages in Croatia. It is tidy, nicely built, green, people hang out on the streets, etc. Summer and holiday is in the air.
In short, Uzbekistan has nicely welcome us today, in a different way though than Kyrgysztan had. From our discussions with local people today (mostly border officials and policeman, and people we asked for directions ), Uzbeks people seemed to me very different to Kyrgyz people. While the latter seemed to have something “wild” (probably linked to their nomadic culture), Uzbeks seemed much more “sociable” (not to say “civilzed”). First of all, we did not have to pay any bakshees at the border, the border officials took their job (too) seriously, the policemen we bumped into were always friendly and did not ask for money at any time, the locals were so far very welcoming: Not only were we invited for lunch, but arriving in Fergana we asked a man at the gaz station for directions, and he then decided to lead us there with his car!
Tomorrow, we will make our way to Tashkent. Let’s hope there are not too many checkpoints on the road and/or the policemen keep smiling… Ciao!