Dushanbe – Samarkand (Uzbekistan)
13th August 2014 40’C 490km
Dushanbe – Samarkand (Uzbekistan)
It was looking to be a hot day as I headed for the border to Uzbekistan. I reached the last small town in Tajikistan and filled up with fuel, although the station attendant was so inattentive he poured 2L of petrol over the hot bike, including the exhaust. Thankfully nothing lit up. I also filled the spare fuel bladder with 7L of extra petrol, as I’d been told it is difficult to find petrol in Uzbekistan. With the fuel bag strapped down on the back of the bike I rode down the the friendly Tajik border post, where I spent a few minutes joking with the customs and immigration officials, before being stamped out of Tajikistan. 10 minutes at the border. A nice easy exit.
On the Uzbek side, things were a little different. I was directed to park near customs, where 4 guys looked over my passport. They were very interested in the pictures & design on each page of the Australian passport, asking about the animals, artwork, etc. Until they reached the page that depicted two Australian women, in swimming costumes, at the beach. This page caused much excitement amongst the guards. They stroked the page and commented on the shape of the bodies. At least 5 minutes were spent passing the passport around, staring at this tiny image; an image I’d never even noticed before. I thought this to be all a bit sad, but also wondered if the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs had ever considered the type of images in use in our passport, and how they might be perceived in other countries.
Eventually my passport was handed back and I went inside to immigration. The guards at immigration were friendly and swift, they also all took interest in the artwork, but paid somewhat less attention to the beach page, perhaps because there were women also present. With immigration formalities completed, I returned to customs, where the real fun began.
First I completed a declaration, two copies, detailing my possessions & cash on hand. Then the bike import documentation was completed. This all took about 20 minutes, with numerous pauses due to the various customs guys all asking different questions at the same time, it was just an attempt to rattle me, ineffective. Very much like a job interview. One of the guys got upset that I had flags for all other countries on the pannier, and insisted that I stop filling in forms and find the Uzbek flag sticker so that he could stick that on.
Then the exasperation started. They said they needed to check everything, pull everything out of the bike.
Guard: “Do you have anything hidden in your boots?”
Luke: “No, I’ll take them off and you can check them. It’s very hot & sweaty and they smell, but go ahead”
Guard: “No! We don’t want that. Do you have any porn?”
Luke: “No, I don’t have any porn”
Guard: “Pornography! Do you understand me! Do you have any pornography?”
Luke: “No, I told you I don’t have any pornography”
Guard: “If we find it, you will be in serious trouble”
Luke: “That’s ok, I don’t have any porn, you wont’ find any, and there will not be any trouble”
Guard: “We are going to find it. How long are you travelling?”
Luke: “Six months”
Guard: “How do you survive with no sex for six months?”
Luke: “Is this relevant?”
Guard: “We are real men, we cannot survive without sex. If we want a woman, we go get one”
Luke: “I understand”
Guard: “Do you have a medical kit? Remove it”
I pull out my first aid kit and medicines, and put it on the table. Where he proceeded to remove every single item, questioning me on what each drug was used to treat. He was especially concerned with the oral rehydration salts, but let me keep them. He then checked each and every band-aid, bandage, everything, one by one. Asking repeatedly if I had any psychotropic drugs. I’d packed this kit so carefully when I left Singapore, everything in it’s place and of course now it was a struggle to get everything repacked properly.
Guard: “Do you have a laptop? Remove it”
Luke: “It is packed under my clothes, you really need to see it?”
Guard: “Remove it. We are going to find porn movies on it”
Luke: “You won’t find any porn on it, because I don’t have any”
Guard: “We will see. We are an Islamic country, porn is not allowed”
Luke: “You guys speak so much about sex earlier, I’m surprised you are so uptight about porn”
I booted up the laptop and they wanted to see my photos.
Guard: “Show us your porn movies”
Luke: “I told you already, I don’t have any porn and I don’t have any movies. You can check if you like”
Guard: “Show us your porn photos”
Luke: “I don’t have any. You can look through photos of landscapes if you like”
Guard: “Show us your photos”
Luke: “Which one would you like? There are thousands”
Guard: “Show us photos of Tajikistan”
He proceeded to look through photos of Tajikistan, especially borders. Finds a photo I had taken of an empty bullet on the ground, takes special interest in this. Uh oh.
Guard: “What is this?”
Luke: “I believe it is a bullet”
Guard: “Why do you have this? Do you have a gun with you?”
Luke: “Because its illegal and I don’t know how to use one. You are in the military, you know how to use one”
Guard: “It is serious. If we find one, you’ll be in very big trouble”
Luke: “I don’t have one. Keep looking”
Guard, changing direction again: “Show us your camera”
They looked through my camera, asked how many photos on the camera, I told them “2500, you guys are going to be here a long time”
As they looked through photos of the Pamir Mountains in Tajikstan, he said “You took these photos?”
Guard: “They are beautiful, are you sure you took them?”
Luke: “Tajikistan is beautiful, it’s easy to take photos”
Guard: “Only the mountains are beautiful. The people…”
Luke: “The people in Tajikistan are very kind and nice, and crossing the border is very easy and simple. They are very welcoming of foreigners to their country”
With that, he walked off saying “You can go!”
I’d been stuffing about with these guys for 2hrs now, and was pleased to finally hear these words. I repacked everything on the bike and rode out into the roasting sun and Uzbek roads.
It was now 40’C and the fuel bag, strapped to the back of the bike in the hot sun, was swelling. Making a mobile 7L petrol bomb in a plastic bag. This was not really an ideal scenario, and I stopped regularly to release the pressure vapours. As it turned out, it was a good idea to carry the extra fuel, as there was not a single petrol station open. Anywhere. This was despite the border police telling me you can buy petrol anywhere in Uzbekistan. Every petrol station was sold out and closed. The only ones open were selling propane.
On every occasion that I stopped, a small crowd would gather, friendly Uzbeks making me very welcome, in stark contrast to the lads at the border. I was given watermelons, although with no way to strap them down, I could not carry them. There were alot of police checkpoints, I stopped at least 6 times, but the Police were just curious, asking questions and welcoming me to Uzbekistan. Their curiosity sated, they slapped me on the back and waved me on.
I was powering along through the hot desert, when I looked down and noticed my left boot covered in oil, along with the whole left side of the engine and pannier. I stopped to find the source and discovered that the left fork seal had given up, dumping fork oil over everything, including the brakes and rotor. Probably the combination of bumpy roads, extreme heat and age. I continued on cautiously to Samarkand, where I decided I would investigate the problem further and decide what to do. I’m under tremendous time pressure to make it to Iran by the 20th August, and I really don’t need a day working on the bike at the moment. That is if I can even find fork oil in a country with very few motorbikes.
I reached the Ideal Hotel in Samarkand just as night fell, parked up the bike and went to eat at the local shaslik house before showering and retiring after a long, hot, exasperating day.
Tomorrow is a new day and I’ll find solutions to the lack of fuel, time & broken suspension after some well deserved rest.