Uzbek arrival

I arrived in the Uzbekistan airport early in the am, around 2:15. Luckily we had an up to date report from another girl (Yvonne) in the trip who arrived a day earlier. She provided a detailed explanation of the arrival process in Tashkent. Even with her help, however, the airport was a little overwhelming.

Once the plane touched down, we hopped on a bus on the tarmac and waited for it to fill before driving to the airport. My bladder was seconds away from exploding, so the arrival was much anticipated. Ah, the first view of Uzbek toilets! Two stalls with traditional toilets, albeit sans seats. The third was a squat toilet, or whatever the term is for toilets that consist of a hole in the ground.

After the restroom, it was time to get in line for all of the stuff. ALL of the stuff.

First, I found the tiny window marked “visas” that looked like it was closed since the man sitting inside the booth was bathed in darkness, save for the glow of his tiny computer. The man in front of me presented his papers and paid $100 USD for his visa. That was cheaper than what I heard Yvonne paid, and while I hoped that the price somehow fluctuated based on the visa dude’s mood or how kind you are or what color jacket you’re wearing, instead it’s based on days of your trip and what country in which you have citizenship. What I’m trying to say is I drew the short straw like Yvonne and paid $240usd in cold hard cash.

Then after being smooshed against the visa window for a one minute transaction, I was then told to go to the opposite side of the room for non-Uzbek citizens’ passport control. By now another flight or busload of about a hundred people were blocking my way. As I learned in the Istanbul airport while boarding this flight, there are no lines, just mobs of people. So here I am, located at about 8 o’clock in this mob and I need to get to one o’clock. Again, I have no idea what these people are in line for. Are they in the middle lane? Far right lane? I approach the mob and gesture that I need to get to the far side and like Moses and the red sea, the crowd parts to let me through. But not just through a cluster of people. Strangers are tapping strangers’ shoulders and talking in foreign languages and gesturing toward me, only to push me forward toward the front. I am satisfied with my new location in line, but more people in line ahead of me see me and step aside to let this unknown celebrity through. Allow me to mention that the only people in line were men, and I was the only female. With pink hair. I am eventually ushered to the fifth spot in line and get to the passport window. As I wait to be called up, I breathe in the fact that I am in a place where I know no one and that doesn’t speak a common tongue. And even with that, I feel completely calm and comfortable. The Uzbek hospitality of pushing me through to the front of this line really contributed to that.

There is a man behind the window booth, much like the ones they had in Spain. I silently hand him the passport with my brand new Uzbek sticker visa. He looks at the visa, then his computer. Visa, computer. Visa, computer. Visa, my face, visa, computer. He motions at my glasses, so I remove them. Visa, my face computer. “What country from?” “Turkey, Istanbul.” He nods. Visa, stamp, computer. A buzzer sounds, he returns my visa, and I’m allowed to pass through the gate.

Next I have a few options, because now I am in a room with several tall tables, partitioned into quarters, stocked with customs forms. There is also the conveyor belt of luggage in this room, and several lines of customs control. I grab my luggage first, then proceed to a table that has an English translation of the all-Cyrillic pages I hold. There are no instructions in this room, and no  signs, from what I can tell, that inform you of what to do. Again, the tour group provided instructions. I complete two of the customs forms identically. On this form, you list basic travel info and all of your electronics and foreign currency. It’s a little nerve-wracking that you have this little paper listing all your cash and electronic possessions that other people nearby are occasionally glancing at because they too don’t understand the form. Or they want to rob you. Who knows!

I take my forms and luggage and wait in a customs line. As I wait, I look around for Matt, a guy who is also traveling with our tour group whom I met in the visa line. I also look for Claudia and Ines, whom I met at the Istanbul airport and who were on Matt’s and my flight. No sight of anyone.

I go through customs. I cheerily greet the woman with a “good morning” in Russian. The woman looks at my passport and the customs forms. She circles everything that I filled out, then stamps it on both sides. She keeps one, then returns the second. Then I put my luggage in what I assume to be an x-ray machine. She asks if I have drugs. “No, but I have prescriptions.” I get ready to pull out my meds, in their original packaging, with printed and signed doctor prescriptions. Before I bother, she asks if they are for sleeping. “No, pain.” “ok, all done.” She doesn’t care to see them, or look at them, so off I go.

I step outside the airport and there is a cluster of people getting to their cars. No, wait, that is a wall of people behind a gate waiting for their loved ones. When I say a wall, I mean A WALL. As in, you cannot see past it. I approach and see there is a gap in the gate where people can pass. I am pestered by men pointing to badges around their necks “official taxi!” but I walk on. I get concerned that I may not see my tour group, and now may be stuck outside of the airport in the cold, waiting. But then I see a man in the back of the crowd, mid to late thirties, wearing a dark fur cap with a fur brim and holding a sign with our group’s name. Relief!

His name is Bek. He tells me I am the first one out. That surprises me, since I thought Ines and Claudia were out of the plane first. He takes my bag and ushers me to the bus, where he promises warmth. I get on the bus and the clock reads 3:30am. After about a half hour, I see Matt smiling from the outside of the bus. He told me he saw me push to the front of that passport line, but had no such luck, instead facing a stout Uzbek man who sternly nodded “no.” Thus he had to get in the back of the line. He timed it from when I was at the counter… it was another forty minutes before he got through. But being a Brit, he only paid $100 USD for the visa.

And so, at the time of this writing, it is 4:45am and only Matt and I are the only people on the bus. Still.

To be continued.

Update 5:15 am. Everyone is on the bus and off we head to the hotel.