We had a really good day today, despite some really depressing news last night. As Kai wrote, yesterday we crossed into Uzbekistan, which was probably one of the least pleasant border crossings yet, but still the hardest bit is remaining patient. However last night I happened to check my emails, the first time in a while as internet was really hard to come by in Turmenistan, and Team America had emailed warning that the Uzbek border guards had been wondering where we were as we had "missed a step", and needed to go back to get our "yellow form". As we'd left I did wonder how come we still had both copies of our customs declaration forms.
So we made the decision this morning to go back. I was in more of a mind to risk it, but Kai has become risk-averse of late. Good thing too. It was also lucky that we hadn't gone all the way to Samarqant as I had suggested as there would have been no way we would have wanted to drive back the 700 odd km to the border. (To be honest Buxoro was nicer to visit than Samarqant anyway.)
So after a few last trips to the toilet in our water-less hostel, we left at about 8:30am and made good progress, getting back to the border at about 9:30am. In contrast to the day before the border was very quiet and we got back to the customs office easily. There the two male and female guards recognised us, pretended to be cross with us, told us that we must thank the friends who notified us as we would now be able to leave the country, and sent us on our way. The guards outside were a bit annoyed when I played with their attack dog, it was so cute, but still didn't have any water.
We then made quick time back to Buxoro for a very good lunch (I opted for beef shashlik again, as it was so good last night. Kai's plov was very good too, which I was surprised at) stopping only to see if we could get some fuel from one of the very few open petrol stations which all have very long queues outside. I walked down to check that they had 95 octane "benzene" and we were waved in, past all the locals (sorry locals).
We made it to Samarqand for about 6, stopping once so that Kai could take a dip in a very grey/brown fast flowing river, which we had a job getting him out of.
Hopefully tomorrow we will make it to and through the Tajik border, stay the night and start the Pamir Highway on Monday.
Before we started this trip I was a bit concerned as Kai was always talking about two months, while my work had given me 6-7 weeks. Once we started however it was me who was suggesting we spend a bit more time in, for instance, Iran, and Kai was then getting nervous about being left behind by the rest of the ralliers. When we left Iran I was quite happy with our progress as we'd done about 6500 miles in three and a bit weeks and only had about 2000 left to go. However, one day into Turkmenistan, driving to Mary, and I realised how a bad road can turn your 800km days into 200km days and so many small countries means the border crossings start to eat up time and I began to get nervous. Since Mary the roads have been much better, hopefully they won't get too bad, else I might have to leave Kai to finish the rally on his own
I'm drunk and emotional as I write this.
For those who only have a few weeks left of their life, then I recommend the Mongol Rally. It's full of life experiences.
I'm getting a bit emotional, especially as we met the Italian team Highway to Kahn over beers in Samarqand [rhymes with TravelPussy]. Jamie and I took quite an intrepid route like many other ralliers, to the south through Iran. Getting through Iran and Turkmenistan especially is not easy let me tell you.
Furthermore we have the Pamir Highway to do, which some other teams aren't doing. So this adds a week to our itinerary. Especially since we have now discovered there is no direct crossing between Samarkand and Dushanbe.
There are many very hard days of planning, driving and finding accommodation ahead of us. Even if things go well, we predict we will be in Mongolia around the ~12th of September. More than a week after the last Finish line party.
I really hope we don't have a massive anti-climax once we reach Ulanbataar. We are really working very very hard on finishing and we hope we get some recognition from at least our friends and family.
After Mary we though we could cross the border at Turkmenabat that day, though we decided to have a look at Merv. There was an old hill that was once a settlement in 100AD or something, though the area was quite nice. Just lacking some good information about it, since we were without Internet or a guide.
On the way to Turkmenabat Jamie and I hit a low point. Jamie got the car stuck on sand and the people helped us out of us then demanded money for their generosity. Not cool.
By the time we approached Turkmenabat at 5-6pm, it was far too late to cross the border. We then spent another hour or two trying to find a hotel. We eventually found the LP recommend one, but they said we must go to the new Jehun hotel. This is typical Turkmenistan weirdness. Foreigners are denied a stay in any hotel. Also it's quite hard to get A-95 fuel, unless you're a VIP or something.
At the hotel we found Team America who had been hanging around for hours they claim which we found surprising and a little depressing since we honestly tried to push that day. Nonetheless we enjoyed Lex & Jeff's company, whilst geeking out with a few beers.
The next day (today), we aimed for the border. Team America had to fill up, so we had a head start. The border experience was once again a kafka-esque experience that I'm trying to forget. Firstly it was near impossible to find the border since there were no signs. We had to pay a small "fine" on the Uzbek side since Jamie drove through the disinfectant pool too fast, which was not true. We were at the border for over four hours and strangely we didn't see Team America. I wonder where they are. We did bump into the Mongolian team again, which was nice. They escaped Turkmenistan by paying a 42USD fine for overstaying their visa, since they were waiting for their Uzbek visa. Nightmare.
Finally I'm here in Bukhara, home of the Great Game. We're in the old city which feels like a bit of an oasis. A few French tourists, another Mongol Rally car and sweet Internet. Roaming on my mobile also works to great relief. It wasn't working on the border.
[There was one positive to take from the Uzbek border crossing, it was the first border where I had to use a visa in my old passport. The guards just laughed at me. One down, three to go. Jamie]
[ps, Team America have just emailed to say that we missed a step and the border guards were saying that we should go back :-/]