One of the few drawbacks of travelling from place to place (especially at the speed that we do) is that it often you fall so in love with a place and its people that it breaks your heart when you have to move on. The big killer for us though is the gorgeous stray dogs we meet on our adventures that we would love to let tag along for more of our travels, or in some cases Susan has actually started looking into the logistics of organising to adopt them and take them home to Ireland! Here are the top dogs that stole our hearts (and most likely some of our dinners):
1. Nob Island (Utila, Honduras 2013)
We met little Nob Island shortly after we got off the boat from La Ceiba to Utila. We had no accommodation booked but had decided on a hostel that unfortunately was closed when we got there. As we spent a bit of time outside knocking on all the doors/windows trying to get someone’s attention (it was the middle of the day), we entertained ourselves petting a lovely little stray scamp that was hanging around in the street. As we gave up and decided to find somewhere else, little Nob Island (named after our nickname for Utila – because our trip there unfortunately collided with US Spring Break, and it was therefore full of Spring Break nobs) followed us. She was our road companion for pretty much the whole day (us having resorted to the usual “we’ll go and have a beer and assess the situation” that usually happens when we haven’t found anywhere to stay), exploring the island and stopping off at various bars, sharing our nibbles and ordering her a bowl of water wherever we went. Susan was completely besotted, and was using anywhere with wifi to Google how to transport a dog from Honduras to Ireland. Eventually we decided on the apt sounding Hotel Margarita and went back to relieve ourselves of our backpacks, but on arrival the owner (the commanding Miss Carmen), took aversion to our little furry friend and chased her away with a broomstick. We understood her not wanting a flea-ridden stray dog in her nice clean rooms, but she could have just slept on the bench outside and there was NO NEED to hit her with a stick! It almost made us leave the hotel we were so annoyed. Despite much searching we never saw little Nob Island again and it breaks our hearts to this day. We do console ourselves with the fact that, lovely though Susan’s apartment in Dublin is (and right next to the park!) she would only have been disappointed when she was used to a beautiful Caribbean island.
2. Giant Mini Kiev Island Police Station (Kiev, Ukraine 2014)
Since we’ve already had this year’s trip planned since the middle of last year (as it was supposed to happen this March but couldn’t due to Nissan being unable to function without Jill for 3 weeks during that month and would have ended up making underpants instead of cars), we’ve been stuck in a weird kind of limbo this last few months – stuck between having to wait several months for this year’s trip, and not having to plan next year’s trip. Obviously our trajectory proposing fingers were getting itchy, so we’d already planned 2017’s trip during our “idle moments” (i.e. procrastinating when we’re supposed to be doing other things).
Susan’s creation of our world map this weekend has provoked the same “Oh shit! Look at all those places WE HAVEN’T BEEN YET!” reaction in both of us, so we’ve come up with the following Five Year Plan (all our usual around 3-week length trips unless something miraculous happens in between now and then i.e. Jill’s work realising the business won’t fall apart without her if she’s away for longer than that):
October 2016- “Bottom Right Africa”
Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania (and Zanzibar), Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland
This trip is pretty much all planned (a proper detailed itinerary and the usual route map to follow in the coming months), so we’re just filling in the blanks in the accommodation column and getting flights and safaris booked at the moment. And getting far too excited and impatient!
2017 – “North South America”
French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador (and Galapagos!)
This one is also pretty much planned, which happened during March when we consoled ourselves over not being in Africa when we should have been, by planning the next adventure! It has a good mixture of waterfalls, jungles, beaches, cities and cloud forests – which as every school kid knows, are the main food groups.
2018 – “Trans-Mongolian Train with Added Bonuses” (need to think off a more catchy name for this one methinks)
Russia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, More Russia, Mongolia, China and hopefully…BONUS NORTH KOREA!
Firstly, how bloody expensive has the Trans-Mongolian got these days? We were looking about 5 years ago and it was around £200 one way, second class but now you’re looking at £555 for the same ticket! That’s some inflation! Secondly, we’ve stuck Abkhazia and South Ossetia in there as we are dying to get the Life Achievement that is “Visiting All Former Soviet Breakaway States” and due to logistical/us being retarded with visas issues we unfortunately had to miss them out while visiting Georgia last year. We’re having a few stops along the trans-Mongolian route, in dubious Siberian Russia and Mongolia, and also a side trip down to Kazakhstan, before we get to Beijing. And THEN hopefully we can get a guided tour to North Korea for a few days (you can only go there when accompanied by an official guide, whom you can do nothing, not even leave your hotel, without!) if Jill can manage to avoid having unkempt hair or she won’t get in (yes that is one of the regulations “No ripped jeans, sandals or unkempt hair”. As Jill’s travelling hair looks like a bag of ferrets have been dead on it for a few months, this may be the highest logistical challenge we have yet had to face).
2019 – “Far East Far East”
China (continued), South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, possibly more TBC
The jury is still out on this one, as we had decided on it earlier but Susan is now gagging for more Africa here instead. Jill has never been to the Far East and is desperate to go on this trip so we’ll see what we end up agreeing on!
2020 – “Left South South America”
Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina with added Antarctia jaunt (probably King George Island)
The main highlight of this trip for us will be ALL THE WINES! And Susan wanted to spend her 40th in Antarctica but we ended up at the (amazing) Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan instead, so it feels only right that for Jill’s 40th (2020) we should go there! For Susan’s 50th she is determined to go to the moon.
2021 – “West Far East and the Himalayas”
Thailand, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Pakistan and maybe Iran
This was literally decided five minutes ago-
Jill: What can we do in 2021? A five year plan sounds better than a four year plan…
Susan: Aye it does. Maybe we will want to go to India by then.
This week, Pinge and Wanglions, we have been busy little bees buzzing around the social media hive and making sweet networking honey! We’re really trying to up our game on the blog front and boost our following a bit – for all we love our little gang of friends and family who make up our loyal tribe on Facebook, we need to start casting our net a bit wider and interact more with other travel bloggers and the internet at large! We’ve been delving deeper into WordPress as well as trying to get to grips with Twitter – we’ve had an account for ages, but have posted next to nothing on it apart from sharing our blog updates – and have twat our tits off for the last few days and are rather starting to enjoy it. Not enjoying it though, is Jill’s boss who cannot grasp that she is trying to multi-task her day job with blog promotion duties and is constantly giving her the evils when catching her looking at her phone. Selfish is what is!
We’ve been looking through a lot of travel blogs lately – just to get some inspiration and try to engage more with the blogging community – and it seems that most of them seem to be written by solo travellers. While we applaud all the solo travellers out there, it’s something we can’t imagine doing again ourselves. We have both done solo trips in the past (pre-Pinge & Wang) and while it was a liberating and rewarding experience, in our opinion it doesn’t compare to having a fantastic travelling companion on the road with you. Here are reasons why having one of one of your best mates along for the ride means double the fun!
There’s always someone to talk to
From having someone around to talk about and share each experience as it happens, sitting in a bar at the end of the day and recapping everything that just happened, going on a night out and not having to worry about sitting on your own until you find some new friends, to being able to entertain each other on an 8 hour bus rides (otherwise full of strangers whose language you can only say “please”, “thank you” and “two beers” in) – this is the stand out benefit of travelling with someone you know well and whose company you enjoy. Everything is more interesting and hilarious when we’re together, it’s great to have someone else’s take on all the goings on and we constantly surprise ourselves by never running out of things to say to each other! That said we each know the other well enough to gauge when they just want a quiet moment to chill out or appreciate the view.
This post is coming to you heavy of heart, as Jill has just received an email from her travel insurance company telling her that her policy is up for renewal. After the first thought of “Go me – I was ORGANISED last year buying travel insurance!”, the woe crept in as usually at this time of year we’d be all excited and putting last minute finishing touches to this year’s trip and telling you all about it. You will have noticed that we have been a bit quiet recently (well, more quiet than usual – last time Susan was back in Sunderland we gave ourselves a good stern talking to that we WILL improve our social media presence and interaction this year! And we still haven’t finished posting all the blogs from the Stans last year! They are all pretty much written up but it depresses Susan too much to sort through all the photos to make a proper post) and the reason for this is that Jill has not been allowed her holidays off in March this year due to “business needs” and all that bollocks. So we’re having to reschedule for later in the year, which is bad as we have to wait so long for our next wangering but we’re trying to look on the bright side – it gives us more time to save up (this one promises to be quite spendy), sort out visas etc. and we won’t have the usual taking-pretty-much-full-annual-entitlement-in-March-and-being-stuck-at-work-depressed-for-the-whole-rest-of-year problem. At least we have this to look forward to, to drag us through the tedium of existence for another few months!
Today we were supposed to be waking up in a little private cabin on the beautiful Chopin Alta lake then horse trekking up in the mountains before heading off to spend the evening in Tian Shan observatory in Ile-Alatau , Kazakhstan (another gorgeous mountain lake) but due to the mugging incident in Osh we were a day behind and had to miss out on our 2nd lake of the trip! However we refused to get down about it and were still elated from finding Jill’s passport and bag buried in the woods so decided to make the most of enjoying our bonus sunny day in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek.
We got up at quite a respectable time (for us), went for a wander around Bishkek and somehow seemed to find ourselves in some kind of bizarre hardware district, where all the shops and market stalls were only selling light fittings, scrubbing brushes, paint etc.! On the off chance we asked one of the stall owners (in our chut-chut Ruski) if he had any plastic cups, as we’d been sans cups for too long and we’d come to the conclusion that maybe this was the root of our recent misfortune. He brought out two plastic kids mugs, one with Winnie the Pooh characters and one with Disney Princesses on – perfect! We grabbed a bottle of beer at the nearest little kiosk and headed off to find Zhirgal Banya, which for once proved pretty easy as it stuck out from the rest of the environment by resembling a pair of large bosoms. We sat on the wall drinking beer out of our shiny new cups – we figured that we needed to at least have a little bit of beer in us if we were going to get naked in front of a loads of strangers!! Despite the snow the previous night, the sun was cracking the flags today and we had a nice bit sit, watching the world go by and Susan made friends with a fly who was getting drunk on the rim of her cup (Pooh) and tested the macro lense on her new camera (the Olympus TG-3 tough – highly recommended and bonus still hasn’t been stolen yet like her last 2!) before we finished the beer and worked up the courage to go into the banya.
It certainly wasn’t what we were expecting! We were thinking it would be like the public baths in Budapest where there were lots of hot pools to sit around in, but it was actually just like a big communal shower room full of ladies having a wash! We had been concerned that it was going to be full of hot skinny Asian ladies who would put our saggy, out of shape, pasty English bodies to shame, but it was mainly big babushkas so we felt a lot better about that. Jill had brought some conditioner so she claimed a shower and began the lengthy task that is the weekly de-tangling of her travel matted hair. Susan, having noticed that all the ladies seemed to have a plastic bowl and sponges to wash themselves with, decided that she was just going to get straight among it, grabbed herself a spare bowl and sponges and got down to business. After she had finished, she came back over to Jill and whispered:
“Jill! I think I’ve just washed my face with another woman’s bum sponge!”
“What? No way!”
“Yeah, they were sniggering a bit when I was washing my body with it, but then they were totally pissing themselves laughing when I started using it on my face! But then I was like “well I’ve started now so I might as well finish!””
So we laughed at our bad banya etiquette, Jill decided it would be for the best if she avoided the bowls and sponges and we had a sauna (complete with sticks to hit each other with) which was far too hot to stay in any longer than a couple of minutes – yes, we know that’s the idea but this was a HIDEOUSLY hot sauna! The plunge pool was actually the entirety of the right boob (men’s was left boob) so we dove in and had a bit of a laugh with our fellow naked ladies over our screeching about the cold. Afterwards we wandered up to get a massages and were surprised to be ushered into a single room with only 1 masseuse where we had to sit and awkwardly watch each other get rubbed down. Despite the initial unease it ended up being amazing as you could get a lovely massage AND have a laugh with your wife at the same time! Susan was a gentleman and offered Jill first go but it was actually a ploy to suss things out on Jill and not have another bum sponge incident. The massages themselves were SO GOOD (best of the trip for muscle relaxation)! The masseuse was amazing and used those nice hot stone things, and we came out of it feeling both nicely relaxed and energised at the same time.
After the banya we went to a little restaurant nearby that was simply called “Bistro” which served mainly pizza and pasta, was very cheap and full of locals enjoying a nice lunch. We went got a pasta, a pizza and a salad to share – the pizza was gorgeous and the salad came in what seemed like a massive dorito!
After lunch and a few beers it was getting late (nearly 5pm) so we thought it best to head for the marshrutka to Almaty as it’s a four hour journey and we didn’t want to be arriving in the middle of the night, so off we went via a little shop for some vodka and grapefruit sock for the road.
There was an Almaty marshrutka parked up when we got to the bus station at Osh Bazaar, so we got on, bagsied the back couple of seats and poured ourselves a vodka. It was a nice posh marshrutka with a TV in it, playing a Russian drama series that of course we couldn’t understand but we tried our best to figure out the plot. At the border we were kicked out of the minibus and had to walk through and meet them at the other side. There were hundreds of people standing in a massive queue that didn’t seem to be moving in the no-man’s land between the Kyrgyz side and the Kazakh side, all with huge wheelbarrows of goods. Thankfully we managed to squeeze past them, got through Kazakhstan immigration no problem (we were wondering what else could go wrong for us at this point – maybe we were wrong with our research that Kazakhstan is trialling a visa-free system for UK citizens this year?) but then once we got out the other side we had no idea where our minibus was! There were a few minibuses there but we had no idea which was ours! Luckily we spotted someone we thought was on our bus (he had a bright red leather jacket on) and headed towards the group of people waiting there, and a lady who had sat just in front of us on the bus and who spoke good English recognised us and told us the bus hadn’t come through yet but we should just wait there. She was called Kundis and was really lovely (she even paid for us to use the toilet as we didn’t have any Kazakh money)– she was from Kyrgyzstan and was on her way to Almaty from Bishkek to pick up her friend from the airport. We asked her about all the people queuing with their stuff and she told us that it was people bringing things from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan to sell as things are so much cheaper due to them importing a lot of goods from China – apparently the gates would open up for them at around 3am to let them all through. It was freezing cold and we felt very sorry for them stuck there all night!
Eventually the bus turned up, we all got back on and we continued our journey, vodka sock drinking and viewing of the quality Russian TV show. We told Kundis our theory on what the storyline was and it turns out we were right on just about everything! For the rest of the journey she made sure we knew what was happening – it was great stuff. We want to watch it with subtitles on at home – she said it was called “The Long Way Home” but we haven’t been able to find anything by that name that isn’t about war or Paralympians. We were sad to leave Kyrgyzstan as it’s so gorgeous.
We arrived in Almaty at around 11pm, so due to the lateness of the hour and since an update from Vita said she had still had no joy getting through to the observatory, we decided that we’d just stay the night in the city (damn it – LAKE DENIED AGAIN!). We’d booked quite a nice hotel (Hotel Kazzol) for the next night to suffocate in a bit of luxury, so we decided that we’d stay there and have a luxury TWO NIGHTS IN ONE PLACE. Imagine that? Not having to pack all your stuff and move about for a whole day? Unfortunately the Hotel Kazzol was fully booked that night, but the similarly luxurious looking hotel next door had a room for us. We were sure that we could cope with moving our bags one building away the next day and the nice boy who carried our bags was eager to help after we a) made him laugh at us a lot, b) gave him a big tip and c) The Pickwick Papers. The room was nice enough (lovely comfy bed, thorough guide on how to tell if an earthquake is approaching by observing the behaviour of various animals…) and we just dumped our stuff and headed straight out for a nightcap. There wasn’t much round by our hotel that was open, besides “Esperanza” – a huge neon lit nightclub complex about 10 minutes’ walk away. There was a strip bar, a karaoke bar and a “retro disco” so we headed down to the latter where we were searched on the door before having our hands stamped (no cover charge – whoo!). The place was HUGE and quite busy for 2am on a Monday night. The dance floor was full of stunningly gorgeous, glamorous and aloof Kazakh girls dressed very much in a Russian style (short skirts, high heels, TONS of makeup), wiggling and pouting with THEMSELVES. IN THE FULL LENGTH MIRROR. If we were that gorgeous we might be able to kill a bit of time checking ourselves out in a nightclub mirror, but I’m sure after 5 minutes we’d be wanting to do some shots or dance to Boney M or have some craic with people like normal folk to on a night out. But no, these lasses obviously could not get enough of their own reflections! Not that you could tell they were happy about it like as it also appeared not to be the done thing to crack a smile.
We had a few drinks and smoked the ridiculous skinny girly tabs that Jill had got from the bar (they had obviously offered her the choice from the girly drawer instead of the man drawer – “I WANT SOME FAT ONES FROM THE MAN DRAWER PLEASE!”), a random man kept sending us over shots of tequila and we had a hoot doing shots and dancing with a lots of the fellas who seemed to be over the moon to have some girls to cut their mad shapes with. We even ended up awarding a prize to the best one but unfortunately for Kazakhstan their best dancer was from Armenia! We got some tips from him on where to dance in Armenia before finally admitting defeat from our long day and wandering back to the hotel via taking amusing photos of us sitting on some giant plastic dogs we found at the roadside.
We were full of woe like Wednesday’s child when we woke up and had both spent the fretful early hours lying in shock and disbelief that we had yet again been so unfortunate. We should have been on a flight to Bishkek (from where we were heading up to stay in a lovely hotel in Cholpon-Ata near Issyk-Kul – a supposedly breathtakingly gorgeous mountain lake that we were so, SO excited about visiting) but alas, the theft of Jill’s precious passport the previous evening had made this completely impossible. We nursed our hangovers and hopelessness for a bit until Susan sneaked out to the shop to buy some beer and something for breakfast to cheer us up – she’d only had about £3 worth of Kyrgyz soms left but still managed to get a big bottle of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a lighter and two sandwiches with change to spare!
We sat with our beers on the balcony, giving our heads a shake and putting things into perspective. It really wasn’t the end of the world – no one got hurt, Susan still had plenty of money to get us by, and thinking about it we have been lucky not to have something similar happen to us in ANY of the places we’ve been over the last few years! Most people you meet who have travelled any considerable amount of time will have had some similar experience – hell, people get mugged in our home towns! We decided not to let the bastards get us down – Kyrgyzstan had been for the most part really lovely and we weren’t going to let a couple of bad eggs make us think badly about it. Our back up plan (we joked that we were onto about “Plan Q” by now, having deviated from the itinerary so many times already) was that we could go to Bishkek to sort out Jill’s emergency passport for the journey home, and then spend the next two weeks exploring Kyrgyzstan. We were getting quite excited about the concept of having a luxury two weeks in one place and we both had tons of ideas of what to do – we would have a few days in Issyk-Kul, maybe get some horses and trek up to Song-Kul (a smaller, more remote and allegedly more beautiful lake), maybe find somewhere to go skiing, maybe have a few days in a nice spa getting covered in mud and hit with sticks, we could investigate the far east side next to the Chinese border – Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful place with tons to do and everything costs so little that we’d be able to do tons of stuff! We thanked our lucky stars that we had got stranded somewhere really, REALLY CHEAP!
We had no immediate pressure to be anywhere or catch any transport for once which was quite liberating so we decided to put a bit of make-up on (putting on your war paint always makes you feel better and ready to face the world) and have a bit of a look round Osh in the daylight to see if we could find any clues to Jill’s bag’s whereabouts. The police had found Jill’s little black note book last night, so we were thinking that if we retrace where we went looking in the light of day then we might possibly find more of her things, and hopefully a trail leading to the precious passport! So we finished off the beer, put our luxury eyes on (we both have glasses that we’re supposed to wear all the time but we never do, but we needed eyes of the hawk (and strength of the bear and speed of the puma) today!) and headed out, feeling bizarrely chipper, ready to get our super-sleuth on in the back alleys and woods of Osh, knowing that we still we were still going to have a great holiday regardless of the outcome.
First we started investigating all the back alleys along the main road the lads had ran down, thinking that they would have just wanted to get off the road and out of sight as soon as possible to rifle through our stuff to check their ill-gotten gains. We looked in every bin, every skip, every hedge and every filthy out-building we could find, investigating any brightly coloured, vaguely bag-shaped lumps and getting very strange looks from all the little old men and babushkas who were sweeping their paths and tending their goats and wondering what the hell these idiot tourists were doing, looking in all the bins!
We got to the end of the road and searched the dubious and illegal meeting spot looking underpass and not one clue had been found, so we decided to head back through the bit of woodland next to the river, which was one of the prime clue hunting spots for the policeman the previous night. A few minutes down the path, Susan spotted something bright blue that looked like a book half way up the bank among the trees – “Jill! That could be the Lonely Planet!”. We legged it up the bank faster than anyone will have ever seen us move ever…and really couldn’t believe what we found!
“Jill!!! It’s your FUCKING BAG!!”
“NEE FUCKING WAY!”
And indeed, there it was in its full floral faux leather glory with its contents seemly strewn around willy-nilly in the muck. We saw all the make-up, visa cards, her purse…and then there it was! The goddamn PASSPORT partially buried in the mud! We really couldn’t believe it and sat there in the mud hugging each other and cackling hysterically. What were the chances? Thank you gentlemen thieves!
A quick handbag inventory check revealed that the only things that had been stolen were the cash she had (only around £20 in Kyrgyz money, and the odd note from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that were worth nowt so good luck with that), her mobile phone, her e-cigarette (that she only used on long journeys and even then most of the taxi drivers so far let you smoke out of the window anyway…and they left the charger and the liquid refills so again good luck with that!), oddly – her bottle of Karma perfume and even more strangely her business cards in their holder (probably as it was a silver coloured case). We were really shocked that all her bank cards were there – even though they were no use to us now as we’d cancelled all but one of them and she didn’t have a pin number for that one!
We wiped off and packed up all of Jill’s precious things and continued towards the park to investigate the other side of the river (we were headed that way anyway as there was only one bank in Osh that took Mastercard and that was now the only source of money we had!), still giggling at our ridiculous bad luck and subsequent ridiculous good luck! The park was dead canny – there were lots of little rides for kids, some bigger rides (including the most dangerous looking thing ever that was like a rickety shuggy boat that went upside down that Susan was determined to go on but unfortunately/fortunately we didn’t have enough money), lots of stalls selling tat and refreshments. Eventually we found one that had some beers, so of course we got a couple and sat on a bench to toast the bag relocation unit and enjoyed the “lovely” sounds coming from the random park karaoke tent.
We had a walk over the river (that had some girders and a rusty JCB in it) and through the market which was just closing up for the day. We were obviously more in suburbia now as the streets were wide and lined with big square concrete blocks of flats which housed a bizarre range of shops nestled beneath them, including a number of evening wear shops with their bridal gowns turning lovely shades of grey on display in the dusty streets. After getting a bit lost and worried we finally located the bank then headed into an internet café full of spotty youths playing World of Tanks (they love World of Tanks in Kyrgyzstan!), where we had a look for flights to Bishkek and found there were loads that evening – pretty much on the hour for the next few hours!
The picturesque view over the Ak-buura river
Who would live in a house like thiiiis?
Look at all them nice loose eggs!!!
They’ll never get that dress white again
A wide selection of goods in this shop.
So we flagged a taxi to the airport (via the hotel to run in and grab our stuff – the little woman at the door was over the moon when we told her we had managed to get Jill’s bag back!). It was a tense ride there as the last flight was due to leave in an hour but after the ease of the flight in Tajikistan we were assured that we wouldn’t need to be there so much in advance. Upon arrival Susan dashed straight to the ticket counter while Jill went to the shop with the taxi driver to buy tabs to get some change for him. When she went through the door into departures, there was Susan at the foreign exchange desk accompanied by a lovely little woman who worked at the airport – it turned out there was a flight leaving in ten minutes and she was determined to get us on it so helped Susan get change as we needed the exact ticket money, grabbed us both by the hand and ran to the the gate where we handed over the money, got a boarding pass and were on the plane before we knew it. What a star! We were over the moon with such helpful efficiency! Susan had the other passengers on the little shuttle bus to the plane in kinks after a kindly gentleman offered to carry her rucksack for her and she responded with “Me strong like yak!” – soon to become a mantra in our chut-chut Ruski sayings.
We’d chosen the Nomad Hostel in Bishkek as our home for the night – at $35 a night for a double room it was quite expensive for Kyrgyzstan but very cheap by ours – but the room was beautiful with a nice flat screen telly and very comfy bed (way nicer than the hotel in Termiz we paid over $100 for!) and the staff were really lovely and helpful. We’d wanted to go to the banya (as we figured a nice soak in some warm water would make us feel much better after all the stress and drama of the last couple of days) but it shut at 10pm and it wasn’t far off that when we arrived so we decided to go in the morning instead. The receptionist had recommended somewhere for food down the street (we were STARVING by then), but it looked a bit quiet so we came back and she ordered us a taxi to a 24 hour pub we’d read about. The pub “Derevyashka” was actually quite nice – it was a sports bar type place that was full of local lads and lasses watching football on the big screen (which wasn’t really our thing but it wasn’t too loud and at least it was nice and lively), the staff were unexpectedly cheerful and friendly for a 24 hour joint and the food was lovely. We had a couple of beers, Jill tried the Lagman noodles (a speciality throughout the ‘Stans that she’d been meaning to try – it was nice but she won’t go out of her way to have them again), Susan had some lovely fish and an amazing part egg-part gherkin salad that we both loved and are totally going to start making back at home. plus of course the now ubiquitous bottle of vodka and some sok.
We had a good time talking bollocks, toasting our bizarre fortune on the trip so far (“Seriously I can’t handle these extreme highs and extreme lows! Can’t we just have an ALL RIGHT time?”) and had a good phone call with Mark telling him all about our trials and tribulations. We chuffed to be nearly back on track – we were gutted to have to miss out the night in Issyk-Kul (plus we had paid in advance for an expensivo hotel), but it meant we could have a nice day in Bishkek tomorrow before getting the marshrutka to Almaty (Kazakhstan – our final Stan!) in the evening. We’d had Vita trying to call the Tian Shan observatory in Ile-Alatau National Park (just outside of Almaty) to try and arrange for us to stay there that night – you needed to book in advance so they knew to prepare meals for you and the guards on the gate were expecting you as otherwise you won’t get let in – she’d had no luck in getting through but was continuing to try…we really didn’t want to be lake denied again!
We got a taxi back and fell asleep, full and happy in our lovely comfy bed, hoping sincerely that this would be the end of things gannin wrang for us! But if you have been reading so far, what do YOU think will happen?
We were up bright and early (well, about 9am – that is very bright and early for us) to start our journey from Khojand to Osh in Kyrgyzstan. We had a quick look at Alexander the Great’s first settlement, the 10th century citadel, and enjoyed a little sunny morning hustle and bustle with the locals while lamenting that we couldn’t stay longer and had missed most of our planned stops in Tajikistan because of all of our mishaps. We had enjoyed our brief time here immensely and promised ourselves we would be back to do the country justice at some point.
Khojand Opera House
Used to it by now we shook it off and then jumped on a marshrutka to Istaravshan bus station. There we were TAXITAXITAXI-ed from all angles. We’d planned on getting the marshrutka (which involved changing in Bakan near the border) but we ended up finding a shared taxi with a few other people all the way to Osh for a very reasonable price. It took an hour or so to get to the border, by which time we’d polished off the leftover vodka and sock from the night before, so we were pleased when the driver stopped to refuel at the first garage we got to in Kyrgyzstan and although we didn’t have any Kyrgz money yet – lo! It had a visa sign! So we headed in there for some beers and snacks. We were very impressed by the entire fridge dedicated to vodka, including a shelf full of little plastic shot glasses covered with foil lids (perfect for the thirsty motorist!) and then were gutted when neither of our cards would work in their machine. Susan took a long shot and asked if she could pay in dollars, and amazingly they said we could!
Surprise, surprise…we missed yet another hotel breakfast due to sleeping in! We were up and packed a good half hour before the driver was due to collect us so we managed to get a couple of coffees in us before hitting the road. Today’s plan was to taxi from Termiz to the Tajikistan border, walk across the border, get a taxi/marshrutka from the other side to Dushanbe, have some lunch and a few beers in Dushanbe then catch a flight to Khojand early evening (we had been planning on staying the night then taking a car over the beautiful and scary Pamir mountains but due to all of the mishaps we needed to make up some time). We’d booked the taxi for 10:30am and reasoned that that would give us plenty of time.
It ended up taking about an hour longer than it should have to get to the border as we were stuck in hideous roadworks/cows were crossing the road, but for the most part it was a nice drive with interesting scenery, our driver was a bit grumpy but he still accommodated our needs of regular beer and toilet stops.
The border itself was a complete nightmare – mainly on the Uzbekistan side. We’d had to fill out some customs forms on arrival from Turkmenistan (basically listing all your money and valuables) and as we’d had NO money then and did have money now (having been to the bank) – it blew their tiny minds!
“How do you have more money than you came in with?”
“We WENT TO THE BANK!!!”
We think they were convinced that we’d made it by flogging all those Turkmen carpets that they were convinced we’d brought with us on the way in, and made us fill in new forms giving the same amount of money as we’d entered with.
We dragged ourselves reluctantly out of the lovely comfy beds in the Hotel Sharq the next day and headed straight to the airport in a taxi. We went back to the ticket desk where the same miserable woman with inch thick make up on told us she couldn’t sell us tickets as the flight was full. “What? But we wanted to buy tickets last night and you said we couldn’t and had to come back today!!”
“You have to see the airport manager”.
So we wandered off to locate the airport manager who was a) hard to find, b) equally as miserable and c) the Pickwick Papers, but seemed to understand that we wanted to be put on stand-by for the Termiz flight and told us to take a seat in the waiting area. After a while he came back and said there were some seats and told us to go back to the ticket desk. Susan grabbed the passports and dashed over to the desk only to find that foreigners are only allowed to purchase flights in DOLLARS for some bizarre reason! We had enough Uzbek Sommes for the flights, but only enough dollars for one! AND the card machine was broken so we couldn’t even pay by visa! There was no way we would have had time to find an ATM (the banks we could use in Uzbekistan were very limited and tended to only be in the big five-star hotels back in the city centre) and make it back for the flight. Gutted!
There was another flight to Termiz that evening, so we had to resign ourselves to getting on that one instead (the other option being to head down from Tashkent to Khojand in Tajikistan but that would have meant missing out Dunshanbe and we really wanted to go there! Even if we only had time to have lunch and a beer on it!), and since we couldn’t buy the tickets for THAT one due to the ridiculous currency situation we would have to come back later once we’d managed to get some dollars from somewhere. It was only 6am, we’d had next to no sleep and we’d left our amazing comfy beds well in advance of the 12 o’clock check out time so we reckoned that if we went back to the hotel, and told the lovely girl on reception (she was still there – they work some crazy 24 hour shifts in these parts!) what had happened she would probably let us back in the room until then. Then we would head to the airport via an ATM for dollars and if there were no seats left on the plane and we couldn’t get stand-by seats, there were still marshrutkas leaving for Khojand that we could catch instead. As predicted the receptionist was lovely and said of course we could get back in our rooms for a few more hours sleep!
Wandering in search of a nice loose egg, your favourite idiot broads abroad embarking on an yet another enchanting voyage of self-discovery (not the kind that's in those arty french films with subtitles and hairy biffs). Join us in our journey!