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!
When we finally got up around lunchtime, we packed up and went to the bar for a beer, to eat our breakfast (they’d kindly made a packed breakfast for us earlier as we were leaving too early to get a proper hotel breakfast) and to use the internet to firm up the back up plans we made while half asleep that morning. It was a beautiful day, and the hotel had a lovely garden with tables and chairs and a swimming pool (it was empty but we bet it would have been a nice place to relax in the summer) so we had a nice chill out while discussing our options, and chiding ourselves for not getting out and seeing more of Tashkent but we had so much to organise still!
Thankfully when we returned to the airport on the evening, the shifts had changed, the miserable woman at the ticket desk and the miserable airport manager had been replaced with much more friendly and helpful versions of each who put us on standby straight away, before selling us tickets (we’d brought dollars this time!) and we caught the flight no problem (with more beer and vodka now we knew the score!). We got the Lonely Planet out on the plane to look at hotels – there didn’t seem to be many options in Termiz (two to be exact!) and we opted for the Meridien Hotel, which was a bit on the pricey side but by this point we had already blown the lid off our budget so we weren’t going to chastise ourselves for a $70 hotel room.
After being unable to catch a marshrutka as the last one left ages before the plane got in (seriously, why don’t they time them to match the flights? A missed opportunity there Uzbekistan!) another taxi driver attempted to rip us off (considerably this time! He wanted about $60 for driving us about 15 minutes from the airport to the hotel! Nee chance mate!) we got there and it was even more expensive than in the Gannet (around $110! There must have been a lot of inflation since 2013 when the book came out!) but the lad on reception (called Sharp!) spoke excellent English and was very helpful, changing money for us, arranging a driver to take us to the Tajikistan border the next day and recommending somewhere to go for food as it was late (again). The room itself was rubbish for the money – very dated, muted pastel décor like an old people’s home – not a patch on our lovely room at the Sharq in Tashkent that was cheaper. It did have a lovely big window wall though from which we were hoping we could see across to Afghanistan with our eyes in the morning light.
We headed out into the bright lights (i.e. no lights) of Termiz, in search of the restaurant that Sharp had told us was nearby. It was a bizarre little place and there was a proper tumble weed moment when we walked in and the few tables of locals stopped what they were doing and stared at us like we’d just been beamed down from the moon (and the moon and the moon and the moon- that’s the mooooon). We strode in like we knew what we were doing, took a seat and attempted to read the menu which was of course all in Cyrillic, but thankfully had photos next to a lot of the dishes. We ordered a few things (after attempting to communicate with the woman that Susan didn’t eat meat) that we really didn’t have a clue what they were, but we ended up with a plate of dill and coriander, some squidgy salads and some nice home made bread and then ate two mouthfuls and were full. After dinner we bought a couple more beers and were just having a nice chat when one of the staff turned off the lights and moved a bed into the middle of the restaurant floor! That’s one way to hint that it’s time for us to leave! So we headed back to the hotel, woke the barman up to get us a couple of warm beers (they didn’t seem to have a fridge in the bar!) to enjoy before bed and mooned at Afghanistan out of the hotel window while watching the ever growing pack of wild dags roaming the dusty streets and howling at our moons.
We appreciate that this trip so far is totally not that interesting travel-wise! At this point we were spending so much time chasing our own tails trying to get back on our itinerary (which was tight enough to start with, without all these logistical disasters) that we hadn’t managed to see ANYTHING we were supposed to see in Uzbekistan (Samarkand, the Registan…all the famous Silk Road stuff) and instead seem to have been spending our time going to and from airports and hanging around in dodgy little border towns! We’ve consoled ourselves with the fact that we’ve seen a few places that very few tourists ever have reason to go, and we have enjoyed ourselves despite the hiccups. If all goes to plan tomorrow then we will be back on track in Tajikistan on our pre-booked flight from Dushanbe to Khojand, but who are we kidding? Thoughts in the comments on how YOU think this will turn out for your 2 girls?