Our driver to Nagorno-Karabakh, Albert, arrived bright and early and we said Goodbye to our cheerful little hostel room. Albert was an elderly gent (80 if he was a day) and our carriage for the next couple of days was a battered and drafty old Russian saloon. Albert was from Karabakh and couldn’t speak any English, so we couldn’t really communicate (other than our bits of chut chut Ruski), but he did however understand our needs and wants and stopped at all the roadside shops saying “Piva (beer), toilette (toilet)” and taking photos of us with any particularly stunning vistas.
We had come well prepared with our packed lunch, leftover dinner (from the restaurant the previous night) and a selection of alcoholic beverages for the long drive ahead. As we drove out of the city and up into the mountains the weather got continually worse, starting with a sprinkling of snow and ending up in a total white out blizzard by the time we got to the highest point! It was pretty scary, especially as the roads were so potholed it was impossible to drive on your correct side of the road all the time (and Albert didn’t much seem to care about such formalities as lanes anyway) and there were a few times swerving to avoid oncoming wagons by a hair’s breadth, we really did think we were goners! We stopped off at a little service station right in the mountains, full of truck drivers huddled around a little gas heater. We bought Albert a coffee, replenished our beers and got told off by the truckers for wandering around outside in the snow taking photos because we’d get sick.
Sexy petrol station stop and telling off for being outside
Hup over the mountains with us!
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!
All your motoring essentials
On the long, dusty road again
Where all the cool cows hang out
Come head into the badlands with us!
We had intended to be up and about early to catch a daytime train to Samarkand to get back on track, but the previous night’s vodka session had taken its toll and neither of us wanted to get out of bed, despite our friend the receptionist continually knocking on the door telling us we needed to get up if we wanted to get the train. We had told him the previous night that this was our plan, so bless him, he reminded us shouting “Girls you will be late!!!” (followed later by “Girls! You will be VERY LATE!!”) through the door. When we finally emerged it was around lunchtime, and upon paying the bill we found that the cheeky “what is your opinion on sex?” birthday vodka gifter room invader of the previous evening had actually charged it to our bill! And it was Uzbekistans best vodka! But then OK it was only less than a fiver so we just laughed it off but ee, that’s a shan birthday vodka that like dude. After a breakfast beer or two in the room we packed up and headed out to the nearest internet café (that was located upstairs in someone’s house and had to be accessed via a rubbish tip) to check out trains and flights as the hotel wifi wasn’t working and neither of us had any 3G signal. After having no luck with trains (and a lot of our go to rail websites being blocked by Uzbekistan!) we’d come to the conclusion that our best option was to get a flight to Tashkent (the Uzbek capital), where hopefully there would be more transport opportunities available. We could see that there was a flight that evening at around 9pm but he Uzbek airlines website wouldn’t let us book online – we put this down to the ancient browser on the pc at the internet café and decided we’d head to one of the posh hotels in the centre to have a beer and use their wifi.
Ever upwards to The Intermnet
Totally where you would expect to find The Internet
Climb the broken stairs of the wifi oroffice…
So, we were rudely awakened by the dustmen aka Mr Dima at about 6am the next morning, just when the sun was starting to come up and we could actually get some sleep. It had been so cold in our desert tent that we’d all just spent the night shivering and hoping that we wouldn’t get hypothermia. Susan, who isn’t too fond of being dragged out of bed at the best of times, was in a horrendous mood so Jill and Vita helped Dima pack the tents up and load the stuff into the jeep while she took her cup of cowboy coffee (made by Dima on the camp fire) down to the gas crater to warm herself up, since it was her birthday after all. There was only 1 other person around the crater so watching the light creep over the desert while DJ Gas Crater hissed and spat was a fine way to spend her first morning as a 40 year old. As magnificent as the sunrise was, it was still DJ Gas Crater who turtelly sturl the shurr and even with lots of attempts it was impossible to catch just how stunning it all was on camera. When she wandered back up again everything was packed up and Susan was in a lot finer fettle so we all piled into the jeep, said a tearful yet fond farewell to the new guest DJ for Marijuana Fuelled Murders and set off for the Uzbekistan border.
Venture into Uzbekistan…
We arrived in Tiraspol at about 7pm in total darkness, where we were greeted by some official looking chaps on the platform and escorted to a little window round the front of the station building, using the walk to wisely plan how to get out of having to bribe them if they tried to detain us for anything, and were pleased to find out we just had to fill in our registration forms so we could stay for 24 instead of 10 hours. It was a very professional and official looking set-up, where the bloke in the window had to hold back the blinds with paperclips so he could talk to us, and kept stopping to text his girlfriend. Once we were all official and everything, we headed off into the night (with no passport stamp, bad show!).
Earlier in the day while sat in the bar in Odessa, it had occurred to us that due to the drunken tomfoolery of the previous few days, that we had forgotten to book our hostel in Tiraspol. Well…we had attempted to, but their website was abysmal and nothing happened when you clicked either the “Booking” or “Contact Us” button. Since “Tiraspol Hostel” was the only hostel in the whole of Transnistria, we thought we had better get it booked just in case, so we emailed “Tim” the proprietor (upon finally managing to find the email address on the website) asking if they had room for us tonight. He replied quite quickly saying that yes, this was fine, we exchanged phone numbers in case we got lost and he sent us vague directions to “Andy’s Pizza” where we would meet him and he would take us to the hostel. Said vague directions were along the lines of “go right outside of the train station, past the park, right down the main road and Andy’s Pizza is on the left”, so we attempted to follow them and ended up miles from anywhere (after nearly being trampled by a stampeding horse and donkey being raced by what we can only assume is the Transnistrian equivalent of chavas– great first impressions of Tiraspol!) as we’d assumed the wrong road was the Main Road (they’re all main roads when we’re finished with them). We were glad we had his phone number at this point, and Susan rang him to see where we’d gone wrong and despite his offer to meet us at the corner told him to stay put at Andy’s Pizza and we would be there shortly. Upon finally locating the now infamous Andy’s Pizza, Tim was nowhere to be found. Susan rang him again and he had taken it upon himself to have a walk to try and find us instead of staying put, so of course we missed each other. After 10 minutes of hanging around, stroking the horse and donkey (a different horse/donkey combo than the ones we’d been stampeded by on Not Main Road) that were randomly tethered to the railings outside of Andy’s pizza and throwing a welcoming smile to any bloke who walked past in case it was Tim (before thinking better of it stood on a random street corner in a dubious break away Soviet state), the man himself finally turned up. Continue reading Searching, looking for dubious bars, every place we caaaan. Searching, looking for baaaaaars, we have to find an old man! – Tirispol, Transnistria