It’s time to share some funny experiences with you 😉 It was yesterday when we saw a work troop of women cleaning a piece of lawn in front of a petrol station with brooms. Yes, really! And no, we couldn’t make out any sense in this action… today we saw a woman in front of Bibi Mosque, one of the main sightseeing attractions of Samarkand, cutting grass with a pair of scissors… hm…?!
Another less funny but rather tragic fact is that it is not possible to fill up a petrol reserve canister with petrol. A petrol station operator told me today that this was owed to a government law that forbids the filling of canisters at petrol stations… it would actually be a semi-funny and meaningless fact if Uzbekistan wouldn’t be a country in which you might not find a petrol station for hundreds of kilometres… crossing into UZ from KZ we actually used up both canisters and were very happy to have them. Even if you find a petrol station it doesn’t mean that you will get petrol! Sometimes they are out of petrol and turn you away again, then you might have to wait for another 50-100km and hope that the next petrol station will be able to refill your car… add-up: it is possible to fill up a canister, if you are out of the cities, there patrol statins do not have a surveillance camera, like in cities 😉
In Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan we have been stopped by police three times so far… other than in eastern Europe where we always feared that police might ask for some payment of something that we wouldn’t understand anyway… Here it really seems to be the mere fact that we are foreigners… it goes like this: an officer waves his red stick to call you off the road. I stop the car and lower the window. The officer approaches the car and salutes with his hand to his head, I salute back… not that I would know how to salute, as I’ve never had the pleasure to join our armed forces, but Bernie already told me that it looks really professional. Maybe also because I really make a very serious face when I salute but I turn that into a smile as soon as possible because being too serious with police has never proven to be helpful… then the police officer usually smiles back and stretches his hand into the car to shake hands, and that’s what we do… “Where are you from?” “Austria!” “Oh… ok, you drive!” “Thanks!” …and then he waves his hand to signal that we can drive off again… Sometimes the whole thing also happens without any communication at all, only saluting, handshake and waving the stick to show that we can go on 😉
Another less funny fact is the payment issue… you cannot pay with credit cards in Uzbekistan… having to refill your tank every day at least once you need a lot of cash, the same is true for hotels… I brought EUR 1,000 and had to exchange that in the first three weeks of my travels to cover every day expenses. Not having any cash on me to exchange it into local currencies I have to find an ATM when I run out of cash. Usually you cannot take out local currency from ATMs, only USD. Having USD you need to find an exchange booth first before you can pay anything… Today we both ran out of money at the same time… we had to pay our hotel in Samarkand in the morning when we left and made it only just with the remaining cash that we had on us and a fierce re-negotiation of the price. There is one rule: even the fixest price is only an indication and still somewhat flexible! After paying the hotel, Bernie had some 2,000 Som and I had 500 Som, in total approximately 20 Cent… we had to find cash to pay petrol and get some water for the way… we thought it would be easy to find an ATM because we went directly to the middle of the tourist centre. To our surprise it was not possible to find any ATM, we asked like 10 people and were sent back and forth before Bernie looked the payment chapter up in our Lonely Planet guide book. It said that there was one ATM in a hotel lobby, but that it would seldomly work… mind you that we are probably in the most touristy city in Central Asia 😉 I asked a tour guide for help and he said that there would actually be one ATM in the main tourist attraction (Registan) and we immediately went there to check it out… When we found it, we read “Out of Order” written over the screen 😉 We went to a “normal” bank and asked for an ATM, they said that we would have to go to the national bank to find one ?!?! well, Bernie found in the guide book info that we could also get a cash advance from our credit cards, one bank for Mastercard, another bank for Visa (in the whole city with a population of 600,000 !!!)… we went to the bank for Mastercard! …and this is the story of how I took the first cash advance from a credit card in my life 😉
The four things in which Uzbekistan has to do a little bit of catching up, in my opinion, are 1) ATMs, 2) internet coverage – yesterday, again, I couldn’t update my blog, 3) payment possibilities with credit cards, 4) road quality – otherwise we love it!
Today we had a wonderful closing experience of our day! When we drove into Margilan Bernie was speaking about Shashlik again and I proposed to stop at one of the road-side-restaurants to ask for it… I jumped out of the car at the next spot where someone was operating a grill and asked for the prices. Wow, was that cheap, especially as compared to the restaurant yesterday!!! We ordered one beef and one chicken shashlik for each of us and Bernie sat down at a table while I was taking some photographs of the place. When I came back Bernie was already sitting at a different table chatting with three man who invited us to drink vodka with them while we had a “conversation” in Russian 😉 It was really fun and we actually could talk a lot with the guys. We know where they were based in Soviet times – one in Bratislava, one in Leipzig and one in Afghanistan, we know that they work in the gas industry as managers, we know about their families and we also know some facts of which I am not sure if I really wanna know, but that’s secrets 😉 …they made us drink quite a lot and I am sure that’s also one influencing factor for our sudden capability of having this conversation Russian in 😉 When we parted we got a big hug from each of them…It was a very authentic and lovely experience!!!