Friday, April 17, 2015

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

On the road with Yevgeni behind the wheel.

Yevgeni was ready to roll at 9a, dressed in his beloved work clothes - his track suit :-)

Today, we're heading to Kyrgyzstan, leaving Uzbekistan for the final time.  As always, I pray that we'll have an easy time at the Uzbek border control.


It would be about a two hour drive from Fergana City to the border with Kyrgyzstan, near the southern city of Osh.  For all that I have complained about the boring agricultural landscape we've traveled through in Uzbekistan, the fact that this was going to be our last drive through it, made it start to miss it.  The thought of absence makes the heart grow fonder??

In any case, I decided to snap a few more shots of the flat lands.  Truly uninspiring so very odd to think I will somehow miss this view.  Too bad it was such an overcast day though.


I will miss the passing views of the villages too.  They are just as uninspiring as the farm lands.


I'm also going to miss a sight that is uniquely Uzbek.  In the vein of Soviet style homes where every home looks exactly like the one next to it, we would often drive by housing communities with clusters of homes that were identical to each other - literally carbon copies of each other.  The houses would stretch for miles along the road.  After a while,  communities of homes began to blur - they all looked like, across all the towns we drove through.  Pat wondered how anyone manages to find their home among the mass of identical homes. Perhaps, they put up different curtains?

What was even stranger was just how many of these homes were popping up all over the place.  We began to wonder who was living or going to be living in them.  One of our guides told us that the builders just build the houses, irrespective of whether or not there is actual demand for them.  The result is that many actually go unoccupied. 

Houses on one side of the road.

Houses on the other side of the same road.  They look slightly different from their neighbors across the street.

The Fergana Valley is the veggie producing region of Uzbekistan.  Fields were being prepared for planting. Faramers had laid down rows of plastic which I presume are for weed control.



Snow capped mountains loom over the valley.


As we neared border control, we passed through the small city of Andijan.  It was market day and the streets were bustling with people going about their shopping.




We soon arrived at the border.  Yevgeni got our bags out of the trunk and before we said goodbye to him, he graciously agreed to pose for a photo.  Change the look on his face from a smile to a scowl and this guy would look very intimidating but as it turned out, he was as gentle as a kitten.

We had decided he was far too big to be the recipient of an NYC t-shirt so we gave him a nice tip instead.

Pat and I braced ourselves for Uzbek border control.   I was pleasantly surprised when we pretty much sailed through it.  We did have to make a short pit stop at the doctor's office where he asked where we were heading to in Kyrgyzstan.  After recording down our passport information, he allowed us to proceed. It's still mind boggling how so much of the information, that is gathered at Uzbek border controls, is still manually recorded.  Pat and I wondered what they do with the information.  Do they then enter it in to an electronic system?  In this day and age, it's a bit surprising to encounter official information being handwritten into a book.

In any event, the quick stop at the doctor's office was the only thing we had to deal with outside of the usual Uzbek immigration and customs control.

We've even become pros at filling in the customs declaration forms, which with the exception of the first set we completed when we landed in Tashkent, have all been in either Uzbek or Russian. 

Next it was on to Kyrgyz border control. There's barely any neutral zone between the two countries.  As US citizens, we didn't need to have a visa to enter Kyrgyzstan so I just hoped everything would go well.  We entered a small building and stood in line behind two women who were facing the immigration officer who was sitting behind a glass front booth.  It didn't take very long before Pat was standing before the officer.  No words were exchanged but when I heard the thump of the stamp, I knew Pat was good to go.  Next, it was my turn.  I watched the immigration officer at work.  A few flips of the passport pages, some typing on the computer keyboard, and then thump of the entry stamp.  I was good to go as well.

Next, it was on to customs control.  We never had to fill in any sort of a form.  We placed our luggage to pass through the scanner  At the same moment, the officers got a bit distracted with a large package that a man was attempting to bring into Uzbekistan.  I don't know if they noticed our luggage or not but when our bags left the scanner, we picked them up and walked off.  No one stopped us so we presumed all was okay.

On our way out of customs, a very happy soldier shouted out, "Welcome to Kyrgyzstan".  It was the first time we had encountered such well wishes by a soldier at border control!   I replied back, "Thank You" with a smile.  We've met our first friendly Kyrgyz.

We were headed for the exit gate.  Before we reached it, we came upon a currency exchange booth.  We still had quite a bit of Uzbek som on us and I had tried to exchange it in Khiva as well as Tashkent but neither hotel we were staying at would convert the Uzbek som for us.  I think they literally only do a one way conversion of foreign currency to som and not vice versa.
 
As you might expect the Kyrgyz currency exchange man didn't speak any English but words were not needed.  I held up our Uzbek som and it was obvious what we wanted.  He punched up the amount we would receive in Kyrgyz som.  I knew how much our Uzbek som would convert to in USD and so I quickly did the USD to Kyrgyz som conversion in my head.  Although he wasn't given us the black market rate, what he was giving us wasn't bad.  In this part of the world, you're never sure where you can go to get money or to convert money.  As the saying goes, a bird in hand is better than two in the bush, so I  just agreed to the conversion.  We may have a lost a few dollars in the exchange but it was worth it for peace of mind and convenience.

As we exited the security gate, the guard also welcomed us to Kyrgyzstan.  I thanked him as well.  I hoped the other people we meet in Kyrgyzstan are as friendly as the soldiers at border control!

We didn't walk too far before a slender young woman approached us.  She was our guide, Lilya.  She introduced us to our driver, Melis.  With our luggage safely stowed away in the back of the van, we made our way in to town.  We are in Osh, the first of our destinations in the fourth of the Central Asian countries we are visiting.

Welcome to Kyrgystan!