Tuesday, July 8, 2008

From Osh up into the Pamirs

If I get my passport back today I'll leave with Michael, a nutty 21 year old bike tourer, towards Sary Tash. He has a Chinese visa (having promised to FLY in) - funnily enough he is the only person I've met who has managed this. He should still get over the Irkeshtam pass as his visa doesn't specify that he must fly...

Unfortunately I can't download any of the best photos so far - very slow connections, plus the anti virus programs create havoc for USB's. So they will have to wait.

Most of my pics up to Almaty are here:


The Tajik visa story (see earlier, in Almaty) finished up today. I didn't get my Pamir permit by email on Friday but the big boss at Munduz Travel here in Osh made a big fuss and then told me that due to his excellent connections with the Tajik Embassy in Bishkek, he could get it to me by Monday night (last night).

His travel agency was classic Central Asian. Lots of young people hanging around the office (they said they were work experience students from the International Relations faculty, with about 10-15 hanging around in an office on one side and the big boss in an office the same size, just opposite. One female manager who did mostly admin work had to consult him for everything. Everything required his approval and in the meantime people just stood/sat around.

Big Boss was big, expansive, well dressed in lemon shirt and white linen pants, loud, and smelt of cigarettes. His modus operandi was classically Soviet. When the grand theatre of his explanation of how he would get the permit finished, I asked how much it would cost. The answer - $70 - $50 for the permit and $20 admin. When I questioned this he went into semi attack mode: 'Fine, if you don't want it I won't do it, you won't get it any other way, nobody has the connections I have, and I wouldn't send my worst enemy to the Pamir without a permit.' I could smell vodka on his breath now. I backpedalled and played contrite Rob.

On Monday I rang and said I wanted a receipt from the embassy in Bishkek. Big Boss refused and told me straight out that this money was a 'tip'. He then again threatened to cancel the whole thing. Again I backpedalled.

Meanwhile, one of the Tajik agencies had sent me a scan of the permit after all, out of the blue! So all I needed now was my passport.

Throughout the afternoon I had to call to see what was happening. If I got onto the female manager I always had to call back because she never knew anything, or had no licence to talk to me. 6pm last night - Big Boss told me they'd refused the permit and rambled something about 'bandits' and 'contraband'.

I wonder whether he got the jitters when I talked about going to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Dushanbe to complain - that could disrupt a neat little arrangement for him and the Tajiks in Bishkek. Yes, I'm a troublemaker.

I only got my passport - and money - back on Tuesday at midday after waiting at his office for almost 2 hours. At long last Big Boss received me -completely unapologetically, as you expect - leaned back in his chair, flipped open a white packet and proffered a cigarette. Is this a movie?? No thanks. I accepted the cup of tea instead. He rambled a bit more and then I had my hands on what I wanted.

I'm out of here. Michael from UK has the runs and is resting up.

The Pamirs promise to be hard. Next internet is two or so weeks away in Khorog.

About 3000km by bike so far.

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