The planning was perfect, as always: an afternoon flight from Amsterdam, change in Kiev (at this moment a safer bet, I think, that Athens, for instance), arrive early morning in Tashkent and connect less than three hours later to Nukus, our first destination. A bit of a tough night, but he, you can sleep on a plane, right?
Less than 24 hours before departure the Kiev-Tashkent flight was cancelled, and we were re-routed via Rome (still not Athens, at least), but with a very early morning departure from Amsterdam, and a connection on Uzbekistan Airlines. A trip down memory lane. I don’t know when they started building Boings 757, but the first one must be still flying for Uzbekistan Airways. Without ever having been refurbished. Remember the television screens that flap down from the ceiling? The very small ones, yes. Everything else was equally nineteen-seventies, the food, the pepsi cola, the stewardesses, the head phones, even the films (Yogi Bear!). And the leg space, folded double behind the seat in front of me. But he, you can sleep on a plane, right?
Long story – long flight – short, we did arrive in Tashkent. Notwithstanding the friendly Consul in Brussels, entry into Uzbekistan is not necessarily the most inviting you have ever had. For starters, you are issued with “Important Travel Information”. This paper explains, among other things, that you need to register with the police within three days of arrival. Hotels will do this for you, but couch surfing is not an option, neither are other forms of home stay, or campings – they do not register you. Failure to register, or a gap in your registration, may generate a $1000,- penalty, and, I quote, “may result in immediate deportation at your own cost. Neither your Embassy nor friends in Uzbekistan can do anything to circumvent this rule”. Well, I doubt that last statement, I am sure that with the right friends in Uzbekistan quite a lot is possible, but we don’t have them, so we better adhere to the rule. Another one is that you need to declare all cash over $500,- upon arrival in the country, for which you get a declaration. Failure to produce this declaration later for the cash on you “may result is legal confiscation of your cash and a fine”. They are kind enough to point out that your cash, when you leave again, should be ready for inspection at customs control, and nowhere else – suggesting plenty of opportunistic scams in the vicinity of customs control!
But in line with our Consul experience, people at the airport were equally friendly. Customs was a breeze, and in the absence of any other traffic, luggage arrived in no time. We did declare all our cash, quite a bit because ATMs and credit cards haven’t penetrated to this part of the world yet. Several forms to be filled in, by hand, even more stamps put on the forms, but all together entry into Uzbekistan was rather smooth. Next is changing some money, to pay a taxi, something to munch, and a hotel – our early arrival now necessitated a hotel. This actually took longer than all customs procedures together: two young ladies spent a good 10 minutes filling in more forms, checking other forms, and my passport once more, and then adding further stamps to the earlier forms. Finally one of them handed me the cash, a stack of notes 20 cms high, a good 50,000 som in notes of 1000. Now we need an extra backpack! And lucky us, that we changed officially, at the bank, because later on we learned that there is also a thriving black market, which pays up to 50% more for your dollars. That would have been 30 cms!
It was dark, and besides, you are not allowed to take pictures from the plane, so no photos yet.