Friday, October 26, 2007

Bishkek, Kyrgystan

Just a quick addendum to the previous post before I head south.

I have just scored my Uzbek visa and I am very chuffed with myself. It's a long one to explain but it is a typical trail tale of Central Asia so here goes.

In the great game of getting CA visas the Uzbeks are odd players. They want tourists but they do not want independent travellers probably as errant drunks are hard to monitor. Unfortunately for them, their country is where the most famous historical sites of CA are. This ensures a constant siege of their consulates by assorted scruffies wanting to get in.

Their response to this is to put up a number of bureaucratic obstacles and make things such a pain in the arse it becomes very tempting to say sod it and join a "Wonders of the Silk ROad" all-inclusive bus tour. Said obstacles include long processing times, high fees, inability to get into the consulates unless you phone up the previous day and ask (in Russian) to be put on the list and, the icing on the cake, seemingly random requests for Letters of Invitation (LOIs) by some Uzbek travel agency.

The reason for this general annoyance of backpackers is not completely clear. This is pure speculation but I suspect it has a lot to do with the general clampdown and move towards een more abject tyranny that the Uzbek authorities took after Andijan in 2005. A web check will be more informative than this blog but the basic story is that Andijan is Uzbekistan's own Tiananmen Square Massacre. It was a wholesale massacre of civilians that cannnot be excused or contextualised within any decent moral framework.

THe West boo-hissed the slaughter and slapped on a few sanctions. As a result the Uzbeks honchos got huffy and relations started to get cold. Internally, from what the interwebs tell me, the brutality of the regime got worse and the standard attempts to make the locals ignorant of everything were made. This is perhaps why the Uzbek government is none too keen to have a bunch of folk traipsing around unsupervised and, god forbid, talk to the locals.

To add to this, it seems the Uzbek authorities have a special place in their heart for Her Maj's subject sand we get to know it when we apply for a visa. Once I again I speculate but this could be because of a former ambassador to Uzbekistan up to 2004; Craig Murray. Mr Murray had somewhat managed to keep his spine intact after a stint at the Foreign Office School of Conscience Removal and ended up being Our Man in Tashkent.

He got very yappy about the horrendous abuses he heard about (boiling people alive, multiple rapes and other niceties) and wasn't too complimentary of the the folks in charge. The Foreign Office, in keeping with their tradition of helping the oppressed and abused of this world, tried to silence him and, in keeping with their tradition of competence and efficiency, failed.

I would like this to be the reason for the difficulties I faced getting a visa for no better reason than it's been a while that a Brit traveller has been inconvenienced because a an official of our country did something on the lighter side of the moral spectrum. It's a refreshing, though still annoying, change.

Whether or not this is the cause for the general twattery of the Uzbek authorities towards travellers (I am aware that it is nothing compared to what they do to their own people) there is one final hurdle for the man on his way to Samarkand: the dreaded Dragon Lady of the Uzbek consulate in Bishkek. She doesn't speak English, hates people who don't speak Russian and has been known to turf out folk who try to use the world's lingua franca on her.

In spite of dire warnings about the fate of those who faced her without the Holy Shield of the LOI I threw caution to the wind and got the staff at the hostel to call and get my name on the list of challengers. I knew the odds were stacked against me but I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve.

Local folktales indicate that the CACO (Central Asian Consular Official) can be pacified with the use of a clean and ironed short. Apparently the Caco associates this garment with people who matter. The legends say that The Shirt is at full strength when worn by a shaved and combed Englishman with glasses. Was I the chosen one?

I tried to boost my chances by using the ancient art of Fraud. I knew that any hint of my inablility to speak Russian could doom me so I tried to get enough learnt to bluff my way through the process. With the help of the guidebook and hostel staff, I drilled myself until I could say a few predictable phrases to near perfection. I was ready for a showdown.

Anyways, it worked, I'm happy and I'm off for a celebratory beer and a gamburger(hamburger meets kebab local snack). Huzzah for me.

Take care,



Blogger east route said...

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Friday, March 07, 2014 5:38:00 AM  

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