August 15: Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan
4:10 I wake from a dream and reach for my iPhone to record a voice memo. In the dream I was seated at a desk in a walnut panelled boardroom and I was trying to convince Gerard Spoor and Barry Hewson that the OJC (WEG) should start compiling track records and average times for claimers, maidens, first time starters, the Open / FFA, the fastest times for each trainer, each driver, each brand of sulky, etc. They weren’t buying it. I was frustrated and woke up wondering “Why do I even bother?
6:00 I’m up again and must go through my backpack in the next 20 minutes. We’re crossing the border into Uzbekistan today and we must be very careful not to have any undeclared currency, any cold or pain medications containing codeine, any religious materials or pornography. We must also list any “valuables” that we’re bringing into the country. What do they consider to be a valuable? What’s religious material? And pornography? I know the definitions of these items in the western world but in Muslim Uzbekistan it could be a different story. Even a small pendant in the shape of a cross is a strict no-no.
6:15 Ishmael’s daughter-in-law serves omelettes and bread and jam for breakfast. Ishmael and his son-in-law tinker with the Ladas while we eat.
6:45 Stefan and Tanja ride in one Lada with Ishmael while James, Rodney and I pile into the son’s older model 4×4 Lada.
6:47 Ishmael’s son spends the better part of a minute jamming a screwdriver into the base of the steering wheel and fiddling with exposed wires before the old girl roars to life.
6:57 We stop at a house on the way down the hill. After a few minutes our driver returns with a 1.5 litre Pepsi bottle full of gasoline which he splits between the two cars.
7:10 We arrive at the meeting spot about 10 minutes behind schedule. It will be a long day as the border crossing alone often takes up to six hours, longer if anyone has any visa issues or is caught with anything stronger than Aspirin, undeclared cash of any denomination (even coins), or god forbid, porn.
13:28 We arrive at the border, get off the truck, line up, and submit our passports for inspection. This part goes quite smoothly until Duncan is escorted into a small office. Thankfully he emerges a few minutes later sporting a big grin. Who knows what went on in there?
13:55 We collectively walk across the border to Uzbekistan only to learn that the guards are on their lunch break. They’ll be back in one hour. Maybe two.
14:22 (Uzbekistan Time). We have turned our clocks back one hour as we prepare to exit Kyrgyzstan at Dustlik and enter Uzbekistan at Andijon.
15:40 The guards return and we’re ushered into an area to complete declaration forms in the Uzbek language. Thank god for Google Translate! We each list our valuables, all foreign currency, and go through all the usual questions. Have you ever been convicted of goat theft? Are you carrying any bibles or a copy of the Quran?
15:50 After passing through a metal detector a guard takes each person aside, looks you straight in the eye and asks if you have any religious materials or pornography on your phone, tablet or laptop. Everyone answers no.
15:40 Duncan is allowed to drive the truck through the inspection station. The guards argue amongst themselves whether they should inspect all baggage or just a random sample. After about 45 minutes of bickering they agree that a random sample will suffice. The first bag off the truck is Rodney’s. He keeps his dirty socks and underwear in the top compartment. I’ve been present when he’s opened this compartment so I’m shocked that the sniffer dog didn’t end up on his back, four paws in the air and eyes rolled up into his head.
16:30 Our Uzbek guide, Jalal, has made his way to the immigration room and introduces himself. He says, “Please, call me Jalal, Jamal, J-Lo, whatever!” Personally, I think he likes being called J-Lo. And believe me, I know these things.
16:40 We have all met the requirements for admission to Uzbekistan so we celebrate with a Pepsi at a roadside teahouse. A 500 ml bottle goes for 2500 com. That’s a pile of cash if you only have 100s.
17:00 I head to a money changer and get 615,000 com for $150 USD. This sounds like a lot of cash — and it is. The largest note in Uzbekistan is 5000 com and I get a mix of 1000 and 5000 com notes. (Later on I exchanged another $200 USD just so I can say that I was packing a mill!)