August 24: Bukhara, Uzbekistan
9:00 Others have gone to the Summer Palace but I have elected to stay at the hotel and update the blog. Unfortunately the internet connection is so slow that progress is almost impossible. I go for a walk around the block and have a chat with these men who each knew a little English. I didn’t understand much of what they asked and I doubt they understood anything I told them but it was a fun way to kill half an hour.
15:00 Rodney, James and I head to an internet cafe to print our Turkmenistan e-visas and Azerbaijan LOIs. Most foreigners can apply for visas at the Turkmenistan border if they have a “Letter of Invitation” from a host within the country. We all used a UK-company called The Visa Machine to arrange this for us in conjunction with the tour agency contracted by Dragoman. Tourists can get a 5-day ‘transit visa’ without possessing an LOI but they must drive on a straight path through the country and exit within five days. If you want to stay longer, see the sights, or deviate from a straight path you must employ a local guide and you must not go anywhere unaccompanied. The Azerbaijain LOI is required to prove that you are actually planning to exit Turkmenistan. (The Turkmenistan government has done a masterful job of covering up the fact that tens maybe even hundreds of thousands of westerners have been overstaying their tourist visas and defecting to Turkmenistan.). We have all the necessary documents saved as PDFs but must print everything in triplicate. This could be harder than you’d think.
16:32. We head to a lakeside bar to celebrate our success in printing documents on the cafe’s 25-year-old computer and printer. It took an hour to do something should have taken 2 minutes but we got ‘er done.
19:20. After a few beers by the lake (fountain) Rodney and I head to the rooftop of the Sultan Hotel. The hotel and restaurant are brand new, world class in design, but almost empty. If it were in North America I’d guess that it was a front for a mob business. Here it’s probably owned by a government insider who has absolutely no idea how to run a successful bar and restaurant. At the end of the meal we are presented with a hand-written bill for 110 com. Rodney takes the time to check the math and informs the waiter that he has overcharged us by about 40%. The waiter grins sheepishly as he corrects the bill. The poor guy has probably served one table all night and now he’s not even going to get a tip.