Escape from LA…..Back in the USSR

Sometimes my life feels like a B-movie, made for TV, straight to DVD,  Maybe I’ll have a future on YouTube re-runs.  I hope so.

The madrassah in Tashkent

The madrassah in Tashkent

This trip was doomed from the start.  Part of that is my fault.  It’s been put off and postponed and changed until I almost forgot what the original inspiration for it was—a major excursion into the heart of Central Asia—and now only this tiny bit of the original project remained as a possibility for this year.  So when the timing seemed to fall into place, I went for it.  That could have been a bad mistake, of course, because Uzbekistan is part of the old USSR, you know, so still has much of that old mentality of endless and mindless bureaucracy, in this case (expensive) visas, letters of introduction, and all that.

Outside the Market in Tashkent

Outside the Market in Tashkent

So I sent in the application and money order.  Then all of a sudden I found out that I would have to move from the apartment I’d been living in for almost a year, and to which I’d addressed a self-stamped envelope for the return of my passport.  So the first thing I did was send a letter to the Uzbek consul asking to change my return address.  I never got a response.  So I waited, growing a little bit more-than-antsy with stress as the weeks passed.  Still I received no response from the Uzbek consul.

By that time my only real concern was my passport, out there in the ether, no direction home.   I don’t like being without my passport.  I can’t even go to Mexico without my passport.  The month of July passed slowly.  I didn’t even care about the trip anymore.  I just wanted my passport back.  As the month came to a close, I started making contingency plans to report it stolen, get a new one and just continue on with the European part of my trip—I was connecting in Frankfurt—and forget Uzbekistan.

Street Stalls in Tashkent

Street Stalls in Tashkent

Still I received no response from the Uzbek consul.   Then it finally came, five weeks after I sent it in for a 10-day (processing time) visa, and two days after we were finally supposed to have moved—but still hadn’t… waiting on intransigent downstairs tenants to move out.  It turns out he’s from Uzbekistan.  How’s that for cosmic symmetry?  So we made the move and I caught my flight on schedule.

It was all a bit of a flurry of activity, making the move, finishing one project, starting another, and trying to prepare for a trip simultaneously.  Did I forget anything?  That’s always the question that goes through my mind when I have to prepare too quickly.  What about debit cards?  Did I bring enough debit cards?  I want to use the FRB one, because they don’t charge ATM fees, but they’ve got an annoying habit of canceling your card if you don’t use it for a long time, and I forgot to test it.

Then there’s Citibank, who freaks out at any hint of a foreign transaction.  I’ve even had Expedia bookings freeze up with a Citibank charge, “refused.” Hmmm, this could be problematic, since I spent so much time trying to coordinate my credit cards, that I almost for got about the debits, which I rarely use in LA.  I probably won’t use it much in Uzbekistan, either, since their ATM’s are usually broken or empty.  Independent travel without ATM’s, and Internet, quickly degenerates into a poor man’s package tour, dead reckoning, without possibility for mid-stream correction.

Food stalls in Tashkent

Food stalls in Tashkent

So here I sit somewhere over Canada at 38,000 feet looking to see if I can find an extra backup debit card “just in case.”  I do.  By a stroke of luck I’d been to the Chase Bank only a few days before and had taken my card.  Travelers’ checks may have gone extinct too soon in a world that still has black market exchange rates and few ATM’s.  I have a long layover at Frankfurt, so I’d booked a bed at a nearby hotel/hostel.  “You booked a bed for last night, Mr. Kargens,” the cashier says.  “Karges,” I correct her, always using the hard ‘G’ sound in Germany.  “That was last night,” she repeats, “I’ll see if we have anything available for tonight.”

She does, and doesn’t even charge me for another night, though she certainly had every right to.  The FRB card works fine in the Frankfurt airport ATM, too, so I grab 300 Euros.  With the dollars I already have, I’m flush.  Maybe when a trip that is doomed from the start actually starts, it can only get better.  The driver from my hostel is waiting for me at the airport as agreed.  On the long drive to the hostel, we pass bakery after bakery advertising ‘lavash.’  That’s the main staple food back in Little Armenia.  Did I mention that I live in LA’s “Little Armenia?”  And the people here are friendly.  I’m good.  Tashkent is nobody’s idea of a garden paradise, but it’ll do until something better comes along.  That should be tomorrow.  Next stop Samarkand.

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