The Uzbek customs officer asks us how many days we’ve been waiting until finally arriving at his office. Monika tells him that we left Beyneu in Kazakhstan by 8am this morning. He’s pretty astonished.
The whole story: We knew the border between Beyneu in Kazakhstan and Nukus in Uzbekistan takes some time to cross. For truck drivers about a week, for local traffic 3-4 days, for strange tourists – no idea. The various information we have is very confusing and contradictory. At least we know we’ll need between 2h and 2 weeks to cross. We have some water, bread and even 2 hard-boiled eggs…
Reason enough to leave Beyneu at 8am, without breakfast, but with all our optimism that we will arrive in Uzbekistan somewhen within the next 2 weeks.
At 10am at the border. Looks good. Truck queue for about 1km. We cannot really see many cars. Strange. We simply bypass all trucks until a uniformed guy makes signs that we should queue up at the other side of the trucks. We did not see them behind all those trucks, but easy to queue up – the only problem some 200 cars lining up in front of us. Martin goes for a nice walk to the border. About a km along the waiting cars. The passengers sleeping, discussing, camping. The further down, the more the situation resembles to a campground with people staying for at least a week. Finally at the entrance gate to the Kazakh border. All closed, no visible activities except an armed guy in a fierce dispute with some locals. Nobody to speak to. Return to the car. On the way back Martin calculates how many 1000 km we would have to drive to reach another border post to Uzbekistan.
In the meantime logically Monika develops some more useful activities than Martin’s nice walk to the closed gates. An Ukrainian truck driver explains her the rules of the game – of course in Russian. Obviously Monika understands him perfectly well. Consequently Martin has to bypass all cars and trucks to reach the tourist lane of the border post. It’s more of a lane visible in an imaginative way. But it’s directly on the side of the entrance gate. Monika walks in front of Prado with our passports to convince any armed guy eventually standing in front of her that we’re just tourists heading to the tourist lane. It works well. She even finds somebody who calls his superior to ask his advice on the tourist lane. Monika persuades him of this fact and 15′ later the gate miraculously opens – for the tourist lane. About 1h after arrival. A customs officer comes, checks Prado’s documents before we can go to the respective counter. We have all – except the Temporary Import Permit. And this is the most important document if ever we want to leave Kazakhstan. We tell him that we didn’t get one when entering the country. Doesn’t help. He helps searching. Finally he searches advice of his superior’s superior to determine the penalty to be paid. Must be huge – some time later the big boss arrives. Explaining us that we definitely must have a TIP – if not immediate suicide would be the best solution. He asks which border post we entered. Immediately all is clear- it’s the Russian TIP we should show them as the Kazies have a lively customs union with their small brother in the north. So the Russian paper is perfectly ok for them. We find it. In between old bills, old city maps and other paper stuff we have collected during the trip. To the counter. All is ok. It takes just an hour to understand our car documents, to type all these letters into the computer to make a Kazakh entry’n’exit TIP to be attached to the Russian one and write a whole story on the Russian TIP. A quick stamp in our passport and we’ve left Kazakhstan.
On to the next queue. Some 100m long then the entrance gate to the Uzbek border post. Martin observes again the queue. Again many signs of people camping here for days – and this with some 20 cars only. Strangely there’s an empty lane. Nobody dares to touch it until a Russian car gets out of the queue and drives directly to the gate. What to do – we just follow him. Maybe the next tourist lane? The gate opens, the Russian passes in no time. Unfortunately, the gate closes in front of us, the uniformed guys tell us to drive back immediately. Time for Monika’s persuading. The guys nod somehow – at least a little bit.
In the meantime some fierce protest from some Russians queuing up. We’re not sure whether we’re the reason or the Russian in front of us. Some more discussion, the Russians discover the stickers on our car. They even find the Russian one. Then the real discussion starts. Finally, they want to know which places we plan to visit in Uzbekistan, invite us to a marriage and 2h later when the Uzbek border gate opens to have a few cars in they decide that we absolutely have to be the 1st ones.
We’re there. Quickly we have our passports stamped. Fill out some Russian language customs declaration forms with the help of some officers, wait 1h until everything is transferred into the computer and the guy making photocopies has had his lunch. In the meantime we have a lot of time to observe Uzbek customs life: all baggage has to be checked. All removable items have to be X-rayed and then manually inspected. We start imagining all the useful and useless stuff packed in our car. Quite some work awaiting us.
Finally it’s our turn. We open the back door. The officer groans loudly. What a lot of stuff, what to do with all of this. He asks Martin to open a bag. OK. A quick look to the other things – not a search. We show him a pic of the opened roof top tent – immediately he forgets that he wanted to ask us to open it.
And 5h later we’re back on the road in Uzbekistan. Ready to change some money – about 1kg of paper for 50 US$ and to buy an insurance for Prado for some 200gr of this paper.
What a relief, we managed it all. But still thinking of all these guys waiting for days to fulfil some bureaucratic extravaganza. Thanks to Irina and her family and all the others for their kind help.