Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Day 139 – Visas for the Stans: Part 2 – Uzbekistan here we come. (Uzbek, Iranian and Azeri visas in Almaty and Astana, Kazakhstan)

It’s all going according to plan on the visa front so far. After frolicking around Kazakhstan with our adopted hitch hikers, we made it back to Almaty on Thursday. We had hoped that our Letter of Invitation would be ready that day and we could get our visas straight away, but alas it wasn’t ready until the following morning. Not to worry though because we spoke to David from Stantours on the phone and went to his office to collect the LOI straight away on Friday afternoon. From there we went on to the Uzbek Embassy where everything ran surprisingly smoothly. There were only a handful of people standing in the waiting hut, as opposed to the dozens that we encountered both previous times we’ve been there. We checked in with the guards and half an hour later three of us were granted entry through the gates. We chose to leave Denner behind, given the decidedly obtrusive beard that is causing more and more attention and questioning, and made our way in with all of our passports, forms, pictures, and the all important LOI. We waited in the same odd little room as before while the same white haired man as before dealt with our papers. After about half an hour we parted with US$75 each and were handed back our passports, each one adorned with a crisp and shiny Uzbek visa.

Our Iranian LOI is ready and should be waiting for us at the Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) Embassy. Stantours has issued us with a 6-digit reference number which the Embassy has a copy of, so as long as we arrive with that number along with our passports and passport photos we should get our visas no problem. The only thing left to be done for this one is that I need to get photos taken with my head covered. That’s definitely a task I’ve been sub-consciously putting off.

We visited the Azerbaijani Embassy in Astana, and as expected didn’t get much assistance. First of all we were told by the guards at the front of the ridiculous sim-style Embassy complex to come back the following day at 1pm (it took a lot of work to gather even this – they didn’t speak English and were very uninclined to offer us any assistance). On our 1pm return the following day we were ignored until we marched into their office and demanded some form of information. At this point we were pointed to a sign in Cyrillic that we supposed said the Embassy closed at 1pm and re-opened at 5pm, until 6pm. So we came back at 5pm, at which point they decided we couldn’t take the car in and gave us a bunch of bung directions that wasted most of our hour long window. With much difficulty we eventually coaxed our way into the complex and found the Azerbaijani Embassy. The lady who answered the door had us wait on the front porch while she fetched a slender man who spoke English, who in turn went and got a fat man who knew stuff. After being chastised for making our appearance so late in the day, they informed us between them that the only place to get an Azerbaijani visa is in the country that you will enter Azerbaijan from. So for us that means we have to get it in Iran which is leaving it much too late and much too up to chance for our liking, but they were adamant that there is no other way. We have it from a variety of other sources though that we should be able to get it in Uzbekistan either with or without an LOI, so we’ll continue checking each Embassy along the way and play it by ear. But other than a bit of time, we didn’t lose anything by giving it a go – you never know when they’re just going to turn around and decide a new rule.

So far Stantours has provided us with brilliant service. David has been most helpful and reasonable in answering our queries, even when it won’t be increasing his income, and the advice he has provided us with has been invaluable. After the NAVO debarkle in China (Blog Day 117 - The incompetency of NAVO: Part 1 - Kazakhstan visa troubles and Day 118 - The incompetency of NAVO: Part 2 - Our sub-par tour guide) it is extremely refreshing to be dealing with an agency who knows their business, provides a proper service and treats their customers with respect.