Sunday, 2 September 2012

Day 159 - Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan. (Border crossing)

In true Kyrgyz form there were no signs to help us find the border, so after driving 14km in the wrong direction we pulled over to ask someone. The easiest place to ask for was Kara Suu, the town that we thought we were probably heading towards which was the wrong way. I got out the car and approached a man at the side of the road, saying the name “Kara Suu” several different ways until he understood where I was talking about. Confirming our suspicions he pointed in the direction we were heading in and repeated “Kara Suu”. I started walking back to the car to tell everyone we needed to do a u-turn, but unfortunately the man followed me. Realising that this man was trying to hitchhike to Kara Suu and he had quite understandably misunderstood my quest for directions, I then had the awkward task of trying with no common language to explain that we were unable to give him a lift. Oops.
A couple of people later we found ourselves on a road that seemed to be heading in the right direction, but were promptly pulled over by a policeman. Ben addressed him out the window, thanking him profusely for helping us and spending the next five minutes getting directions to the border. By the time we absolutely knew exactly where to go, the policeman had forgotten that he’d pulled us over to begin with. Brilliant. And his directions were correct.
We arrived at the closed gates to the border, and Denner had the task of being designated driver for the day. His story will follow to fill in this bit.
While Denner was busy chatting up the border guards, we were inside the large square building dealing with the real bureaucracy. Considering the beating we were getting we thought Denner would be there for hours, but apparently they weren’t so concerned with him and the car as they were with us.
On entering, we’d been given two identical forms each to fill in. Aside from the usual name, DOB, passport details etc, there was a section to declare things such as “any weapon, ammunition, explosives, radioactive materials”, “drugs, psycho tropic substances, poisonous, drastic and medicines”, “objects of flora and fauna, their components and products of them”, “radio-frequency radio electronic devices and means of communication”, “objects if antiques and art”, “means of transport”, and the list goes on. We have heard a few horror stories about how strict the Uzbek borders are, so we carefully went into great detail filling in the section about the car, in which they wanted to know things that we didn’t even know existed. We meticulously counted our cash to declare exactly how much we were taking into the country with us. Apparently a guard will usually want to see the cash (and we were expecting a bit to be skimmed off the top), and you must leave the country with less US$ than you enter with. I’ll go into the currency more in a later blog. Ben also has quite a collection of notes from all the countries we’ve been to, adding to a sum total of less than $10, but choosing to play it safe he decided to show them this and ask whether or not to declare it. The guard obviously had no idea what Pilipino Pesos and Thai Bhat look like and assumed it was a large sum of money, so even when Ben assured him of it’s very miniscule value, he wanted to confiscate it. After a bit of gentle persuasion (no payment involved surprisingly), the guard hesitantly handed the wad back to Ben and told him to hide it.
In answer to the “drugs, psycho tropic substances, poisonous, drastic and medicines”, we had specified “paracetamol, anti-inflammatories, gastro-stop, doxycycline”, and our various other drugs. We’d even vigilantly estimated their value and written “Alfred Hospital” for the issuing authority. After deciding to leave the “accompanied baggage, including hand luggage in amount place” and “unaccompanied baggage (due to cargo accompanying documents) in amount place” squares blank, we copied it all onto the second form, dated and signed it, and approached the small wooden desk in the middle of the room. The guard Ben had shown his money to went through our forms, crossing the boxes we’d missed and stamping the declared amount of US$. When he got to the bit where we’d declared drugs, he looked at us sharply and flipped the page over to see what we’d specified.
“Paracetamol, what is this?” “For sore head.” “Ah, ok.”
“Gastro-stop, what is this?” “For diarrhoea.” He didn’t know what diarrhoea was, that was awkward. “Um, toilet, you know?” He didn’t. Some uncomfortable miming ensued, and he eventually gleaned understanding.
He went on to question us about all the drugs, asking us “So this is all medicine?” “Yes.” “Normal medicine?” “Yes, normal medicine.” “Not psycho tropics?” “No, not psycho tropics, just normal, legal medicines.” “Oh ok, you do no declare this. Only psycho tropics drugs.”
So there’s a whole section for declaring illegal drugs. Who would you nominate as the issuing authority? How would you estimate the value? That’s certainly a new one.
Then he got to the car section. “You each have car?” “No, we have one car between us.” You are driver? Who is driver?” Denner was just outside the window with Trevor, so we pointed over there and explained that the driver was already dealing with the car importation. He had been surprisingly reasonable during this whole process, correcting our mistakes with whiteout as he went, but he was obviously getting to the end of his tether by this point - understandably considering every single section (except name, DOB, nationality etc) was wrong. Indicating the car section that we’d so carefully filled in he told us “Only driver”. We apologised profusely and gratefully accepted the new forms he thrust at us.
With only our electronics and US$ declared on the new forms we approached the same guard. He couldn’t be bothered with us this time and palmed us off to his colleague who stamped, crossed and signed our corrected forms.
Customs was in a large square room, full length windows lining the walls. Aside from the small wooden desks the guards were sitting at to check our forms and the standing height desks for us to fill in forms at, there was a luggage scanner conveyer belt at the exit, and a small room in the corner that we had noticed was the strip searching room. Every bag was going through the scanner and then being opened and searched by hand. Around half the people going through were also being escorted into the strip searching room in twos and threes. As we laid our bags on the scanner, I noticed the one female guard eyeing me up and speaking to the guard who had mainly been dealing with us. Despite not understanding the words that were being said, I could clearly tell that they were discussing whether to strip search me. She was really keen – give the white girl a kick up the bum I guess, but the male guard who had corrected our forms was telling her just to leave us stupid tourists be – we can’t even fill in customs declarations forms properly. In the end our bags went through the scanner and we were waved through the door and sent on our way to Uzbekistan.
Considering the Kyrgyz side of things had taken 15 minutes, we’d then been left to wait in no-man’s land for 30 minutes and then we’d been stuck in Uzbek Customs for an hour, we found a shady spot behind the brick wall surrounding the border area and got ready to wait for Denner for at least another hour. Five minutes later Denner and Trevor appeared and we were free to go.

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