Monday, 10 September 2012
Day 161 – Police checks. (Uzbekistan)
After the border crossing itself and the passport check to leave the border area, we headed towards Tashkent, expecting to cover the 250km within the day. The roads were good so our average speed was higher than we’ve managed since China (and before that Australia), but what we hadn’t accounted for was the unbelievable amount of police checks we’d encounter. We are becoming quite accustomed to police hanging around at the side of the road, pulling people over whenever they feel so inclined, making up an offence and asking for a bribe. What we aren’t used to though is a police checkpoint that resembles a border crossing every 50km, not to mention the police and army at the side of the road every 1 or 2km. On top of that, the system seems to be on the increase as there were at least a dozen checkpoints under construction in this section. In that first 250km, we had our passports checked five times – and not just looked at, but actually taken to a computer inside an office where they’re scanned and our movements are recorded. At one check they flicked through one of our passports, and finding the page with the Iranian visa on it asked us something that we assumed to be “So you have a visa to go to Iran?” Obviously we answered yes, because we do. Then sensing their heckles rising, it dawned on us that with the passport photo on the visa, the policeman had mistaken it for the title page. We quickly found the actual title page and cleared the air. Only that morning a man had asked me and Ben whether we were Israeli. It’s certainly a change of scene from the usual “American?”
The thing is though, we weren’t once asked for money or accused of anything; they really are just keeping a record of everyone’s movements. Considering we entered the country in an area where there is regular fighting, and shooting across the border is not unusual, and we then skirted the Tajik border (including an enclave) for most of the way, we are hoping that this won’t be a trend throughout the country. The police presence in Tashkent is still very high, but we haven’t been stopped at all yet in the city.
As a result of all this though we didn’t make it to Tashkent until this morning, camping overnight on the way.
The fact that we camped on our first night may or may not cause us problems in the future. Supposedly all tourists are meant to register at a hotel every night spent in Uzbekistan. We keep hearing different stories though – one guy told us that if you register every 2nd night it’s fine, someone else reckons every 3rd night is ok. The hotel we’re staying at in Tashkent wasn’t even comfortable taking us because we hadn’t registered on our first night. Some say nobody will even check at the border, yet others are under the impression that if you don’t register every night you’ll be fined. So we’re still playing it by ear and not quite sure what we’ll end up doing. We’re not in cheap land anymore, so we can’t really afford to stay in accommodation every night. The cheapest we could find here was $30 pp, so hopefully we’ll discover that camping sometimes is ok.