Uzbekistan

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Slowly we plodded through the last bit of Kazakhstan.  Leaving Kazakhstan (although slow wasn't as painful as arriving).

We arrived in Uzbekistan very late and immediately went to get some petrol.  Scammed.  That early experience felt like a good description of the whole country.  Everyone out to screw you over at each turn (though it's to be noticed that the gas station in the photo isn't the one that over-charged us, that was a little way further down the road).

It was the early hours of the morning in what felt, thus far, like a pretty sketchy country.

We'd pulled over onto a dirt track and a police car pulled up.  The policeman wandered over and we explained through the international language of "we're trying to find somewhere to sleep".  Out of this car staggered a few drunk teenagers who promptly fell down into a ditch.  "Wait until I get back." he barked, dragged the kids into the car and drove off.  We then had a lively discussion as to whether to wait or scarper.  One of us (not me) suggested we stay as it mightn't be a good idea to annoy the police so soon into our arrival into their (rubbish) country.  Somehow - and i'm not sure how - that single vote carried and we kicked our heels waiting for the policeman to return.

After what seemed like ages he did indeed return and told us to follow him.  So through the early hours of the morning he sped through red lights and we dutifully followed him into the back end of nowhere before pulling up outside a large hotel.  It was, we were informed, his brothers (or brother-in-laws?  or somesuch.)  After sitting in the lobby for a while discussing who was going to be chief negotiator and quibbling over the price for a while we unpacked and went to our rooms.  We were the only guests in the hotel.  We locked the door and went to sleep.

Finally... into Russia.

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The continued push to the border.  Finally, after many rubbish roads, we got to the border at 2:30 pm.  By 4:30 pm the other teams have caught up and we all drive to the beginning of customs together.

We took our V5, Ukrainian exit bit of paper and passports to the window.  The guy behind the glass pointed at our Ukrainian transit visa stamp.  "Three days.  You here six.  Little problem."  It was actually five but still obviously not three.  He sent us over for insurance and we filed over to a shed to get what probably isn't worth the paper it's written on.  Insurance for Russia $60 for two weeks.  We'll need to get more when we re-enter Russia.

We took our insurance back to the border guard thingy we could move on to the next stage.  No.  He pointed to the "three-day transit" visa again.  Despite our being Europeans and therefore entitled to thirty days is will still "a problem".  Back to our car. Phone calls were made and after fifteen minutes we were beckoned over.  "$20 make the problem go away".  Out first non-speeding bribe.  We probably could have sat it out but between three of us it was only about £4 each and didn't seem worth it.

Bribe paid we moved on to the second stage of trying to leave the Ukraine.

The guards were more friendly this time and were seemingly coin collectors (not a euphemism for thieves and wanted to swap an Irish Euro for a Ukrainian coin.  I gave them a sew on patch with the Union Jack on.  All was good and we drove the short distance to Russian border control.

As the registered owner of our vehicle, I was taken into a room to fill in a form.  The Russian guard was pretty helpful.  After a brief mishap with ticking a box saying we had no communication equipment (we had the CB Radio) and my using the internationally recognised mime for 'we only use our CD radios inside Europe) I was sent to another room where a big burly guy typed the details from the form into his computer, printed out another form and got me to sign it and then proceeded to stamp the hell out of it.  Oh, how they love stamping things.  Suddenly he thrusted the form at me and bellowed "BYE! GO!".  It was very hard not to laugh.  We drove through the barrier.  We were in Russia!  Only four hours to get through customers.  Not bad at all. 

We drove until about 11 pm until we found a bar and ordered food.

I popped out to the car to get some mustard (as you do) and saw one of the Irish guys chatting to a bunch of Russians.  One called Vladimir kept shaking my hand and saying "We best friends."  In the spirit of international relations, I said "Yes" and spent the next hours and a half getting asked for my mobile number.

He seemed very keen that we all go swimming in a local river at one in the morning in some town I didn't know.  It really didn't seem like the best way to spend the evening.

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We left by 2 am or so to try and find a field to camp in.  We were flagged down by a policeman who just seemed curious and didn't seem bothered that women had drawn various things on our windscreen in lipstick.

At last, we found a field.  It was about 3 am.

Some Tweets from the day

In a field on the Uzbekistan / Russian border drinking tea out of a bowl before going through the looking glass.

2:30pm and all we've had for food is a cup of tea. It's the infamous Mongol Rally diet.

Watching a man herd geese with a whip whilst waiting for more teams to turn up so we can cross the border together.

Trying to leave Ukraine. Three day transit visa but this is day five. May be a problem even though as Europeans we should get thirty days.

A nod, a wink and a ten dollar bribe... Now in no man's land waiting to try and get into Russia.

Sat in room with various Russian peeps and filled out car related forms. Fours hours in total and we're now in Russia!

Russian border guard came over to find put why I was taking photos near a border. I showed him a picture of a dog and he went away again.

In the world's loudest bar trying to figure out if a photo is fish, chicken or some as yet identified animal.

Best guess having tasted it is that it's chicken mixed with honey puffs. Ride to get some American mustard from the car?

Why does a drunk Russian man keep asking for my phone number? It's all getting odd.

We find ourselves in a Russian field. We were pulled over by the police but all is well.

It appears a prostitute has written her number on our windscreen in lipstick. Which is odd. I only wanted a cup of tea.

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