Monday, October 12, 2009

White People Have Gold

So, I've discovered something that is changing my whole trip: shared taxis. In the last three days I've been to Khiva, Bokhara, Samarkand, Termiz on the Afghan border and now I'm in Dushanbe Tajikistan. What you do is go and hang around bus stations until you find a car going where your heading. Then you pile in with three strangers, the driver puts on some blaring arabic pop music and then floors it going about 90 miles per hour all the way to your destination. I've taken three of these for between four and seven hours each and they are bangin. First off they are fun. It feels like fear and loathing in Las Vegas gunning it through the deserts of Uzbekistan windows open and the bass bumpin. Also its a great way to see the country. You pass through little towns and cities and farms, deserts and mountains all at eye level, swerving around puppies and waving at little kids. Also, sometimes in the middle of the night you stop at a tea house and sit up on the traditional raised reclining platforms eating fresh sweet tomatoes with rock salt and the truly odd but wildly filling and cheap truck stop fare of a plate heaped with chickpeas, tube pasta, cheese, grits, and mutton all topped with a fried egg and a hot dog. Then you pass the tea cup of vodka and lay back under the stars before continuing your journey. These rides can be hair raising. For some reason Uzbek drivers like to black out their rear windows and will only use their headlights sparingly at night. Also, they literally floor it the whole way swerving into oncoming traffic around donkey carts and Iranian semi trucks. The roads are sometimes awful with potholes that come up to my waist. The strategy they seem to go with is just going all out over the holes. Its like Mario Bros. If you go fast enough you can just glide over the small jumps and it seems to work ninety percent of the time but my oh my that tenth pot hole is a doozie. This last taxi took my to the Border between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Crossing borders on foot is such a love hate thing. I hate waiting, the tedious lines and being at the mercy of corrupt border guards but I love the feeling of walking from one country into another and watching all of the military folks' uniforms change and the propaganda style change. I also LOVE that weird space between the two borders. Literally between two countries, these corridors have all kinds of strange characters from russian hooligans, to shady toothless money changers and this one had a blind woman with a bundle of burning grass blessing people for change. That said, this particular border was miserable. I got there at about 1pm. Filled out a declaration form and guessed I had about 1500 bucks on me, After the guard searched me he discovered I had $1850. First he said I was under arrest but I pretended not to understand. He obviously wanted a bribe but at first I was in no mood. After he said his boss would confiscate the extra 350 bones I offered him twenty bucks. He just looked insulted and dragged me to his boss. Anyway the boss made lots of calls on his cell phone in which he laughed heartily and the only words I could make out were "americansky". Every hour or so he would have a soldier come in with a gun and handcuffs and say I was under arrest. I would smile real big, hold out my wrists and say Ah Salamm Alaykm and then the only words I knew in Uzbek, "thank you very much". Then the soldier would look confused, put the handcuffs back in his pocket and leave. Anyway, a very long story short he made me write out a confession that I had been smuggling currency. Then made me wait while he translated it word by word into uzbek then added it to a huge file of other confessions from american and europeans which he showed me smiling. He then read me a statement that said I could get my money back by following proper protocol and told me to sign a paper in Uzbek. After I signed he informed me that I had just waived my right to have my money returned. Then he showed my $350 bucks to all of his friends out the window who cheered, pocketed the money and stamped my passport.

A few final notes on Uzbekistan:

In the country side here they burn something that smells just like Reses Peanut Butter cups. If they were made out of real home roasted peanuts and dark chocolate. I have no Idea what it is.

The water is not potable so everyone drinks bottled water. Nothing new there but in Uzbekistan all the water is sparkling! It's heavenly.

Lonely Planet always claims every place has the most hospitable people in the world. They're always saying that strangers will offer you tea or dinner and take you to there homes. Anyway when I'm traveling and my guide book says that I'm like "Where the hell are these people? I'm fucking thirsty!" Well it turns out theyre in Uzbekistan.

Child labour is a big problem in Uzbekistan. Children are conscripted every year from school to work the cotton harvest. Uzbeks all deny this but it is well known and the fields are full of little kids stooped under cotton bails (I saw them everywhere). Not only that but children as young as like nine do all kinds of jobs. Also there seems to be a high rate of that Benjamin Button genetic disease probably because of all the soviet biological weapon testing here (seriously). So you never know whether the little guy in the tiny bow tie bringing you your menu is an exploited eleven year old or a wizened man child.

2 comments:

Dustin Neuman said...

Have you been finding that people pronounce your name Charlar, where Char- rhymes with -lar?

Charley said...

no they all just call me pimp daddy c...why?