Range of Motion: Getting to Tajikistan
After a product launch and a few frantic days copyediting a book manuscript, I got on a plane and left to see the world.
It began with a 4:30am alarm and a taxi to the airport. I hopped the early Alaska Air flight down to LAX, took an afternoon American Airlines departure to Kennedy, and another late-night AA flight to Barcelona. Non-stop travel with a lot of stops.
In BCN I wandered the empty concourse at 5:45am. Boarding to Madrid was an hour later, but I had to switch to the Euro zone flight area, which means going through immigration and getting an entry stamp.
In Madrid I went through another process—shuffling down to baggage claim, out to the terminal shuttle bus, and over to Terminal 1. I then transferred to the non-Euro zone area and went through immigration again. Stamp-stamp. (The extra stamps are annoying, filling up my passport page for no good reason.)
The check-in with Turkish Airways was efficient, and I wandered off to board for Istanbul and beyond with only a slight delay in the departure lounge. By this point I was exhausted and slept for most of the four-hour flight. I perked up just in time for the fourth transit stop of the weekend.
Istanbul is a place I like but hardly know. I made a mental note to add Turkey to the list of places I’d like to spend more time in when the quest is over.
I went to the lounge, ate some Turkish pizza and prepared for the final flight: destination Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This flight was to board at 7pm and arrive at 3:45am, but with a three-hour change in between.
Where’s Tajikistan, you ask? It’s in the heart of Central Asia, a region that intimidated me until I actually went there and discovered it can be both welcoming and fun. Once this visit is complete, I’ll have only one “stan” remaining. Turkmenistan, the final frontier, will be coming up soon.
But I’m not so sure about showing up in January. Walking outside to meet my driver, I’m reminded of my Canadian book tour, which was also in the dead of winter and involved lots of walking around in cities without a coat.
Fortunately, the heat in the minivan is blasting, and I enjoy the ride as the driver points out various sights along the way. When we pull up to the Dushanbe Hyatt at 4am, I attempt the traveler’s trick of being naïve about check-in times.
I had emailed the hotel in advance to ask about airport transfers, and they offered to add an existing night to my reservation. It was fairly expensive, though, and I knew I’d have at least some chance of early check-in. In the past I’ve shown up as early as 8am, playing it cool and pretending that it’s normal to check-in several hours in advance of the advertised check-in time.
When informed of the policy, the best response is to be surprised: “Oh, really? Well, I suppose I can sit over on this bench until you have a room.”
I’ve never sat more than an hour when using this strategy. Most of the time, I sit for a few minutes, then all of a sudden a room becomes available. But 4am is really pushing it, and it doesn’t work this time. I decide to change tactics. “How much will it cost to check in now?”
“There is a 100% penalty,” the night clerk says, meaning that I’ll have to pay for a full night’s stay.
“100% is a lot,” I say. “How about 50%?”
And here’s the difference between a place like Russia itself, which I found inflexible and harsh, and a place like Central Asia, which retains the bureaucratic essence of the Soviet Union but also has a heart. The clerk picks up the phone to call the manager, but then puts it back down, making his own decision.
“OK,” he says. “Pay 50% for the extra day, and you can check-in now.”
Half price for a real shower, real internet, and a real bed is worth it. I head up to the 10th floor, enter my room, and settle in. First step: Always unpack everything before doing anything else. Put the running shoes by the door, the shirts in the closet, the laptop on the desk, and the watch by the bed.
I look out my window and see the morning light slowly beginning to shine in. There is snow on the ground below, mountains off in the distance, and a mosque next door.
The hotel is a good base for writing and catching up after the 72 hours it required to get here. Tomorrow I’ll bundle up and go on a city tour, and then I’ll decide what to do after that. I’d love to run down the wide streets I saw on the way in, but with temperatures of 28°F / -2°C, I might stick to the hotel gym.
The upcoming weekend’s adventure involves an attempt to visit Eritrea. For months my visa service has kept me waiting on the application, telling me everything is normal even though I learned at mid-point that the service has never done a successful application for a non-Eritrean applicant.
I was frustrated at their lack of urgency in badgering the consulate, which is exactly what you pay a processing service to do. Finally I talk it over with myself and realize the obvious lesson:
Stop pushing on something that isn’t going to happen. Forget about the rules and get on the plane anyway. Think of a good story that will allow you to purchase a visa upon arrival that isn’t supposed to be available. You’ve done this before and haven’t gone to jail yet, at least not as an adult. (Knock on wood.)
That’s the adventure for Friday through Sunday, and I determine to make sure to have a post ready to go for Monday just in case Eritrean jails don’t have WiFi hotspots.
But first, I’ve made it to country #178, and I’m glad. I lay down on the bed and fall fast asleep.
Nice lil’ narrative Chris. Besides your thoughts and philosophy, I always enjoy your first hand walk-throughs. Wherever I may be, they transport me.
In other news, Duchanbe is a sister city of my beloved home-town: Boulder, CO.
Duchanbe gifted Boulder a traditional tea house that was shipped and assembled one tiny brightly painted piece at a time.
Enjoy some tea and…
Are you going to write a book about your travels when your quest is complete? Do you think you will ever get to my beautiful volcanic isle of Montserrat in the caribbean?
Have fun on the trip! Was it inspired by Borat to visit so many ‘stans’ and do you have a chicken in a suitcase for backup morning eggs? 🙂
Winter is definitely not an easy time to visit Tajikistan. I had to smile at your comment about the Central Asians still having that Soviet bureaucratic mindset, but with a heart. In addition, the Tajiks are of Persian origin which I believe also contributes to their sense of hospitality.
Our visit to Dushanbe a few years ago was short, but remember that there were some decent Indian restaurants (which was food heaven after the Pamir region) and that the markets were fun because people were so surprised to see foreigners.
Enjoy the rest of your visit and good luck with Eritrea! I have a feeling Turkmenistan will surprise you as well when you get there.
I’m loving “(The extra stamps are annoying, filling up my passport page for no good reason.)” Here’s to having really grand annoyances!
Hi Chris, very engaging and entertaining story today, thanks for the post. As you close in on the end of your quest, are you saving one country to be “last” on your list? And if so, is there a reason?
Hey everyone, thanks for reading.
Nice. I’ll think of Boulder while drinking my tea.
Yep, I certainly hope to write a book about the whole experience, and also to visit Montserrat.
No chicken here…
Good to see you here – whenever people ask me about the stans, I always send them to you guys.
Yes, I’m saving NORWAY for #193. We’ve having a big party in April 2013. 🙂
I’m going to bed now (10pm here) and will post more comments in the morning.
Thank you for your story Chris. I loved your little tips hidden inside 🙂
And good luck with the visa…Can’t wait to read the story about that.
Glad to learn your trick of “waiting on the bench” until a room becomes available. I guess people start to feel sorry for you, although I would have expected this to work better at 4 a.m., than later in the day.
The flight routing you used seems tortuous — are you working with a round-the-world ticket and can only use certain airports?
Also, when I traveled a lot, I used to appreciate lots of passport stamps. Were you being facetious? (sometimes I am too literal.) I got a nice fat supplement in that passport. This included the era when the EU went into effect, meaning no more stamps travelling among those countries.
That’s actually a fairly normal routing for me. There aren’t that many flights to a place like Dushanbe.
And no, I wasn’t being facetious about not wanting extra stamps. I had four supplements in my last passport before it became physically impossible to add more. I spend hundreds of dollars a year on new passport applications and adding pages, not to mention the time waiting for them to be filled – so no, I don’t want unnecessary stamps.
For what you may care, I like all your post, but these one are the kind of posts I enjoy more reading
Hey Chris, isn’t Istanbul amazing! I just returned last week from a 5-day trip there (first time) and was sooo impressed. Fell in love with it. (Staying at the new W Hotel didn’t hurt either, although I’d almost have preferred a more traditional spot) I didn’t see other parts of Turkey but agree with you 100% about returning – Istanbul and its people made an indelible impression.
Whatever you do, if you have time on a future transit or visit to Istanbul DON’T MISS getting a Turkish bath. The new Hamam (bath house) right next to the Ayasofia is a must. More expensive than others, but truly posh. God what I wouldn’t give to go back right now!
Another minor point of your transit journey resonated – the filled passport. I’ve got almost three years left on mine and it looks like I’ll need to add pages before it expires. Yeah, as impressive as filling a passport may sound, to the frequent traveler it actually is a potential problem.
Safe travels, happy new year, keep soaring.
“Stop pushing on something that isn’t going to happen.”
Not a bad mantra to recite, over and over, while one is traveling through places far afield.
Great stuff. Stay out of jail 😉
Boy you give me the travel itch…I had never heard of Tajekistan before my daughter was contacted by an American living there with an amazing opportunity.We immediately got out the map to make sure it wasn’t the figment of someone’s imagination.Can’t wait to hear about the rest of the trip..what’s next after the quest is complete? We’ll all have withdrawal symptoms.
I felt like I was the one doing the traveling when I was reading your post. Now I know why you’re one of the successful writers out there in our somewhat harsh yet exciting world. After you finish your quest, please write a book about your travels. If it gets published, I will certainly buy one.
Nice one Chris. Another one checked off the list. Have fun!
Love it! Enjoy!
Just wondering if you have picked up any bugs, infections, illnesses in your travels? I don’t recall ever reading of these unpleasantries in all your travels but they are everywhere so I suppose you have been most fortunate to get beyond these ‘people ills’ to date…that is what my curiousity is with all the travelling, i.e., modes, people, areas you visit, etc. Of course the prerequisite of all travel is to be well and energetic. Sleep routines, time changes, weather, food, etc. have to be tolerable, and that is what the well-seasoned traveller is all about.
This is amazing!!! I’ve never even been on a plane so it’s understandable that I would be in awe but I have a feeling that even if I’d done a fair amount of traveling, I would be amazed.
P.S. I really hope you don’t end up in jail 🙂 haha
Jesus, ruthless amount of connections. I can’t handle that many anymore, they eat my soul! Cool destination though.
Now I’m curious to know if I’ll be admitted to the USA if travelled there (from Africa, where I live) via, say, Honduras, and tried to talk my way into the country.
There was an attack on tourists in Eritrea today. Be careful if you do decide to go through with your trip.
I can’t read – that was Ethiopia and expected attack from Eritrea. Regardless, be safe.
Agree with some earlier commenters, can’t wait to hear more about Tajikistan. Also, I really love your narrative voice when you talk about your travels. Here’s hoping you write some kind of travel memoir when this is all said and done.
Can’t believe there’s only a year left of these stories from the road. Being in Canada now we’re stuck in the deep freeze but one thing is for sure it’s the people that make the places, so I do hope you get to meet some great people in the last of the ‘stans
Love your accounts. Dushanbe is a place on my list…
You say Turkmenistan is the final ‘Stan, well let me tell you, you’re in for a treat. I went there last April and was worried. Visa hell, police hell, having a guide hell, but everything went smoothly. I loved Ashgabat and the gold statues, the beer called Berk, the monuments, and the sheer strangeness of it all. You’ll love it.
Amazing, inspiring account of your travel. The amount of detail you provide is great.
I have always had a problem with asking for forgiveness rather than permission. Your little chat with yourself about the visa is something I am working on, to take more risks and not to disqualify myself before I begin.
Very inspiring way of life you live.
I got to Xiniang, the Chinese part of central asia. Fascinating place and I’m looking forward to exploring other parts of the region.
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