“Fuck we need visas for Tajikistan”
Those are not the words you want to hear two days before you’re supposed to fly to Tajikistan. Donnie and I scrambled to apply for visas online. We were told that we would have them emailed to us before we landed in Dushanbe. That sounded good enough for us, we hopped on our flight and headed to our first stop. We had a 12-hour layover in Urumqi, a city wayyy on the far west side of China.
Flying from Shanghai to Urumqi is kind of like flying from NYC to LA, only a larger distance. Geographically China covers 5 times zones, but guess what? The Chinese government said fuck your timezones, if it’s five o’clock for us in Beijing, then it’s five o’clock wherever the fuck you live too. I didn’t know a country could just choose how time works. Having no time change means that during the winter on the west coast of China the sun doesn’t rise until 11 AM. That’s gotta be so weird to live there. Does everyone spend their mornings in darkness just bumping into shit, or does everyone there agree to start their days at 11 and work until late? I really can’t wrap head around how not having timezones works.
By the time we got out of the airport, it was already 11 PM. Our flight to Tajikistan left at 8:30 AM the next day, so all we have time to do was grab a quick meal and head to the hotel to sleep. It was there where I learned a valuable travel tip from Donnie.
Well, we certainly followed that rule. There was a medial detector where the front door should have been, the hallways flickered due to the dying fluorescent lights that were barely hanging on to the ceiling. Our room was snug and reeked of cigarettes, but the beds looked clean enough. A layover hotel is a lot like a hotel you go to do heroin, the ambiance doesn’t matter, you just need a place to lie down.
Day two of travel began with our taxi being pulled over at 5:30 AM so we could get out to have our bags, and passports scanned at a military checkpoint on the road. I wish I could start all my days in the military checkpoint of a communist country, it wakes you up a bit, no need for coffee. The airport was an absolute shit show. The TSA gets a bad rep, but it’s got nothing on the Chinese version. I had to take everything out of my bags, and I mean everything, even the contents of my dob kit. I had my toothbrush in the same bin that shoes go in. Woof, talk about an immune system strengthener. By the time I finally repacked my entire suitcase they were announcing the last call to our flight, and we still needed to clear customs. Donnie cleared first and sprinted ahead to hold the flight, I followed behind. We ran down the jet bridge to the tarmac where a van was waiting to take us to the plane.
Our problems only continued once we landed in Tajikistan. The visas we had applied for prior to leaving had not come through. We could purchase visas on arrival but we needed Tajik currency to do so, and the only ATM in the airport was on the other side of customs. We were essentially stuck in no man’s land until when out of nowhere our Jamol, our guide showed up. He told Donnie that the guard would allow him to cross the border to take out money from the ATM in exchange for a bribe of 100 Tajiks, which is only around 10 Americans. 10 bucks seem like an extremely low price have to pay to illegally cross a border, I would have assumed it would be something in the hundreds, I think $150 is a fair price to pay for that kind of thing.
I wish I could say the trouble stopped there but it didn’t. Although we now had visas we still needed a special permit in order to travel to certain parts of Tajikistan, but we flew in on a holiday, and the office that issued the permits we needed was closed and would remain closed for the next six days. If we wanted those permits we were going to have to come up with some other way of getting them. At one point our best idea was to have me try and photoshop them. Seemed like a perfectly good idea at the time, but looking back now forging foreign legal documents seems a bit dumb. Lucky for me I didn’t have to forge anything, Jamol was able to get us the permits. How exactly? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and say there was some kind of bribe involved.
Here are our first two vlogs from the trip.
There’s are loads more coming from our trip to Tajikistan, this is only the beginning. Make sure you subscribe to Donnie’s youtube page.