Central Asia is Holding me Hostage…

Posted by on Oct 3, 2006 in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan | 13 Comments

and China won’t let me in.

Tajikistan started and ended on bad notes (waiting for permits in Dushanbe… almost getting into a fight with the militsia in Murgab and projectile vomiting at 3,800 meters), but everything in-between was completely amazing.

I flew on a tiny 17-seater plane with no computers on board. We soared through mountain passes and followed a gorge marking the Tajik–Afghan border. Two days later, after my homestay owner, Gulnara, cornered me and dyed my eyebrows, we left with our Pamiri driver in an old army green Russian UAZ jeep for Ishkashim. Because the weather was perfect we drove the route through the Wakhan Corridor to Murgab in three days instead of our planned four.

Along the way we stayed with our driver’s friends and ate more cabbage soup than I felt comfortable with. I blame the cabbage soup and lack of actual Coca-Cola for my demise into projectile vomiting our second day in Murgab. By then we kind of had electricity in the form of a generator, were all more than ready for some “civilization.” It’s pretty bad when Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan looks like civilization.

Along the way we heard from one of the few others travelers we met that the Chinese border had been closed for it’s national holiday. We refused to believe that they would close the border for ten days—just think of all of the scrap metal they’re missing out on importing! Unfortunately, it turned out to be true although the re-oppening date has still not been confirmed. This morning I called the U.S. embassy in Bishkek who told me they have no information on the Chinese border and suggested I call the Chinese embassy. When I called the Chinese embassy and asked if they spoke English I was immediately hung up on.

Besides wasting my time (and money) as Tibet gets colder, this border closing is a major visa problem for me. I bought a Kyrgyz transit visa in Dushanbe that is only valid from October 2nd through the 6th—during which the border is closed. I have head rumors that the border will open on the 8th, 9th, 10th or 11th, so my visa will be invalid well before I can cross to China.

I went by a travel agent today to ask about flights to Urumqi. The agent started with “There are two airlines flying to China. One of them has just been arrested so your options are limited.” After a lot of searching it turned out that there were no seats on any of the flights until late October, let alone by this Friday so I can not leave Kyrgyzstan by air. I’ve thought about going through Kazakstan, but by the time I get to Bishkek, apply for a Kazak visa and take the train from Almaty to Urumqi I would be better off sitting in Osh and waiting for the border to open.

So, here I am in Osh… again. I’ve heard there’s a resturaunt that serves pizza. I just don’t know if I can stomach any more shashlick, plov, lagman or gulash after two months of the stuff. I’m certainly staying away from any cabbage soup. I don’t know when China became a promised land for me but I’m dying for some KFC.

13 Comments

  1. slodwick
    October 3, 2006

    Hey, sweets… I was in Chicago this weekend, and Ellen, Mei & I were talking about how much we missed you, and how even though I read all your posts, I don’t comment nearly enough — I just fret so much about you! I wish the governments of the world would just behave themselves so you could stay on schedule! I’m crossing my fingers for you that the border opens up soon, and you can get as far away from cabbage soup as humanly possible! *hugs*

  2. Megan
    October 3, 2006

    Thanks for thinking of me Slod. It’s depressing how much I miss your get togethers when I’m surrounding by such amazing things. Please enjoy Chicago for me while I’m gone.

    I’m sure you understand about the cabbage soup!

  3. dis
    October 3, 2006

    I would never be able to survive…I hate cabbage!

    Why did the person dye your eyebrows?

  4. Stu
    October 3, 2006

    Eyebrow pictures, please

  5. David in Urumqi
    October 3, 2006

    Is the pizza restaurant you heard of in Osh “California Pizza”. It’s okay–I ate there one night… it wasn’t too bad, but if you’re expecting an American-style pie, you’ll be disappointed.

    If you’re stuck in Osh for a few days I would recommend a couple of places for food:

    “Rich Men Cafe” in the south end of town–nice menu, excellent food, cheap prices.

    “Istanbul” bakery in the north end of town. Super-gooey baklava, steeped in honey and rose water.

    You’re right about the border being shut because of the holiday. It’s currently Guo Qing Jie–National Day here. The entire Russian ghetto here in Urumqi is dead–there’s no road traffic going across any of the Xinjiang borders.

    Let me know when you’ll be up in Urumqi. Hope to see you up here soon.

    –David

  6. Megan
    October 4, 2006

    Oh, there’s eyebrow pictures kiddies. You just wait.

  7. Megan
    October 4, 2006

    David,
    Is the California Piza across from teh prak on teh street with the big Lenin, near a bookstore? I saw something with a bear and it said “California Republic” but the rest of the sign was in Russian or Kyrgyz. I was talking about Cafe Greenwood but I went by today and they said “niet pizza.”

    I had lunch at istanbul today. They had diet coke!

    I don’t think I’ll spend too long in Kashgar… depending on trains and stuff. Maybe a day trip to Yensignar for knives. I was going to try for Hotan’s Sunday market but I don’t think it will work out.

    Urumqi will be all about KFC, DVDs, post office and massage. I was thinking about getting a train ticket from tehre to Dunhuang and bussing to Golmud. I don’t even know if it’s worth trying for a Lhasa train ticket. Have you heard anythign about the way they’re handling foreigners/prices on those routes?

  8. Stacy from WA
    October 4, 2006

    Hi Megan,

    I’ve been a blog stalker of yours since Mongolia- I googled RTW trip and a click here another click there and viola I landed at Me-go.net I’m having fun reading your journeys and your website is so easy to use and follow (kudos to you!). I’m comtemplating a RTW as well but for right now it’s fun to dream. I’m a graphic designer as well– see we have lots in common.

    There’s information about the Lhasa trains on http://www.seat61.com. If you don’t already know about this website it is the best information for trains all over the world. If you already do know about the site then good for you– you savvy RTWer.

    Also, since you’re going to India soon there’s a great traveller forum at http://www.indiamike.com. I used it when I went last November. India is fabulous. I can’t stop talking about it even a year later…

    Keep up the great blogs…

  9. Julie in DC
    October 4, 2006

    Hi Megan-

    I came across your blog when I was looking up Uzbekistan in blogger. I was in Peace Corps there for 18 months (before we got kicked out). I really liked reading your posts about Central Asia. It makes me miss it. And I totally covet your trip! Stay safe out there. Yaxshi bor’ing (Go well in Uzbek- but maybe you already knew that)!

  10. David in Urumqi
    October 5, 2006

    Yes, the restaurant you saw in Osh with the “California Republic” bear is indeed California Pizza. (That’s the state flag of California, by the way.) Is the sign only in Cyrillic… I can’t recall. Perhaps as a designer you can offer to barter a nice English-language sign in exchange for free pizza for life–might bring in more backpackers so be a good deal for them.

    I don’t want to get you hopes up for something amazing, but the food’s not bad, not too expensive, and a break from the standard Central Asian fare.

    You’re not going to attempt the road from S. Xinjiang, then? It would probably make more sense to spend time in Hotan–and visit their Sunday Market–presuming your alternative would be going back from Yengisar to Kashgar. There are buses across the desert directly from Hotan to Urumqi. They take about 24 hours, about the same time it would take you to take a bus or train from Kashgar.

    Bus fares should be around 180 yuan from either city. You could take the slow train from Kashgar and go hard seat if you want to save some money, but might have to wait around for a ticket. Alternatively, I’ve seen some really cheapo airfares between Urumqi and Kashgar going for 450 yuan this week.

    We can talk about details of getting down to Dunhuang, Golmud, and Tibet once you make it up to Urumqi. Authorities in Golmud are basically big jerks about making you buy a “travel permit”, but it’s really not that problematic to get to Lhasa thereafter. It’s not that hard if you want to get around the permit process too, though requires a lot of patience.

    When do you expect to be up in Urumqi?

    –David

  11. Megan
    October 6, 2006

    Stacy,
    I know about seat61 but haven’t checked since they put the Lhasa info on there. Now I’m set, thanks. Feel free to send me any India advice or suggestions. I shoudl be there in the cool months like December, January or so… if I ever get out of here!

    Julie,
    Did you get sent to Mongolia after that? I met a lot who did. Uzbekistan was a strange place. I guess it was one of the more intensely touristy places I’ve been in a while. Everyone seemed pretty agressive, even in random places like the Nukus market. And I saw way too much man on woman violence to be confortable there.

    David,
    Ahhh, well, I might have to try to California place out. I’ve been freaking everyone out by sitting in my room and workign on code for the past two days. People keep interupting me, thinking they’re doing me a favor because I’m bored but they’re just getting in my way!

    I know about the cross-talak buses… but I’d rather do 24 hours on a train thatn a bus for sure. I don’t fit so well in those sleepers. I can’t turn and I get stuck in one position.

    I was hoping the travel permit bullshit would have ceased now that the train’s running. I don’t know if it’s possible to take the train or get tickets in Xining or Golmud at this point.

  12. Zokhid
    October 19, 2006

    I live in Osh and the California place that you mentioned has changed ownership. The menu has really improved since it reopened a few months ago. I studied abroad in the United States and must say that the pizza is almost as good as I remember from my time in the US.

    Another recommendation for a good place for lagman is Atabek on Lenin street.

  13. Megan
    October 20, 2006

    Tahnks, Z.

    I don’t plan to be in Osh anytime soon but hopefully someone researching their trip will come upon this information. Although I’m from Chicago I’m not really a deep dish kind of girl. Thin crust’s for me.