I’ve arrived safely in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, but it could all have been so different, but for about a foot. A truck overtook me on the inside (hard shoulder), swerved in front of me, just missing my front wing/fender, and then slammed into the back of the truck that I was following. This happened on the long, steep descent from a mountain. At first I though he was just being an idiot and trying to move head in the traffic but after he hit the other truck, he had a hard time stopping. I think he lost his brakes due to over-use on the long steep hill. You can see the incident on the video clip from my dashboard camera using this link – http://bermudarover.smugmug.com/Online/i-GDDHmkD/A
Imagine what a nightmare it would have been if he had run into the back of me instead! At the border, the Customs guy said, “We don’t worry about that” when I asked him if there was a kiosk beyond the border post where I could buy vehicle insurance for Uzbekistan. It was the same in Kyrgyzstan – no vehicle insurance.
Anyway, I left the hotel in Jalal-Abad about 5.45am and got to the Kyrgyz side of the Uchkurgan border post about 7.05am, only to have a guy in military fatigues point to his watch and gesture that I’d have to wait – I was too early. I’d checked an online source that said the border was open during ‘daylight’ (which was about 5.30am) but found that isn’t accurate. They let me into the Kyrgyz side about 8.00am and I was processed and sent through within a half-hour. But then I had to wait at the Uzbek side, as the border doesn’t open until 9.00am.
Once in the Uzbek side, the Customs guy was very helpful and friendly and spoke very good English. Once the Customs declaration had been completed I was processed and then sent to the Immigration window. Once I got my immigration stamp, there was a cursory inspection of the Defender and I was on my way, entering Uzbekistan by 10.00am.
Tashkent was still 325km away but it turned out that there was sealed tarmac road the entire way – even a two-lane highway up the mountain. There were no money changers at the border either, so I was in the country with no spendable money until I could get to Tashkent. Fortunately, I had cheese and cold-cuts in the fridge to eat and bottled water to drink.
As I drove to Tashkent, I was amazed at how much attention the Defender was drawing. I’ve become accustomed to men approaching and admiring the vehicle during the trip, but the Uzbeks take it to a whole new level. People standing on the street stopped what they’re doing and stared at the Defender as we passed. About every second car that overtook me had someone looking backwards, to either see the front of the vehicle or to see who was inside (or both). Several cars honked and waved as they passed. At least three cars overtook me, braked and then dropped back behind me for a few seconds – apparently to read the web address or look at the flags on the spare wheel cover. Either they love Defenders or they don’t see many foreign vehicles. I wish I could say that they may have thought I was Brad Pitt 🙂
I had to smile along the way at the proliferation of paper police cars and policemen stationed on the roadsides. They were everywhere but they didn’t seem to have any deterrent effect on the local drivers.
I reached Tashkent before 5.00pm, in need of a shower after a long drive in the hot weather. Having used up an extra day in Jalal-Abad to sort out the Defender, I’ll probably only be here for one night. I want to get to the historic Silk Road city of Samarkand tomorrow!