Tashkent, the capital, in particular is our home for the moment. We arrived early this morning after a tiring 36 hour stretch of bus and plane travel. On first blush, Tashkent is as advertised: a charmless, haggard, smoggy city inhabited by mostly sour people, especially compared to the joyful residents of Turkey. But we’ve resolved to find the city’s soft underbelly because we’re going to be here for four days. We slept most of the day away and missed our chance to submit our Kyrgyzstan visa application and will have to wait until Monday to try again.
There were some fun memorable bits however. Surprisingly, we breezed through the notoriously cranky Uzbek customs. The next logical step was to acquire some sums (Uzbek currency), but when I approached the exchange desk, both agents were sprawled forward on their desks as if they’d been shot in the back of their heads. In fact, there was no evidence of foul play. It was their designated nap time: 7 to 8 AM, or so we think the sign said. So we waited.
The current exchange rate is about 1,300 Uzbeki sum to one dollar. The funny part is that 1,000 is the largest denomination printed, so my $100 bill earned me a stack of sum at least 4 inches thick when the agents finally came to. The fellow in front of me changed 300 Euros; a wheel barrow was almost necessary.
Then it was off to find a taxi. In our experience, cab drivers who congregate near airports always seem to be out to bilk tourists. By reputation in Uzbekistan, they take the cake. We talked our garrulous cabbie down to $7 from the original $20 proposed, but when we arrived at our hostel, he first tried to claim that we had agreed to pay $7 each (we hadn’t). At the same time he tried to convince our host that we hadn’t made a reservation (we had) and that he was due a commission (he wasn’t). Finally, he did his utmost to persuade us and anyone within earshot that he was the only taxi driver in all of Tashkent able to meet our travel needs. Charming fellow.
That was about it. After the aforementioned nap, we wandered around a bit, saw one cool market, and lots and lots of concrete. We confirmed that Uzbekis do have an affinity for gold teeth as our Lonely Planet guide book asserts. But counter to what’s written, we saw no evidence that local women use eyebrow pencils to complete what we in the States call a uni-brow.