Thursday, December 30, 2010

Tajik travels, part I

As the header says, I'm going to post a few travel posts here, just so I have them written down somewhere...
Link to pictures here : http://picasaweb.google.com/crisshaikh/Dushanbe

Trip to Tajikistan :

Planning : Buying tickets was difficult. There are limited options for flying to Tajikistan, and very few travel sights even list it as a possible destination. It was so expensive and confusing that we went through a travel agent for the first time in my life. We opted for the travel insurance. Getting Visas was a pretty easy process, except for the fact that we had to send passports through the mail to the tajik embassy. We were able to leave our dog with Margo's parents, which is terribly convenient for us, and made our lives a lot easier.
Shopping : We bought a lot of food for the trip. American snacks- beef jerky, candy, gum for the plane. Our clothes, Christmas presents for everyone. Things for family - a variety of cheeses, tahini(Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell it, who knew), green rubbing alcohol, peanut butter, pepperoni (in Tajikistan pepperoni means sliced hot dogs).
Packing : The packing process was pretty easy. We don't really own traditional luggage, so we borrowed a Patagonia bag from Margo's sister, and used one of the bags my mom had brought to the US (she used it as a large carry-on, we used it as a smalled checked bag). We managed to fit everything into those, plus our carry-ons which are Margo's backpack, my laptop bag and an adidas tote I have.

The Trip Itself :

Boston : Terminal E has a really bad food court(at the Chinese place, sweet and sour chicken was apparently the same as General Gau’s honey chicken). On the flight from Boston to Zurich, my body has some temperature regulation issues. I have hot flashes on the flight, and we don't have those air nozzles next to our overhead lights. I sweat like crazy and Margo takes care of me. The food on the flight is pretty good. Salad seems made for me: Lettuce, julienned carrots and corn, with Ranch dressing. On the place I watched Dinner for Schmucks. Amazing cast, and I laughed out loud a bunch of times. Then I started Takers. So bad I was actually glad I got sick, and stopped watching. Matt Dillon is a hard-boiled detective? Really??

Zurich : After deplaning, there is a confusing, winding path to the tram. We get out, go towards our new gate, come out under some stairs into another security line. Emerge into anarchy. Our gate is next to the Smokers lounge. In the bathroom, which is in a poorly labeled box-like structure, there’s a fly painted inside the urinal. Apparently men pee better if there's something to aim at. I wanted to take a picture, but there were too many people in there to get a chance. We are in a tiny, disorganized waiting area. No PA, just a woman saying they’re ready to take people to Istanbul. They check our tickets, and we crowd into a small fenced in area waiting for a bus. Bus takes us to the tarmac, where we climb a metal staircase to the plane. What would this be like for someone in a wheelchair? Snacks are served, Margo and I decline. This is the shortest flight, we sleep through most of it.

Istanbul: huuuge airport. Well marked, well lit, signs and monitors everywhere. The air quality is poor, and they have the largest duty free shop I’ve ever seen. People here are friendly, most seem to speak at least English. I get a Turkish techno CD with American money(they asked to see my boarding pass for this), Margo gets Starbucks. There are optional bidets in the bathrooms. Next to our gate is an Aquamassage stand, we don't partake, which I think was the wrong decision. Waiting area is disorganized, and has another security line. People just decide to start going through it, so we do too. Now we’re in another waiting area. No announcement has been made. We are also late. One old man is asked to start boarding, the rush begins. We make it on the plane, overhead room is all taken. Isn’t it always. People here have 3, 4, 5 carry-on bags. No one is sitting in their own seats. This is the wild west, folks. People here all seem to know each other. Everyone stares at you when you walk down the aisle, like you're purposely interrupting their conversation. God forbid you need the lavatory on a 5 hour flight. Food is very good, we both get the pasta(over the chicken), it has a spicy tomato sauce, and good hot bread. On the flight we watch The Social Network together, one ear each of my Bose headphones. Mediocre movie, not enough JT, and the movie made me dislike facebook more (if that's possible). Meal was before the movie, snack after. They’re timing the food on the place based on my laptop usage.

Land in Dushanbe :
We get dropped off in the middle of a tarmac, where we get on a bus, hoping it’s the right one. One the bus we are found by our expediter, Wally (not short for anything, just Wally). We are expecting someone else (a man named Olim), but we’re happy to be found. After us, he finds his other charges, and collects us as we are dropped off at the ‘airport’. We fill out some forms, and hand them and our passports to Wally. Each immigration line has about 20 people waiting. Wally chooses the closest one, and ignores it – walking past the line, opening the little booth and handing our info to the officer. We walk over to the baggage claim area (about 10 feet away) with a Dutch man named Raul, and a couple of Tajiks. I am a little nervous about leaving our passports with someone else, when we don’t know what is going on, but I trust things will work out. After about 20 minutes we get our passports and papers back, and start waiting for luggage in earnest. After about another 20 minutes, our luggage finally comes in, on two different carousels at once. It’s hard to describe this area, but there are no signs, monitors, or anything to indicate where to go, or which luggage is coming where. I would have taken pictures, but didn’t want to risk getting in trouble without a fluent English speaker present (Wally’s is pretty thin)

Dushanbe : It’s now about 5am. We have our bags, our papers, and are ready to meet Kevin (my brother-in-law) outside. Wally takes us to the head of another line, and we go to the door. As far as I can tell, this is the only door exiting the airport, it’s a wooden door about 3 feet wide. Leaving this door, you are greeted with a seething mass of humanity. Beggars, people selling goods, taxi drivers, other professions I can’t identify. Their droning offers and entreaties blend together so it feels like being in a zombie movie: this is your shuffling mass. We push through without buying or giving anything to anyone, and confidently refuse all Taxis as we have a ride waiting for us. Behind the initial crush of people is Kevin. Our drive home is a quick and tired one.

2 comments:

Yoni said...

This is better than a movie, plus you got 3 views in ftw. Shake on... Two questions:
1) What airlines did you fly?
2) Tahini? Really? WTF? You'd think they'd have sesame paste in central Asia.
Happy New Year!!!

Chelsea said...

Well I hope you're staying for at least six months to make this trip worth it. And really what's to complain about when you got to watch Dinner for Schmucks and you met a new friend named Wally. Say Hi to everyone for us!