“Ah we have to fly visa, Moscow? Again???”
Having been rejected for a Turkmenistan (which happened to about 80% of people we met) the cheapest way to get to Uzbekistan entailed flying right over it. Or around it, once again via Moscow. This time around there was no visa overstay issue though in it’s place an 18 hour layover in Baku airport was on the cards. Suckers for both punishment and a bargain we book our tickets and head to the airport.
The two hour flight is horrendous. Matt takes the window, Sarah gets the middle and an overweight Iranian guy sits next to her. He then proceeds to lean all over her, hand her his business card which doesn’t even state his job (must be sales) then hand us his mobile phone asking for our phone number.
“No, we have no mobile phone and no sorry, we don’t have a phone number in Australia we can give you either…”
Why on earth somebody who we’ve sat next to for two seconds would think we’d want to hand out our phone number is beyond us, yet when we say we don’t have a phone number he demands we give him our email address so we oblige with a fake one. We soon learn he apparently works in poultry (chicken salesman then?), has no sense of personal space (perhaps from working with all those caged chickens?), he cannot sit still, cannot read his own inflight magazine and insists on taking Sarah’s and when she puts her sunglasses on to ‘sleep’ he manages to ‘accidentally’ recline her seat no less than three times before she has to physically pry his hand from the button to stop him.
Add to this the arrogant gentleman behind Matt laughing louder than necessary at the overhead TV while rocking Matt’s seat with both his hands and his knees at every given opportunity and you’ll soon realise our pain. Oh and don’t forget we’re flying out of Iran so it’s a dry flight. Chicken salesman then falls into a coma and snores loud enough to dislodge the overhead luggage as his elbows once again infiltrate way beyond the boundary of the armrest. We’re actually relieved to arrive in Baku for our 14 hour layover.
Arriving in Baku we can smell the barley and hops seeping through the airtight cabin doors. Luckily the Heydar Aliyev Airport is an architectural delight and most importantly, after a month in Iran, serves real beer. Upon scrabbling to exit the plane, pushing men, women and children to the side, we made a beeline to the nearest bar in the transit area. Trying in vain to blag our way into the VIP lounges the poor mans couches had to suffice as we downed a few satisfying pints before promptly passing out for a few hours in a hazy drunken state of bliss. It’s amazing how two beers can affect you after a month booze free.
After passing the time, boarding our next flight and downing a few more pints upon landing in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport’s Irish Bar, we resume the transit by touching down in Urgench, Uzbekistan around 2am. At this early hour the buses haven’t started so we curl up in our sleeping bags in an inconspicuous corner for some shut eye. An hour later a couple of security guards wake us and move us on to the next terminal. Slightly hungover off just three pints early morning confusion leads to a mild blow out between us and the staff take pity, offering us the carpeted floor and cozy couch in the ‘family room’ to have a few hours snooze.
Back out front when the sun has risen we forget the exchange rate as a nicely cunning taxi driver does us in on the exchange rate. Cleverly we only gave up USD$20. As a much nicer taxi driver takes us into town to catch the connecting trolleybus to Khiva, he manages to cut off the bus at the lights and yell at the driver to pull over and wait for us as we lug the backpacks from car boot to bus and trundle the 40 mins down to Khiva.
Tips for getting to the right airport in Tehran
Don’t do like we did and believe everything you read on the internet.
THERE IS NO SHUTTLE SERVICE between Mehrabad and Imam Khomeini Airports. The only way to get to Imam Khomeini Airport is a little long winded as there is no direct route from the city.
- First get out to Shahed Metro station.
- Dodge the marauding pack of salivating taxi wolves with noses to the wind sniffing out the last of your stuffed away rials.
- Walk out towards the buses, mini buses and big buses. Walk to the right and ask anyone for the airport bus, they will point you in the right direction.
- A minibus is quicker if you don’t have much luggage but gets rammed and cost IRR30,000(ish). The big bus cost IRR15,000 and took about 45 mins. We were dropped on the highway out the front of the airport.
- Travelling in the reverse we don’t know, but there’s no official bus stop and supposedly buses are usually always full heading into Tehran.
Tips for entering Uzbekistan
- Fill out the customs forms carefully. If you are unsure what to declare ask someone. For us they didn’t care about souvenir bank notes from previous countries, but we did have to list used laptops, camera equipment, any silver or gold jewellery and all foreign bank notes. Note everything.
- We heard first hand stories of women being made to strip and guys having to show every single photo and file on their camera, hard drives and laptops at the border. One couple we met withdrew USD inside Uzbekistan and tried to take out more than they had when they arrived. They were told to go back to Uzbekistan, change it at the bank rate, come back with a receipt and then change it to Kyrgyz Som across the border. This would mean they’d lose 50% of their money. On the other hand, our baggage wasn’t even checked and our forms were barely looked at when we left. You have been warned though!
- Find out the ‘Black Market’ exchange rate before going. We changed USD$20 at a rate of $1 = 5,000 Som when the actual rate was 6,400 Som (the bank was around 2,800). Use this link to caravanistan for traveller updates.