Travel Note

10th July 2018

In the planning stages of our trip I had a lot of trouble working out the best way to connect Turkmenistan to other countries in the area. In an ideal world we'd have taken an international flight out of Ashgabat, but the only direct route I could find was a twice-weekly service to Almaty, and the schedules simply didn't work for what we were trying to do. Rather than connect through another country (and risk lost luggage) I decided that the least bad option was to take a stupidly early domestic flight to Turkmenabat in the north-east of the country then cross the land border into Uzbekistan.

Our already abbreviated night was shortened significantly by a disco taking place on the ground floor of our our hotel. The music was being played at a level sufficient to shake the furnishings eight floors up, and ear plugs were wholly inadequate to defend against the assault. It finished shortly before 11:00pm, but by this point my stomach had begun to indicate that it was my turn to offer prayers to the porcelain god. I'm told that I was uncharacteristically cheerful when this process finally completed almost three hours later ("better out than in!") even though it was by then almost time for us to leave for the airport.

The flight was uneventful, though readers should be aware that local security rules completely forbid photography on airport premises. We were unaware of this until Megan got officially grumbled at for a quick phone snap of the exterior of our plane during boarding. About ten minutes later after the initial exchange a member of cabin crew came to her at her seat to deliver what we assume to be a lengthy secondary reprimand in the local patois. Her polite "do you speak English?" after the sixty second monologue was met with thinly disguised fury and a barked "no photo!" accompanied by a scowl that could have shattered glass. I can only assume that the powers that be will at some stage issue a cease-and-desist against the operators of Airliners.net for posting large numbers of illicit pictures.

The border crossing was probably the most complex I've experienced in my travels, taking the better part of an hour to get through with virtually no waiting time. We used taxis at three different points in the process at the cost of USD $1 per person each time; though it is possible to walk between stops this would not be advisable in the summer weather without copious quantities of water. Readers should be aware that the border is only open during daylight hours, and it closes for lunch between 12:30-1:30. The steps today were as follows:

  • The first stop was a simple checkpoint with an officer looking briefly at passports. Our tour bus was not allowed beyond this point, so we moved our luggage into the back of a very battered taxi for the drive to a gate around one kilometre away.
  • At the stop our passports were examined in exhaustive detail, with the officer taking at least a minute per person to go through each page individually.
  • With that done we walked to a nearby customs building. Our bags were manually inspected, though that was apparently only because the heavy duty scanner was under maintenance. Once cleared we were sent to the front of the queue (apparently foreigners have priority) where our passports were stamped, marking our official departure from Turkmenistan.
  • There was a second taxi at the exit to that building that brought us to another security gate. The guard there greeted us with a cheerful "Welcome to Uzbekistan!" accompanied by the first smile we'd seen all morning. He then flicked through our passports one at a time, stopping only to closely examine the Uzbek visas.
  • Our group boarded a ridiculously overloaded minibus for a ninety second drive to a quarantine building where we were all subjected to a temperature check. I found myself very grateful that my bout with food poisoning was at an end.
  • From there we walked a short distance to the Uzbek customs hall, where our bags were scanned and our passports stamped. We were not required to fill in declaration forms, though I was asked some questions about medication and currency. The lady I dealt was very friendly and spoke flawless English.
  • On the far side of the building was a short walk to a final gate, where our passports were checked one last time. Our guide and driver were waiting for us there, and perhaps unsurprisingly spotted us right away.

 

Samonids Recreation Park

10th July 2018

Samonids Recreation Park is a substantial public park in the suburbs of Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Most tourists visit for the Ismail Samani Mausoleum, a 10th century shrine that is known to be the oldest surviving example of Islamic architecture in central Asia. We spent a few minutes admiring the building for ourselves, though only after we'd thoroughly investigated a large collection of amusement rides that occupy roughly one third of the park grounds. The selection consists largely of Soviet-era hardware in various states of repair, though there are also a number of new attractions that are almost certainly Chinese in origin. I'm guessing that they are operated as independent concessions, as there is a lot of duplication; I counted two top spins, two wave swingers, two paratroopers, and two frisbees.

Amerikanskaya Gorka

Amerikanskaya Gorka (#2458) looks like a fairly standard tyre-driven family coaster. It features a wide oval and helix that combine to around one hundred metres of track, and its diminutive height is scarcely taller than a standard Wacky Worm. However, one should never judge a book by its cover, and that adage was particularly true here. The ride started with a gentle backwards acceleration that took the train about half way around the course, and a boost on the return journey allowed it to complete the entire circuit going forwards with not a lot of potential energy to spare.

It was only after that that the experience came alive; with each subsequent pass through the station the motors spun faster and faster, and before long we were hanging on for dear life as we began to lap in eleven seconds, ten seconds, nine seconds, and eventually eight seconds. The peak speed of around fifty kilometers per hour wouldn't be a lot on a larger coaster, but it was something else entirely on an oval with virtually no banking. The effect was completed by a terrific clattering noise from the train wheels. The experience was as brilliant as it was unexpected, and a definite candidate for the most thrilling coaster of our two week trip.

 

Travel Note

10th July 2018

We made a brief visit to Sitora Bolalar Bog'i, but found the powered coaster out of service with its train parked part way around the course. Our guide made enquiries on our behalf, and learned that the motor had failed during a rainstorm a few weeks before. One suspects that it was probably repaired within days of our visit; that's usually how these things work!

We had planned to spend the afternoon enjoying the sights of Bukhara, but fatigue coupled with extreme temperatures (46°C/115°F) made that an unappealing option. Instead we retired to the relative comfort of air-conditioned hotel rooms, where most of us took the opportunity to catch up on a few hours of sleep. I've since learned that September is the best month to visit Uzbekistan as the temperature peaks at a manageable 30°C; I'll certainly think about that if I ever plan a return trip.