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Five Hours at the Kazakhstan Border and Homestay in Zhabagly

Tashkent was only a short drive away from the Kazakhstan border which we crossed today. The immigration procedure at the Uzbekistan side was pretty quick. We needed to fill in a departure form which was very much identical to the one we submitted upon entry of the country. Again, we were required to declare all money we carry with us in all kinds of different currencies. This declaration was then compared to the one on the entry form so the government knows exactly how much money you have spent in the country. This was actually the reason why we needed to complete two forms upon entry, one to hand in and one to keep for the departure check. When filling in the departure form you should make sure you have spent a reasonable amount of money, at least on the paper. Put at least one USD less down as on the arrival form, otherwise this might cause confusion and potentially trouble which delays your departure. However, nobody wanted to physically see and count our money but I heard they sometime do. What they were also not too interested in were the hotel slips we have painfully collected during the last days but probably it’s better to have them than not to have them.

The procedure at the Kazakhstan side took significantly longer. Immigration itself went pretty smoothly. There was just one officer who had a closer look at my passport, complimenting me for looking younger than my actual age and asked me if I’m married. He did the same to two other women in our group. Less smooth was the truck paperwork where they were pushing our driver Sam around. First he was requested to line up with a bunch of commercial trucks. Usually we are allowed to line up with the coaches which is significantly quicker. So Sam waited about 1.5 hours in line. While standing there he wanted to start the paperwork but they didn’t allow it until the truck was right in front of them in line. When this was the case he received a piece of paper where he needed to collect the stamp and signature of six different people. He spent 2.5 hours running around to find these people. One of them looked at him as he never saw this kind of paper before and didn’t know what to do with it. Another one wanted a bribe in order to process the form. He was signaling this by folding a piece of paper and moving it to Sam’s side of the table so he could place money inside. Sam just took it and slowly ripped it into two pieces signaling he will not pay any bribe. After he collected all six stamps and signatures he returned to the guy who gave him the paper. He just took it without showing real interest and looking at it, how frustrating… The last challenge was to find the guy who’s responsible for opening the gate. He had somehow disappeared and it took a while to find him.

While Sam was busy with the paperwork we were hanging out at the Kazakhstan side of the village. Some of us had small US dollar notes and where able to buy a cold drink which we enjoyed in front of a small shop. Since its rare tourists entering the country it didn’t take long until we had half of the village around us, starring at us and trying to communicate with us using body gestures. After killing 2-3 hours here our local Kazakhstan guide showed up. Her name is Svetlana and she was primarily helping Sam with his paperwork. She showed us a little restaurant around the corner and helped us to order lunch before she disappeared again.

After we finished all border procedures we drove to Shymkent the third largest city in Kazakhstan. Here we stopped for an hour for the cook group to go shopping in the supermarket. I wasn’t up for cooking but since there wasn’t much too see, I also went for a stroll to the supermarket. In comparison to what we saw in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan we were amazed by the wide selection of products and much lower prices for some items. While you pay a little fortune for often unrefrigerated yoghurt in Uzbekistan, the yoghurt here was fresher and prices appeared much more reasonable.

After shopping we continued driving to Zhabagly which is a small farming village with 2,000 inhabitants located north of the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve. Here our group got split and distributed to the houses of two local families with whom we spent the night. Unfortunately they weren’t too sociable since they didn’t speak any English. They were mainly sitting in the kitchen while we had a look at our lovely home style rooms and having dinner. Isabella’s and my room only featured one large bed which we needed to share. The whole interior of the house was kind of old fashioned and very much reminded me of the interior we had in the rural areas of the GDR. Dinner was prepared by our host mother and the kids. We had salad with tomatoes, cucumbers and yoghurt for starter, soup with vegetables, potatoes and goat meat for main and pastry with apricot jam as well as black tea for desert.

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