Monday, June 16, 2008

Porridge

Alas, and so it comes to pass, that we return to the Republic of Kyrgyzstan Bishkek Open Prison again in search of visas. We renew acquaintances with the Old Lags and make new passing friendships with the other inmates staying at Nomad's Home guesthouse, John playing Norman Stanley Fletcher to Gayle's Godber. We pitch the tent in the back garden and swap sad tales of visa applications, whilst taking it in turns to cook our meals over the little gas stove. Greg, a Hungarian cyclist/philosopher, declares he is now waiting for his Kyrgyz residency permit - he has been waiting here so long. On our first day back we get our Kazakh visa at the embassy. We meet again the Englishman who upbraided us on an earlier visit for queue-jumping. He spots us first and makes sure he's ahead of us, but ironically his visa is not there. (Ha ha! How much pleasure we take in another's misfortune....) Next day we go to collect our Indian visa, but the consul official is off sick and they tell us to return tomorrow. "Why didn't you come yesterday? You could have had it then." Red rag and Bull. Gayle has to restrain herself from verbally assaulting the idiot.

Bishkek is not an awful place to hang around. It's very hot now, hitting the mid-thirties nearly every day, but the streets are full of big trees offering some shade and hiding the ugly buildings. But there are no cultural highlights here, the parks are overgrown and tatty, and we just can't find any quality ice cream anywhere. We can do a bit of 'maintenance' - repairing things, laundry, haircuts, etc. and we have access to good fresh food and a handy supermarket. Happily, the guesthouse provides a comfy refuge from the boredom, and there is the chance for John to catch some of the Euro 2008 matches, even though the late games begin at 1am local time.

Finally we get our Indian visa. Our joy is tempered by a request from the Pakistan visa official who asks us to come in the following Monday to "answer some questions". What's your favourite band? Which football team do you support? Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party? Who killed Benazir? Why does it take more than five visits in person and over six weeks for the Pakistan embassy to issue a tourist visa??? Where is this beautiful house and who is this beautiful wife? Same as it ever was.....The Multiple Visa Psychosis symptons are rapidly resurfacing and occurring more frequently. Whilst Gayle can happily pass an evening chatting about journeys and visa application processes with new inmates who are fresh-faced and innocent, some of the Old Lags are starting to fray at the edges. Anssi, a quiet Finnish man who looks and talks like Willem Dafoe, quietly sips his beers whilst learning tricky Russian phrases such as "But I brought the photocopies here last week with the photographs and was told to come back today". Greg, who neither drinks nor smokes, cooks wonderful vegetarian "full English breakfast", and has a shaved head and bushy red beard (quite an impressive list of institutionalised inmate attributes), has started to whittle model animals out of raddishes. When a wave of hysteria sweeps over us he tells jokes about Russians and smiles wistfully as he remembers his time on the Andaman Islands. To the new inmates we seem a little offkey. Of course, we would behave more normally if it wasn't for the Hope. It's the Hope that's killing us........

Greg's Bishkek breakfast

It is clearly Time To Leave. I'm digging the escape tunnel with a French guy whilst Greg carefully distributes the fresh soil by pacing back and forth around the garden, shaking it out of his trouser leg when no-one is looking. Amazingly we finally meet Friedel and Andrew, two Canadian cyclists whom we've been following for almost 10 months. Gayle found their blog, and our paths have almost crossed before - we met their bikes in Yazd, Iran whilst they had gone to Tehran for onward visas. The cyclists form a bond quickly, checking out each others bikes, swapping road stories, walking flat-footed and making more of an effort to cook good food. It's a good opportunity for all to gain some weight whilst there's a period of stasis.

Monday comes and we dress smartly for our appointment at the Pakistan embassy. Mr. Ashad, who asked us to come in, is not there. We are asked to provide dates for our proposed travel itinerary in Pakistan. I point them out on the application form which we submitted 20 days ago. They ask us to write them out again. In a desperate attempt to force their hand I douse myself in petrol and, with a box of matches in my hand, threaten self-immolation if a visa is not forthcoming. "Come back next week" the man says, before closing the hatch. Actually, that bit's not true - the man says nothing..........

1 comment:

Sancho said...

Hey guys!
I`m hope everything is going well
have a good luck I'm currently in Uzbekistan. Still waiting for the Turkmen transit visa..... visas....oh dear...
Greg