Saturday, 15 August 2009

Adventures in Uzbekistan part 1

We first moved abroad to Brazil 12 years ago (agh! how did that happen?). Our first foreign adventure, we were so young and keen in those days, you just could not stop us getting involved in local culture. But even now, not much has changed on the enthusiasm stakes - we still love finding new things, seeing new places. The children have worn me down and I can no longer be relied upon to provide up to date information about local bars, but husband makes sure his own personal research is well up to date in that area! When the first set of relatives came to visit, we had worked out an hour-by-hour itinerary for their trip to ensure that they did not miss a single element of what we considered to be the "ultimate and essential Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil tour". I think that this had been partly prepared to help us get over our fear of having parents to stay for two weeks solid, after a pretty harmonious 18 months of living 8000 km apart. Whatever the reason, everyone saw and did a lot in their time in the South American paradise that is Brazil, and left with the certainty that they could not have done more. 

Our visitor itineraries took on a mythic status, and we politely accepted the ridicule from various members of our families about our penchant for spreadsheets and lack of attention to sleeping time allowances, but still we showed no mercy. And to be honest, we allow ourselves little slack when visiting somewhere new, the only exception being when we visited Beijing when I was eight-months pregnant, and I was allowed to rest in the afternoon after climbing the Great Wall of China (but only so that I did not go into premature labour and spoil the holiday!).

So it was no surprise for my recently-retired parents to find that less than 24 hours after their over night, economy class flight from Heathrow to Almaty, and with a day in the Kazakh national park and a shashlik lunch under their belts, we were heading back to the airport at 5.50am to catch a 7.30am flight to Shymkent in Southern Kazakhstan for the start of their mini-tour to Uzbekistan. And to their credit, despite the fact that they could actually hardly open their eyes, they took it in good stead. Adventurers to the fore!

The dreadful flight time is normal in this part of the world. Almaty must be almost the bottom of the list for preferred landing slots, and wherever you go, or land, one part of the journey will be at a hellish hour (the Moscow to Almaty flight is a businessman's favourite leaving at 1am and arriving at 4.30 am). We were flying to Shymkent, 70kms from the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, because this early-morning Air Astana flight time was actually more convenient than waiting until Tuesday morning for the Uzbekistan Air direct flight to the city. 

Shymkent is about 1000 kms from Almaty, south towards the fertile plains that produce most of the fruits and veggies that we eat here all the time. It is a large industrial town, with an apparently lively night life which we were not going to sample, traveling as we were with two grandparents and a one-year-old baby. So we landed, found a taxi and set off for our border crossing in an ancient old audi car. Here are pictures of Shymkent Airport at 8.30 and a 'Spot the British waiting for their luggage competition' (Clue: they are not on the right or the left).

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