Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Tajik Sybil

"Take this drone and get out of here!!".

I was starting to think that I wouldn't have got out of it without some real trouble, or even arrest.
After all, it's not an everyday thing to undergo a meticulous search in front of all those soldiers. I don't have to hear it twice: I take it back, I thank him, I apologize again for the insulting drone and I rushedly collect all my things, putting them back in my bags. The girl who had explained me the situation gave me a printed Release slip. It is the second time - I think to myself - that I am being held for items in my luggage, last year for the camping axe in my hand luggage at the Baku airport, and now the drone. "I have been very lucky so far", I think.

I look at the time, it's late. Very late, 4 o'clock is long past and I still have to go through customs in Tajikistan.. And from here Dushanbe is still 66 km away. I encourage myself and I head towards the "No man's land". I offer the printed sheet to the Uzbek officer at the sentry box. In front of him is a boy not even twenty years old, in camouflage and a rifle bigger than him. I take the bicycle and go, and passing by another officer I give them a provocative military salute.. Stronger than me. "What are you doing", I say to myself, "these ones have zero sense of humor" .. The truth is that the Uzbek customs are maddening. This is the sixth time that I suffer this martyrdom and I cannot stand it anymore'.

I approach the Tajik side, and a stocky, burly man comes out, with a thick black mustache, approaching me. I notice that he doesn't have a uniform like his Uzbek colleagues and he already inspires me some sympathy. He greets me with great courtesy and with a solemn tone, I answer him with the necessary salam-alaikhums. We have a short conversation, I explain that I am Italian and that I am headed for China on the Pamir Highway. He is not surprised, he listens to me and smiles. He gives me a customs sheet to fill out and explains in good English that I will have to keep it with great care and return it when leaving the country. He takes me into an office to fill out the paper. "This process is definitely faster than on the other side," I think. The man goes away and when he comes back, after a while, he explains to me that he loves Europe and in particular Italy. "Your cities, your houses are so beautiful," he says. I'm glad to hear those praises to my country so far away from home. We talk about his passion for philately and I say "Hey, if you want Italian stamps I would be very happy to send them to you when I go back!". He taunts and thanks, but tells me he just can't accept. "Now we have to do the inspection with the customs officer", he says.

A very strong "NO FU#K, AGAIN?" echoes in my mind. I go to get the bike and already think I'll have to camp outside, even if I want a bed that night. I take the bicycle and move on to another section. "Put your bicycle on the wall," he says, always solemn. I do as he asks and I sit down. And it is at that point that I see the customs officer: a woman at least 1m and 85 tall, with delicate shapes and a beautiful face, in traditional clothes. Long black hair, such us her eyes, kept at bay by a headdress. My breath literally stops for how beautiful it is. The woman in question comes towards me and greets me smiling in tajik with a nightingale voice, I answer her with a shy "Salam Alaykhum" and a hand on my chest, reclining my head.

I sit enchanted to admire this unexpected and divine creature while he tells her about me, in fact I seem to hear something that sounds like "turisto velosipiet". She whispers something in response, sweetly. It's a surreal situation, I almost feel like the pilgrims who went to question the oracles for important decisions .. In the meantime I can't take my eyes off her.

The man approaches and continuing the solemnity of the tones, with a wide gesture of his arms he says to me:

"She said it's all right and you can go. Welcome to Tajikistan!."

I wanted to ask him if I could kiss the Tajik Sibyl, but I limit myself to a very happy "Spasiba !!" shaking his hand warmly, and with reverent and smiling bows to Pashira - it seemed to me this was her name. Pashira responds smiling from her divine pedestal, while I go to the bicycle.


I leave the customs, greet the soldiers who respond courteously, and take the road to Dushanbe. It is almost 5:10 now and the sun sets relatively early, I still have to cover 66 km and I am damned hungry since I still have not been able to eat anything. As I think of a brief pause for the map point, I start to notice some differences: people are better dressed than Uzbekistan and the cars are more varied, instead of those Uzbek vans. I catch a glimpse of the shops on the other side and decide to stop for a bite. I go in and find things absolutely unobtainable in Uzbek villages: cheeses, yoghurt, snack bars. I have bread and cheese, gatorade, coke and an energy drink. I start drinking like a camel, I also notice that people look at me but compared to Uzbekistan they seem more discreet. I eat on the spot, I send a few text messages to reveal that I'm still alive, and between one thing and another it's now around 6 when I get back on the road. And all in a sudden maybe for the food, or the air now fresher, the scent of the fields and the flat road, I start to run. And to run seriously, the kms begin to run fast one after another. I keep 35-36 km/h at full load, with peaks of 42 km/h. The sun begins to set inexorably, before starting this last leg I thought that if I got close enough to Dushanbe I would find more villages and public lighting. As the road gets darker and darker and the cars are more threatening, my plan becomes concrete and a trail of small villages begins. While crossing one of them, suddenly the public lighting goes on and that accompanies from there on.

I run, I run with my heart bursting in my throat and finally, at 8 past, I arrive at one of the entrances to the city. A sign reads: "Душанбе" !! I did it, I covered 66 km in two hours and little more! OsmAnd + guides me to the hotel indicated by the lonely planet. The city has wide, well-lit main roads, but I'm tired and I take the wrong turn. I go back and find the right path, and as I get closer, I cross dark streets and alleys in the heart of the city. There's hardly anyone outside, it's usually not a good sign. I arrive at the hotel, it seems inside a compound but there is no access, neither a bell nor an intercom. I doubt I went the wrong way but no, I'm right where I should be. I realize that there is a guard who comes to meet me. He does not speak english, with gestures and words I explain the name of the hotel and he says something in response. From the tone I understand that something is wrong. He gestures for me to wait and makes a phone call. Then he says "piet minutov" (5 minutes). I guess I have to wait: "they will open", I think. After half an hour a brisk old man arrives on a white car that beckons me to follow him, I guess that the hotel has moved elsewhere. I begin to follow him, we arrive on a driveway, and he does not realize that he has a motor vehicle and I have a bicycle whose total weight is close to forty-five kg .. The road is also uphill and I can't go any faster than 15-20km/h. I catch up woth him at the traffic lights but it's making my lungs burst! I grab him at another traffic light and wave his hand to slow down: "YA VELOCYPIET", I tell him slapping my leg pointing at the bicycle. The old racer kind og gets it and he slows down a bit, till we reach a new hotel after about 4km. A 5 star. "WOW", I think.

Some guys who speak well in English come out: I finally understand that the hotel I wanted to go to had closed two years earlier, and that the one they brought me to had just been built. "Thanks for bringing me here, but this is a 5 stars, how much do you want per night?". They ask me for $ 75. "WHAT? With 75 dollars I can sleep for 5 nights!", And I pretend to leave. Bluffing 'cause where could I ever go at this point? A fierce negotiation begins, which we close at $ 35 a night including breakfast. I'm starving in inexplicable ways, but everything is closed, even the hotel kitchen. I enter the room, from a huge and beautiful atrium, with marbles and crystals everywhere .. An incredible view. And my room is no different, basically an apartment, marble everywhere, desk and computer, 60-inch TV. Me likes. I don't have time to think "now I jump in the shower and stay there 38 hours at least", that someone knocks on the door: courtesy of the house, they deliver me a respectable dinner: tomato and cucumber salad, meat and potatoes, bread and lots of watermelon.

I take a shower, eat and get into bed: the hardest part starts from tomorrow. For tonight I LOVE TAJIKISTAN. And tomorrow as well, I guess!