It was surprising how well things came together after it was decided that we were going home. I’ve always been told that you need to buy plane tickets well in advance of your departure, that way you don’t pay a fortune for those last minute bookings, but Brian found tickets going westward for well under what I expected. All of our last minute chores went just as easily as well. We were able to find the plastic needed to wrap our bikes for the long haul in the planes hull while out looking for a hotel one night. The hotel, a fancier one then we were used to but not to upscale it was still Dushanbe, was booked for well under the asking price. Heck, we were going home now we could afford to splurge a little. Even the boxes we needed to use for our luggage (while it took some searching) we ended up walking away with some Russian Baby Stroller boxes being thrown out. Those we ended up scoreing those for free. There was also the short visit made to the Kazakhstan Consulate because we needed to see about transit visas. Though while talking to the Console, she said it wasn’t a necessary formality since our layover was less then 24 hours, no visa was needed. Truthfully it was crazy how smoothly everything went. Nothing ever goes this easy in places like this. Even I began to believe that maybe this was the right decision for us to return home. All the signs seemed to point in that direction.
Arriving at the International Airport three hours early with your bicycle is recommended. After going through security, possessing the tickets, wrapping the bikes, taping up the boxes, going through customs, and personally escorting the bike to the baggage area. (They were to big and the handlers refused to do it themselves) There was only enough time to rush into the bathroom before we started boarding the one of four planes that would slowly jet us home during one of the longest in transit moments of my life. It would be 56 hours of various transportation and sleeping arrangements before I would finally be through my front door.
Actually the worst part was the 16 hour layover in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s capitol. Since being denied transit visas in Dushanbe we were never actually able to see the famous capitol. Instead we managed to catch some fitful sleep on the waiting benches in what I can only describe as the most expensive bus shelter/prison imaginable. I say this because they know they have you trapped in a place like this for an undetermined amount of time. Up to three days if you didn’t do your bookings correctly. This exact problem happened to a Belgian fellow on our flight. Who didn’t realize the he had to obtain a visa for flight transfers within the country even if he planned never to step foot outside the airport. We were lucky in this regard our flight was to London and not inside Kazakhstan. The other tricky part was as a transfer you must not pass through the passport check, there is this small door on the right hand side of all the Passport checker booths. The sign is there and it does say “Transit” but it is posted at such an angle that if you don’t look directly at it then you won’t see it. I’ve read varying reports about the hassles of transiting this particular airport. Most of which involve a bribe of some sort, refusal sometimes can mean that three day waiting period in the airport. Trust me you don’t want that. We didn’t know about the transit door before hand, all we knew was that there was no way we should go through that checkpoint. Eventually we found a police officer and a few other Transit stragglers, all of which were escorted to the holding cell they called “The Departure Gates.” There is a lot of traffic flowing through this airport, at the very least one flight to Moscow every hour which brought with it throngs of Russians on their way back home from holiday. So if you found a seat you took it and as soon as three were available, you would lay down and sleep if you can. Coming by sleep and coming by food, neither of which were easy in this way station. There is a little sandwich shop that sells over priced food and alcohol, a Hot Dog stand that might sell Hot Dogs on occasion (you just must find the right time), a Caviar shop, and the Duty Free. All in one giant room with large florescent lights and an Aluminum roof. Needles to say not the best place for a layover.
After that long and uncomfortable situation the rest of the trip home seemed uneventful. Fish and Chips and a small Scotch tasting at Heathrow in England. Chicago there was just enough time for us to go through the automated customs and immigration (brilliant by the way) before boarding for home sweet home Minneapolis.
We arrived at just around 11:30 pm to find Brian’s box was missing. Which normally wouldn’t have been much of a problem only that a friend was meeting us at the airport to cycle with us back home and Brian’s petals were in his missing box. No biking for Brian! It was going to be public transportation. No big deal again, we’ve done this a few times in the past and it’s just over 1 hour 20 minutes from the Minneapolis airport to our front door. As luck would have it another friend was at the airport that night as well. Working his late night job we coaxed him into taking some of our luggage and Brian’s bicycle in his car so that we could travel a bit more light. Bonuses to living in smaller cities are chance encounters like these.
Off to the Metro Station the three of us went, a little saddened that we wouldn’t be able to work of some of that jet lag with a spin of the legs but soon to be home none the less. That’s when it was discovered that one of my tires was flat, a puncture somewhere between Dushanbe and Minneapolis. Not entirely sure where this one came about and my fix-it-kit was in our friends car with the luggage he took.
Waiting at the metro station for just about an hour before the train came was a little extra annoying, after midnight trains only stop once an hour and stop altogether around the hours 2-4am. Something I learned only after this trip. Simply because it seems that most of the buses also stop running around these very same hours and we still had one more to catch. Which after dropping our friend off at her station (the one that came to petal us home) that last ride never did happen. Instead we walked, the two of us with my flat tire bike from Downtown Minneapolis where the Metro has it’s last stop to about 4 miles/6.4 km (I’m mostly back to the imperial system now) before we found a taxi driver willing to pick us up and take us the rest of the way home which amounted to a $10 USD taxi ride, it’s $5 just to sit in the cab. So not that far.
A little worse for wear but finally home.
It’s kind of funny to look back on these last moments of the trip and realize the transportation out of Central Asia was actually much easier then the transportation here in the US. Never when we needed a ride was it difficult to come by outside of home, but once we needed to get moving in Minneapolis it almost seemed impossible. I know it mostly had to do with the time of day but still makes me think a little.