Rather than going to Osh, along the main road with all the trucks, we decided to try a small border post at Shamaldy Say which we couldn’t find any information on but was marked on our map. The sign for the border indicated right at the next junction, and suddenly there it is, a barrier about 10m from the tiny turn off. The Kyrgyzstan side consists of two small buildings, one on each side of the road and three people. Army, Immigration and Customs. Formalities are quick and we are done in 10 minutes, a single passport stamp required. About 1km away in the mid morning heat haze is the Uzbekistan building. We ride a mixture of dirt and tar, past various farms and crops, with no other vehicles in sight, to an imposing set of closed double gates that guard a large walled compound, with buildings, vehicle lanes, inspection trenches, gardens, flower beds and trees but no one in sight! No vehicles waiting ahead of us either which is unusual for a border crossing. A solitary guard approaches from some 100m away and after showing our passports, the gates open and we ride to the covered area and park the bikes amidst a large purpose built customs/immigration complex that is completely devoid of vehicles or people, whether border officials or travellers. We are guided by a border post official sitting on his chair to exactly where he wanted us: further forward, no a little to the right, a bit forward, you over here, stop right here. Perfect. He points o us to the building behind him.
Immigration first, we enter the customs and immigration building. The only other people crossing were a family of four from Uzbekistan. Staff outnumber us by 2 to 1. Immigration completed and on to customs where four people, two men and two women are sitting behind a row of desks facing us. Customs forms in English are produced and we complete them by hand and in duplicate, passed for checking: one wrong answer, we will have to start again. Could we have new forms please. No need. Phew! A tipex pen is produced and we are saved. The first sign of a less formal approach to us.
Registering our bikes takes some time as the customs officer had to understand the English language documents. “Anna, come here please, what is …” Anne goes into his office then goes out again. Then a little later “Anna, what is …” This goes on for a little while as Anne helps him complete his online form. When Anne tells him that she forgot to include her camera in the list of electronic goods to be declared, he said it wasn’t important and that we need not have listed all that we did as they were not new. As we wait for him to finish, we are offered tea by customs, we tell a soldier where his colleague has gone and he thanks us. We feel a warming towards us by the Uzbeks. Customs start a detailed inspection of our pannier contents as Anthony declared 500 tablets of medicine.
They all gather round as Anne passed him heart tablets, head tablets, stomach tablets to stop diorrhea, stomach tablets to help the other way, antibiotics for this, malaria tablets, etc he says “ok ok!!!” when his hands are full and he tells us we are good to go. We pack up, (one customs officer kept telling Anne that Anthony should be strapping the bags down as he has more muscles!) and get ready to leave but not before they all get the photos they want of themselves on the bikes, and with us!! Sadly they didn’t want Anne to take photos of them but even apologised about that. A few good laughs, hand shakes and we set off with friendly waves from the Uzbek officials.
All this took two hours: the time is taken by the process, which both sides have to follow. In the time we were there, only 4 other people crossed all on foot, no vehicles. Without increased staff or procedural changes, this border post could not handle greater numbers on either side of the border.
We have a good feeling about this country already…
– Anthony & Anne