Dushanbe was not going to be a place of exploration for us. We had booked an apartment for two days and the plan was to re-stock, get sorted and move on to Uzbekistan. It turns out that we ended up staying for just under a week.
Jerome has been fighting a complex urinary tract infection (UTI) since January this year (yup – almost 9 months now).
He has tried over 6 different types of antibiotics in varying doses to no avail. The drugs have helped somewhat – by keeping the symptoms of the UTI at bay (Fatigue, malaise, fever, spasms, incontinence etc). However – some of these drugs are very strong and are unsafe to take for an extended period. In the end Jerome was taking the same antibiotic used against Anthrax.
We reached Dushanbe and on the very first night there – the UTI returned again. The only available option to him was Intravenous antibiotics. It was crunch time. We had a huge discussion about the possibility of leaving the Troopy in Tajikistan and flying to Europe for treatment. We needed a good, clean hospital with the right drugs for the best chance of killing this bug.
Luckily for us, we found an Iranian hospital in Dushanbe which turned out to be perfect. The hospital was clean and weirdly almost empty. within 5 minutes of rocking up un-announced Jerome was speaking with the Urologist. An hour and a half later and he had completed blood tests, submitted a urine sample and had a sonography on his kidneys. We were told to come back in 2 days for the urine culture results – at which point they would let us know what had to be done.
We knew that IV was likely and that we needed longer in Dushanbe. We left our apartment in favour of the Hotel Meridian where Nic an Tim were staying.
A word to the wise – Dushanbe hotels are very expensive. Nic and Tim had done all the hard work and negotiated a double room down from US$110 to $70 per night. The hotel was spotless and the staff kindly carried Jerome up and down the lobby stairs every day. It was a slice of luxury having a soft clean bed and a bath with wifi in our rooms. I would highly recommend the Meridian to any traveller.
Anyway – two days later and we went back to hospital. We had no less than seven doctors in the room to diagnose Jerome and prescribe 2 days of IV treatment with 10 days of oral meds afterwards. Seriously – the doctors were almost fighting over who could treat Jerome. Total opposite to western hospitals where you would give your right arm to see a specialist.
In the end Jerome had four courses of IV antibiotics over two days, 12 hours apart. The consultations and meds all ended up costing way less than US$100 – what a bargain. I also ended up having a few tests done as I have been suffering from a bad stomach for over a month now. I have lost about 7kg’s (won’t complain there!) so it was time to get sorted. The tests came back negative for anything which I found a bit upsetting as I could feel that I wasn’t right. I was told to stay away from meat, dairy and soft fruits. Great.
Nic and Tim had decided to stay on in Dushanbe with us while we sorted Jeromes’ health out. After his last dose of meds we left Dushanbe on the road North headed for the Buston border crossing about 300km away.
On day one we had some interesting little adventures ahead of us. Firstly – we had our last hill climbs for a while. Dushanbe was at about 1000m altitude and we were headed for a climb up to about 3,500m. An easy feat nowadays.
At the top (ish) of the climb we had the Anzob Tunnel, also known as the Gateway to Hell and the Tunnel of Death! We had read and heard many accounts of this tunnel.
Basically – construction on the Anzob tunnel began in 2007 by the chinese who have undertaken the massive job of building a main road through most of the Central Asian countries. Construction of the tunnel is still underway with completion due in May 2015. The tunnel bypasses the steep mountain climb that links the Northern part of Tajikistan with Dushanbe. The road is only passable in summer, so the tunnel is invaluable for trade. It has been in use for roughly 7 years now. It’s just shy of 6km long and according to many is very dangerous.
Apparently there are no lights, one single fan in the middle for ventilation and reo sticking up haphazardly from the potholed ground. There is no drainage so the reo and uneven road surface is hidden by a small river of water.
We had got ourselves all excited to go through the tunnel. Nic and Tim were pretty wary about it as they had issues with their headlights. Jerome and I were dead keen – just our sort of thing.
We congregated outside the tunnel entrance and made sure that our spares, jacks and high viz gear were all within reach in case of a tunnel break-down. We headed on into the Death Tunnel.
Firtsly – there were lights. Small ones, but probably recently installed. The road was certainly bumpy but nothing to be scared about. I would say that the surface has probably been worked on recently too. There was machinery at work inside the tunnel and men (without masks) working all through it. There were a few puddles here and there but I have to say it just didn’t live up to our morbid expectations! We emerged on the other side about 20 minutes later. Tim was jubilant and had loved the experience. I was bitterly disappointed (hahah) and Jerome was non-plussed.
We took a detour after the tunnel and headed to Iskanderkul Lake.
It’s about 25km to the Lake from the main road and well worth the visit. The Lake is an amazing bright turquoise and surrounded by crazy little mountains. You can canoe on the water but for some reason the place was closed. We took a drive around the lake, trying to scope out a good camp for the night. What a tease! It looked amazing but the only flat green patch around the whole lake was fenced off and guarded. It had two helipads on it and we later learnt that it belonged to the president.
Eventually after some avid bush-bashing we made our way back to the entrance to the lake where there was a seemingly abandoned bunch of what I would describe as chalets. We pulled up to the open gates and a few people came out of the woodwork. They said that it was fine for us to come in and camp by the water.
We spent the afternoon pulling down a dead tree and breaking it apart using a combination of ropes and a small axe. In the end Jerome broke out the obtrusive chainsaw and we sat around the fire for the evening.
The next morning we left with the intention of getting all the way to Tashkent, still about 300km away. So naive!
The roads were almost flawless and wound their way picturesquely around the hills and mountains.
Switchbacks and hairpin bends came one after another.
We rounded a corner and met up with the tail end of a traffic jam. I jumped out and together with Nic we walked up past 59 cars to see what the holdup was. Turns out it was a landslide.
Looking up to our right all of the rock looked precarious and it was a little disconcerting to sit stationary underneath it. The landslide was fairly sizeable and I thought it would take most of the day for the lone, tiny digger to get through. The digger dug out a bunch of rubble, turned around and dropped it over the sheer drop on the other side of the road. Rinse and repeat. I wandered back to the car and Jerome popped on a movie. Or tried too.
The locals were bored and had spotted Tims car. He was swamped with people and clearly enjoying the moment. Jerome and I just wanted to chill out which is pretty hard to do when locals are sticking their heads in the window for a friendly chat in Russian!
Amazingly the landslide was cleared enough to allow single file traffic after an our and a half. Unfortunately everyone was keen to get going. There was a lot of huge trucks and small Ladas. It always amazes me why people place such small values on their own lives when they get behind the wheel. After we filed past the slide, it became a very dangerous game of trucks trying to overtake you on blind corners.
Everyone wanted to be in front of one-another. We got run pretty much off the road by a complete arsehole truck driver. Scared the hell out of us. In fact the subsequent hill climb after that was completely spoilt by the amount of danger lurking on every corner. It was the worst time on the road on the whole trip so far for me. We eventually got to the top of the dodgy pass, our last hill climb for a long time, and certainly in Tajikistan.
We passed though another tunnel and headed downhill. We drove to Khujand as the sun was setting, and eventually found a very flat, open campsite way after dark. Tomorrow we would do the border crossing into Uzbekistan.
Jerome wasn’t well at all. He had some nasty side effects to the new meds so I left him to sleep whilst we made dinner. We were now at under 500m altitude – the lowest in almost a month.
The next morning we arrived at the border, our 5th one so far. the rest had been a doddle, taking less than an hour or so each. Uzbekistan was different. We were stamped out of Tajikistan straight away with no issues. We drove into a holding compound in no mans land and were told to wait to be called over to the Uzbek customs section. After 4 hours of waiting in the boiling 35 degree sun (poor Jerome was curled up on the bed) we were getting over it. The guard wouldn’t even let us use their toilet, and refused to give us any timeframe as to what was going on. Only two vehicles had been let through the gates so far. There were about 10 trucks that had arrived before us. The first to get through 4 hours ago was an old Russian camper with 4 hippie tourists inside. Eventually they said that we could go through, luckily in front of the trucks. As we pulled up to customs around the corner we caught a glimpse of the hippie Russians. They were finishing packing their belongings up and into the car. So thats’ what had taken so long. They were stripping and searching every car. Bugger! It would take all day to strip ours. And we had to do it ourselves as the guards just watch.
Firstly we had to fill in a customs declaration. We passed through an X-ray machine (which was turned off!) and Jerome had to show his stash of drugs and medical letters.
Eventually we got down to business unloading the car. There was one fat, ignorant, stupid border guard that made the experience worse. He tried to climb the ladder after me onto the roof and nearly broke it. He laughed at Jerome when he had to explain why he was in a wheelchair. I tell, you – I almost punched him at that moment.
The rest of the guards were fine – except that they didn’t show any interest in what we were unloading. They sat in our front seats looking at pictures of Tajikistan in the guide book. That made me mad as we were going to so much effort to pull our car apart. There were two ‘sniffer dogs’ at hand too. I say sniffer dogs. They were actually a geriatric German Shepherd and an incontinent cocker-spaniel. It was hilarious,. They were meant to sniff our belongings but instead spent all their time sniffing the rubbish bag on the tailgate and pissing on our tyres. It was pretty hilarious. About halfway through unloading the guards got bored and declared that we were ‘safe’. We re-loaded and it was now Tim and Nics turn. They started to unload and the guards walked away!!! Tim stopped unloading and waited. Eventually they came back and declared them as safe too. happy days. Due to the laziness of the guards they barely had to unload their car at all. 6 hours in an we left the border and entered Uzbekistan.
we drove the 100km to Tashkent and found a hotel for the night.
Tashkent was also not going to be a tourist attraction for us. We had several minor oil leaks, a leaking CV joint and split suspension bushes to get fixed. (I will let Jerome elaborate).
Unfortunately I was still ill and that night Jerome got a bout of Gastro. He recovered within 24 hours and I later picked up the same bug on top of whatever I had, making me very ill.
After 2 days in bed Jerome took me to the International Clinic and after a few tests and US$100 later I was finally diagnosed with Guardia, Gastro, and a minor skin condition called ringworm (nothing to do with worms mind). I was happy to finally know what I had, but so weak and broken from being ill for so long.
When you don’t have your health, travel can become a nightmare. Both Jerome and I can vouch for that!
Anyways – thanks for reading!