Part VII: Some Time at the Tashkent Airport

14 Dec, Saturday:

So after another expensive breakfast, we meander around a bit, and get checked out and ready for our flight down to Karshi. We head to the airport, but to the domestic side, which is smaller. The army of porters sees us a mile off (ok, a few hundred meters) and lines up ready to do some work. Turns out we have additional luggage since one of the guys who went out that morning was unable to get his locker on the plane. It’s a small plane, but more on that later. Anyways, so we have his truck box, and I mean that literally, with us also. The cost for porters is cheap, like a dollar a bag. Baha arranges the “overweight baggage charge” bribe with the airline people. That’s twenty bucks each. And through security we go, straight to the head of the line. Everybody and I mean everybody, sets off the metal detector. I think the only metal I had on me were the zippers on my jacket. So on we go, ready to wait for a bit for our 5:30 PM flight.

I’m going to change subjects for a bit and talk about the national luggage of Uzbekistan. If you are at all familiar with lawn chairs, the kind with the metal frames and that plastic / fabric combo that you actually sit on, then you have seen the basics of the Uzbek baggage. By that, I mean EVERYONE had these bags. I think they go shopping, buy a boatload of the bags, and fly it all home. They look like a stopgap not intended to last more than a few trips. Most of them are taped shut / together. One time we saw this extended family group, and they must have had over 40 of those damn things. It took about a half hour to get all of them inside the terminal. But I tell you what, when they realized they were in front of the wrong desk, they scooted every single one of those bags over to the other desk in about a minute flat.

Ok, back to the story. After an appropriate period of waiting, we shuffle through the door, and onto the waiting unheated bus, which we board and then stand in for an extended period of time while latecomers show up in ones and twos. Off for a nice little ride we go, maybe 400 meters including the wide circle we made turning around from the terminal…to this little teeny tiny corporate jet looking thing.

So we disembark from the bus, and prepare to board the plane through a small ladder in the rear. The interior lights are off for a minute, and it looks like a dark and forbidding cave. What’s in it you ask? Only what you bring with you. Our weapons, need them we will not. Wink The lights come on just as I have gotten into the plane and run into the wall by the door.

And behold! It is even smaller than it appears! I can’t stand up straight as I push by the stacked lawn chair bags into a tiny seat with no headrest. My backpack goes in my lap, since there is no storage under the seats (that’s for feets) and the overhead area isn’t even a bin, but a little area where one might place say, a book or something. It’d need to be a paperback, not hardback. So we get all crammed in this freezing, unheated icebox and sit there for about an hour. I think about sleeping, head forward on backpack like so many times before, but I keep getting distracted by tales of Thailand, from which one guy had just got back from R&R. He is a good storyteller to be sure, but begins to tell that same story a few times over the course of the night. It is also entertaining to see them out de-icing the wings. After about an hour of this, the pilot steps out and mutters something both quick and quiet, which disappoints all non-Americans on the plane. We aren’t disappointed in the same way since we are confused, but that we aren’t flying right now is obvious. So off the plane we go! We stand in the bus for a while and some of our bunch get concerned about the checked baggage. Should we have taken it off? I figure we didn’t put it on, so we don’t take it off. Leroy steps out of the bus to try to get his bag, and is told politely but firmly to get back on the bus. We expect that next time he tries this he will be shot. He doesn’t get off the bus again, so we don’t find out.

As it turns out, Karshi is not the most up to date airport in the world. They don’t have anything to clean snow off the runway with, and as I find out later, this place gets fogged in at the drop of a hat. It gets two flights a day, weather dependant of course. Must be a fun place to work.

Back to the terminal to wait some more. An hour or so later, we find out it will be another hour or so. Then we hop in the aforementioned unheated bus, and back out to the cave that flies through the air. Seriously folks, the lights were on this time, it’s a joke. We weren’t on the plane quite so long this time when the disappointment ripples through the crowd yet again. Back to the terminal to wait some more!

I won’t go into the gory details of how many delays we had, only it was finally decided it’d be decided if it was going to fly again at 2:30AM. That didn’t happen. Ok, wait a couple more hours. Again. Some other flight gets called, and one guy has to wrestle his passed-out partner into a standing position, and finds that his partner is unable to grasp anything, like his briefcase or ticket. Somehow they get him out the door. Again with the waiting. There’s no heat in this terminal, and no longer enough people to generate any heat. The benches are made of fine Soviet steel, guaranteed to leave a waffle print though your jeans. I sleep some, almost out of spite. There is a very drunk prosecutor who asks what the problem is, and if we sign out a complaint they will beat the shit out of them for us. He then goes and sits next to a lady who’s every movement (especially the part where she turns completely away from him) says “go away.” He never even notices. Later, he and a buddy throw up in the sink. Separately, as far as I can tell, because they got both sinks. They boil bacon here instead of frying it. It looks like he had some bacon. I wonder where he got breakfast from, because we are all very hungry. It is not in my plan to eat from the sink though.

Did I mention more waiting? I may have been distracted by the freezing, or the puking. It’s finally decided the plane is going to fly at 5:30AM. It doesn’t, and we knew it wouldn’t, but we are spared the journey back and forth from the plane. Now it’s going to fly at 8:30, but let’s just agree that it didn’t. Finally the decision is made to abort this madness, and we prepare to head back to the hotel. A couple hours later, we leave. Why so long you ask? We had to get the tickets switched, make sure we wouldn’t have to re-bribe for the luggage, that sort of thing. Turns out there is a later flight that they are sure is gonna go this time. We’ve heard that one before, and don’t fall for it. At 11:30 (or possibly later) it does. Sad I was dead asleep at the time, after we barely made it back in time for a tasty delicious break-feast.

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