Truckin’ it to Dushanbe
“You can try, but I promise you won’t find anyone to take all of you.”
“Three of you?! You’ll have to split up.”
Other travelers reacted with a surprising amount of negativity when they heard our plan to travel by semi-truck. Without splitting up. We had already attempted hitchhiking once, but were quickly shut down by the Chinese border police. We decided that Tajikistan would be the perfect place to try again — the people were so nice! Ok, and we found out that the ride from Khorog to Dushanbe cost $70 per person! In a shared minivan! Staggeringly expensive by our standards.
Standing in the street with my back-breaking pack (seriously, I don’t know how it got to be so much heavier than everyone else’s) sticking my thumb out at passing traffic seemed…..well, not my idea of fun. So, the day before we wanted to leave, Sasha and I set out on our normal routine: “quick” stop at the internet cafe, look for something to eat that isn’t a samsa and end up eating samsas, and this time, attempt to reserve three seats on a truck headed to Dushanbe.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for us to locate a parked semi and its driver. Perfect time for me to try out my baby Russian.
Me: Hi! Dushanbe? (pointing to the truck)
Me: Ya catchu Dushanbe. Marshutka doroga (I want Dushanbe. Shared taxi expensive).
And just like that it was settled! Ok not quite. An English speaking niece was retrieved and it was quickly decided that there was room for us in the truck and we should return with our bags the following morning. And they made it clear that they wouldn’t accept any money as we were guests in their country. The whole thing almost seemed too easy, right? We had nothing to lose though, and set out early the next morning.
The truck was finally ready to go around 6 pm. We anxiously climbed into our new home for the next day or so and were surprised at how spacious — and stylish it was. Blue velvet is stylish….right?
The driver and his first mate (?) occupied the two seats, we shared the bench and our luggage was stored up on the bunk bed. OK, so it looked much more spacious before we (and all of our luggage) piled in. But we just kept reminding ourselves that we were saving $210!
Our new truck driver friends (names: unknown) wasted no time showing us that classic Tajik hospitality that we love so much. First we stopped for beer…because what’s a long ride if you don’t have to constantly stop to pee? Then we stopped again at the driver’s village where he disappeared momentarily and reappeared bearing gifts. We got a plastic bag full of mutton (tongue included) and a chunk of something “local” to smoke. Now, we’re all for trying new things but with the Afghan border just a stone’s throw away, we thought…maybe not. We finally got back on the road but clearly we were in no rush because soon we stopped for dinner. Although we communicated that we had already eaten, these men ordered us food and insisted that we finish it with the ferocity that I had only previously known possible of Jewish grandmothers. It was ridiculous. Finally, with everyone’s stomachs stuffed to maximum capacity with mutton, we actually set out for Dushanbe. And we made it there, a good 25 hours later.
For being the capital of Central Asia’s poorest country, Dushanbe was nice. Really really nice actually. The buildings were pretty (you know, a rarity with Soviet architecture) and according to Silvia, who is the authority on such matters, it even had a European feel. We wandered around and did what all normal people do in big, modern cities: get haircuts and eat Caesar salads. Dushanbe definitely topped my list of major cities in Central Asia, and I wouldn’t have minded spending more time there.
Where to stay in Dushanbe: Before arriving, we heard terrifying rumors that their were no budget accommodations at all in Dushanbe. We didn’t want to risk it so we got the name and number of a women who rents out rooms in her apt. to travelers to make some extra money. The setup is pretty basic, mats on the floor, but it’s only $10/person and the family is amazing. Call 935018167 and ask for Nozim (they don’t speak English btw). Caesar salad and other good food/drinks: Public Pub.