[loads of photos to add to this and the last two posts, when I find some internet that’s faster than dial up in 1992..]
Travelling in Uzbekistan, the most upstanding citizen will immediately feel like an international gangster as even daily expenses require fat bundles of notes: there are 8000 sum to the pound (though there’s no use bringing pounds to change as they are alien and worthless here). That’s at the black market rate, which you’ll get by heading to the bazaar and finding one of the men loitering outside with a shopping bag – they identify themselves as you walk by with their enquiries of ‘Tenge?, Dollar?’. I don’t even know how you’d get the official rate as I haven’t seen any exchange bureaus – maybe you have to go to bank, but as you have to do that even to withdraw cash in the first place (dollars – they won’t give a sum cash advance) on account of the non-existence of ATMs, I wouldn’t particularly then fancy hanging around even longer to get a crap exchange rate! [There’s $70 in the pic above- British readers, that’s about £70 now ho ho ho – and it’s a small pile as it’s mostly comprised of the less common 5000 note!]
The money situation- lack of – contributed a lot to my initial feeling on arrival in Nukus, which was along the lines of, WTF is up with this ridiculous place, I’m getting out of here – screw the Aral sea (which was apparently what the soviets thought, boom boom). [The train journey itself didn’t help much either: a 4 hour gap between trains at Beineu from 10pm – 2am, then 5 hours where we covered less than 100 miles and were largely stationary as the two sets of border formalities were dealt with. Minimal chance to sleep during this time as the lights were on and I’d been given a bunk at the provodnik (carriage attendant) end and they were using my bay as a base camp].
Having failed to bring a load of dollars with me from the UK (last minute rush & also, not wanting to be constantly worried about the stash of dollars on my person!), I had become totally blasé as there are ATMs everywhere in Kaz. I changed £5 worth of tenge into sum with a money changer on the train, arrived in Nukus at 5pm on Monday, got myself from the (well OTT and new looking- in Uzbekistan it really is the size of your building and not what you do with it that counts) station into town and checked into the horror hotel (thinking terrible would equate to cheap- but it didn’t). I explained to the receptionist that I needed to get money out – but the bank has closed, he told me. “It’s ok I’ll got to a bankomat!” Ah ok he said, just humouring me, it turned out.
The next morning having established that there are definitely no ATMs in Nukus, and withdrawn money at the one bank in town that would do a foreign transaction, I found the brilliant Cinnamon coffee shop, moved to the much better hotel I should have gone to in the first place, and stopped hating Uzbekistan. Nukus is still petty strange though!