Monthly Archives: June 2000

logistics of uzbek tourism


I wrote this a bit ago and am just pasting it in while I have a second now. At the moment I’m with an excellent, fun group and not hating the job a bit. What a difference a week makes, eh?

Just stuck my hand in a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of this chair. Jeeze.

Mr Crabb arrived and would you believe that it is Steve Crabb—yes, the Steve Crabb, recently retired from the Australian ministry. The Aussies around are all very impressed, having seen him so much on TV. Of course, I am impressed too, but not so much that when offered the chance to dump Vivenne and Steve off on another guide while I stay back in Tashkent on parasite dehosting/administrative duties, I didn’t jump up and down with glee.

It will probably not surprise you to hear that taking care of tourists is a pain in the ass and I am not 100% suited to it. It takes a person with no sense of personal space, personal time, or personal interests outside of making inappreciative tourists happy in Uzbekistan (which to me is not so interesting). The job wouldn’t be bad if it were say, less than 24hrs a day and there were say, more than 24 hrs off a month. Surely this much labor can’t be legal…were it not for this break, I’d be touring non-stop until October. At least I manage to keep my sense of humor about it!

But would you believe that my last group had absolutely no appreciation of my charming sense of humor? I still can’t get over it. (More on this in Bulk 6 or 7.)

When you hear tour guide (or leader as the case may be), perhaps you think of someone who jumps on and off a bus with a bunch of tourists. Not so with [insert firm name]. We specialize in small group journeys and we use local transport, not a giant A/C tour bus. We also use local guides and local home restaurants. And it’s my job to arrange all this, in addition to minding the damn people. This means that when we go from city to city, I first taxi out to the local auto station and bargain with Uzbek drivers for decent price for a van to take us to the next destination.

Yes, a destination 9 hours away through the desert in a 30 year old Latvian built van. These vans have horrible ventilation possibly because only 2 windows open and possibly because exhaust comes up through the holes in the floor. All of them are like this (and don’t be insane, they do not have A/C). I can’t wait until July when the temperatures rise and stay well above 100 F. The notion of a big tour bus has become very romantic to me.

uzbek economics

Dear Friends Afar,

Hello hello. How are you? Has anyone received my lovingly written and posted replies to your emails? I’m not all that confident of the Uzbek postal system, but I have all of five minutes online a month and four of them go to the head office in Australia. The other goes to this bulk message so that I can say hello to everyone and babble a bit. Intimate, isn’t it? At the moment I’m meant to be downloading passenger lists from my email account but the internet won’t connect, so I am typing a letter on Word to be sent…someday.

Do you know that my official title is not tour guide but group leader? I’ll forward my business card immediately. Oh, I hear Dumbdowners’ (my company, euphemistically speaking) web site is up. I’ve yet to see it, but I hear it’s annoying.

It’s 10:20pm on the first night of a tour and my group has gone to bed. The group consists of 2 people—a Mr. Crabb who hasn’t arrived yet and Vivenne Callard, a 78 year old New Zealander with whom I will share a room for two weeks. I really should go to bed now as not to disturb her any later, but I am not tired yet. I’m in the manager’s office listening to a hotel employee spit outside the window near the entry below. I wonder if I will possibly get everything done tomorrow, as I need these passenger lists desperately (to learn Mr. Crabb’s first name, for one). I need to get a Kyrgyz visa, too. And of course, spend every waking moment minding Vivenne and Mr. Crabb.

200 cymVivenne and I saw an Uzbek ballet tonight. It was quite excellent. Usually the ballet is Russian and usually Tchaikovsky, also quite excellent, especially for 600 som (pronounced soom), about 88 US cents. Vivenne was quite unnerved, as most tourists are, when we jumped into an unmarked taxi and bartered the fare to the theatre. They are unmarked only because they are not taxis, but men with cars on the road looking to pick up some som. Yes, it is safe. Yes, even for lone women at night (not too late of course). Yes, this is charming. Does it work this way in eastern europe? I’ve forgotten. It can’t possibly in Russia thanks to the infamous taxi mafia.

Anyway, since I’ve mentioned som, I’ll go on to note one or two of the many economic lessons I’ve learned here. Lesson one: Inflation in unstable countries is very high. This is a big problem for group leaders who pay exorbitant prices (by local standards) for group dinners (say two or three dollars per person) and spend precious moments counting som notes. It’s a big problem for anyone who has to count money, really.

Look at it this way: last year 200 som was a lot of money, or at least a lot more than it is now, so the government decided that it was time to make a note larger than the 100 som note, now worth about 14.7 US cents. They looked forward to 2000 and made a 200 som note, now worth about 29.4 US cents.

Yes, the largest Uzbek note is worth 29 cents. So, if I have a group of ten and people have a huge dinner and a drink the bill will be about $3.75, or 2500som. That’s a total bill of 25,000som. If my tourists have 50 or 100 som notes I will have to count about 250 bills to pay for a meal. It also means I have to carry a bag of money around with me. This is fairly common in developing countries. Next time: a lesson on the black market. I’m off to bed.