Tag Archives: digestive flora

the uzbek black market

It’s about 2,000,000 degrees here and thank heavens I have no tourists to faint in the heat. My currently scheduled tour has been canceled because no clients signed up. Yes, yes, yes this means two weeks off! You can’t imagine my delight. A rest is needed to balance my flora anyway.

This wouldn’t be a bad job if it were two weeks on two weeks off. And, crikey, it would average out to a legal workload.

My last tour was a lovely one, although I’m still a little peeved that I wasn’t tipped. How is it that my favorite group yet didn’t tip me? Oh yes, because they are Australian. But before I tell you about them, I want to catch up on that economics lesson I promised you. It’s high time, as the government moved last week to wipe the black market out entirely.

200somnoteThere are two exchange rates in Uzbekistan, the official rate and the black market rate. The official rate is about 230 cym to $1 USD. The black market rate hovers around 680 cym–the riskier the source, the higher the rate. So, you, a happy tourist, would be insane to exchange at the official rate because you would have to change $100USD at the official rate to obtain the same amount of cym that I get for $34 on the black market. The risk really isn’t that high if the source is known. For example, if I run around the bazaar and change with strangers I’ll never see again, I may get an excellent rate of 720, but as the notes are impossible to count inconspicuously (this is after illegal, so I can’t sit outside and count 72,000 cym note by note without arousing some attention), I may not receive all my cym. Nor will I never find the changer again. At the other end, a happy tourist could go to his trusty tour guide (who can obviously not escape) and receive a solid rate of 600 cym to the dollar.

In the middle, where I get my rate of 680, are people of all sorts: the cashier at the opera, the gift-shop attendant at Hotel Tashkent, the guy who tends a bootleg music kiosk outside of the government department store (my favorite). It involves a little ducking into dark rooms and what-not, but that’s all part of the fun. Or it was.

The most excellent aspect of all this was the pricing on western goods (the outfit I’m wearing now for example). The goods are priced in US dollars. So, a pair of jeans at the Levi’s store is about $87. Expensive, if I pay in dollars. But the store is required to convert prices at the legal, official rate of 230. So the pants are 20,010 cym. Now, I take my cym acquired at a black market rate of 680 and buy the jeans. 20,010 cym at the BM rate means I’ve only spent US$29.43. Not bad.

The favorite store of the Dumbdowners guides is Tashkent Plaza, where up up market colognes & cosmetics were really really cheap. A Helena Rubenstein lipstick was $9 after the conversions. Ahhh. The job does have perks!

Until last week. It was rumored to happen soon, but we all hoped it was only speculation. Last Tuesday the government quietly raised the official rate to 675, higher than the black market rate, which had fallen to 650 due to the rumors. Yes, this means we have to go to banks now. I hate banks. There’s still a black market because Uzbeks keep their savings in USD (due to rapid cym inflation) and because it’s still illegal to change cym into dollars (give that a month or two).

The worst of it, you’ve probably realized, is that Levi’s and Tashkent Plaza are required to convert prices at the legal, official rate of 675. This means that $87 jeans are actually $87. Sigh. So much for the perks. At least I have a week off!

Now that the lesson is over, I’ll tell you about all my favorite Uzbeks and tourists. The characters here are unbelievable. Today an old Uzbek guy who gave me a ride to the center of town told me that I was the first American ever in his car. When I got out, he asked to kiss me on the cheek! Heh heh. I let him, of course.

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.