I’m finally hitchhiking again. Or at least, that is my intention. My second ride drops me off in the middle of a town by the taxi stand. Figuring I still have a couple of thousand Uzbek som in my pocket which will be useless once I cross the border I decide to not make things unnecessarily hard for myself and take shared transportation to the border.
When I walk to the border post I come across two cars with British license plates. Inside a pack of young British men are stressing out over their visa which won’t be valid until tomorrow. It turns out they’re part of the Mongol Rally, a race across Eurasia in purposely ramshackle cars.
Now that I’m across the border I have to hitchhike for real: I haven’t been able to get my hands on any Tajik Somoni yet. Luckily my destination is not far away. It takes a few rides: an old couple in a van, a few guys carpooling home from work, and a man who goes into great detail about the economic decay in the region after the fall of communism who stops somewhere along the way to buy me some grapes. The last guy is driving three women to Dushanbe. They are dropped off as soon as we get to the edge of town. I offer to get out as well, but he insists on driving me to the center until I decline his invitation to visit a restaurant and a hotel several times. He drops me off with seven kilometers to go to the hostel and I’m beat after a long day. I keep looking around for an ATM so I can at least take public transportation, but no luck. Thankfully I still have the grapes.
I don’t do much during my Dushanbe days: I visit a few museums, walk down to what was once the world’s tallest flagpole, and try to track down some old Soviet buildings before they’re razed to the ground. Dushanbe is the sleepiest of all the former Soviet capitals I’ve visited. But tranquil streets are exactly what I need after having to be on my guard constantly in Afghanistan. I stay in a hostel for a few days. The place is filled with cyclists, Mongol Rally participants and various other intrepid travelers, including a guy I met previously in Mashad (we kept in touch via email as he made his way through Turkmenistan).