The first day of travelling is always fraught with anxiety and the fact that mine started early in the morning heightened the anxiety level. I’m basically rubbish in the morning and so three alarms set on three different devices was all I could do to allay my fear of not waking up at 5am. It worked: phase one of my journey to Uzbekistan started to a shrill cacophony of alarm tones and me jumping out of bed and fumbling around trying to turn them all off.
I threw the guide books that I had been thumbing through the evening before into my bag and headed to the airport only to discover the flight was delayed. First by twenty minutes, then by thirty and then an hour. In my head an hour was the most I could be delayed without a real risk of missing my connecting flight in Istanbul on which I was due to meet my fellow travellers who had flown in from Italy. Fine, I kept telling myself, I’ll be fine. Now, anyone who has followed my travel odysseys in the past will know that I am a fool to think anything will be fine. The list of my trouble-free journeys is rather short but despite that I kept thinking I’ll be fine.
We take off an hour and half later than expected but the pilot assures us we can make up time in the air and all will be fine. And indeed all was fine except that by the time we approach Istanbul the plane makes a gentle curve and we start heading away from our destination. I flick on the world map on my to screen and become fixated with the little animation of the plane and the ‘time to destination’ clock that is ticking away at the top of the screen.
Sure enough our trajectory is not on course for Istanbul and rather than ticking down time, the clock seems to ticking up and the number of minutes begins to rise, not fall. As we head further out to sea I will the plane’s wing to dip down and turn back. My connection time is disappearing and my ‘I’m going to be fine, thoughts turn to ‘right, ok I’ll have to spend the next 24 hours waiting for the next flight on an inadequently padded chair in a waiting room as I don’t possess a visa to leave the airport in Turkey to spend the night in a hotel’. The animated plane is meanwhile still heading out to sea and the clock is still ticking upwards. I now have 25 mins before the gate closes. The clock says 17 mins until landing. I make a quick calculation that there is no way I can make it from row 24 to the front of the plane, into the airport, and to the next gate in the remaining 8 minutes. At that moment the wing dips and the plane icon on the screen makes an agonisingly slow turn on the map and we are once again heading towards Istanbul.
The clock starts ticking down at last but I am now factoring in the runway taxi time too and there is simply no way to make the flight. I feel a pang of nerves and my muscles tighten. The moment we land I send a text message to my group asking for the departure gate number and thankfully a response comes straight away with the news that the flight to Uzbekistan is delayed by an hour and a half. My entire body relaxes and delightedly I banish the thought of an overnight stay in Ataturk Airport. It soon becomes apparent that the connecting flight delay was instigated by the delay to my original flight. When I board the connecting flight I am greeted by the smiley faces of my friends and I, relieved, apologise for having kept them waiting. I find my seat, slump into it and happily remind myself that I am now bound for Tashkent.
We meet our driver outside Tashkent airport after having passed through customs and checks without a problem. The streets of the city are deserted at 3am and we hurtle along wide tree-lined boulevards with Soviet-style architecture on either side. As a former Soviet republic, it is not hard to see how Uzbekistan’s recent past has stamped an indelible mark on its urban fabric. I am hooked already.