Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Getting Money in the Middle of Nowhere

One constant concern when travelling is how much money to carry. The easiest would be to take $30,000 out of the bank and just carry it around, but this is clearly a bit of theft risk. On the other end of the spectrum you'd have the smallest amount of cash possible, but then you run into problems when something unexpected happens. Most travellers have an emergency stash hidden somewhere, and enough "ready" money to pay for the next couple of days.

In Murghab you are about as remote as it is possible to get (except for maybe Central Anarctica), so it's no suprise there are no bank machines. Our plan was to spend about a week there and then head to Khorog, which has a banch machine, so we had allowed our cash piles to get lower then normal.

Then we went to the META office and found out about a great 5 day hike to the Fedchenko Glacier, the longest subarctic glacier in the world. We couldn't resist despite the $800.00 price tag for vehicles and a guide. The route would take us through some of the most remote scenery in the Pamirs and give us a chance to see a view that had never before been visited by westerners. Best of all, we'd end up in Khorog at the end of the whole thing so we could go to the bank there and pay for it.

Unfortunately, we ran into some people from the British embassy who told us the road was washed out and we couldn't complete the route. This dropped the transportation cost, but it meant that we had to come up with all the money ourselves. We didn't have enough.

No problem, said the META guy. You can do a wire transfer to the bank here and get the money from them (there is a bank in Murghab, but it doesn't have an ATM, or Visa, or any other modern connections, and normally is short on cash, so it is kind of useless). He got us all of the information, and I asked if we could use his internet (the only connection in the town) so that I could email my banker. Unfortunately, the electricity was out (Murghab only has a few hours a day of reliable power and it is often so weak that you can't see by lightbulbs because they are too dim).

Sigh... Well, maybe I could phone my mom, give her the information, and ask her to do me a huge favor and arrange the wire transfer.

That evening I went down the pitch black streets (Murghab has no street lights) to the phone office. I gave the number to the lady in the office and she phone for me. No lines. She tried again. Error. She tried again, and again, and again.

We never did go to the Fedchenko. If Tajikistan had only had any one of:
  1. a working road system
  2. a working electricity system
  3. a functional internet
  4. a functional phone network

we would have been able to do the trip. Ohhh well, you can't have it all.

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