Tajikistan + Uzbekistan | Dushanbe - Baysun - Qarshi - Bukhara - Khiva | 29th Nov to 14th Dec 2015 | 16,802km
Uzbekistan has a notoriously thorough customs search process which can result in the loss of most of a day for a pair of cyclists - first aid kits, ziplock bags, spices boxes, oils and greases are all up for extra scrutiny. The lengthiest part however can be the search for pornographic material that you may be carrying on any of your electronic devices. As our laptop was stowed in with our shocking stinky shoes and a very wet sleeping bag it escaped their attention, but Flo’s tablet was excitedly whisked away by the youngest officer to perform his search for ‘sexy pics’, as he put it. An hour passed and we filled out four customs forms each (no photocopiers here) whilst the young chap fast forwarded through all of our, disappointingly PG rated, films. He eventually returned dejectedly with the tablet out of battery, his time to shine ruined. Thankfully, we keep all our sexy pics on the laptop.
We changed $100 for an absolute wedge of Uzbek som. $1 equals over 5000 som, and 5000 is the biggest note. We got given 1000 som notes. After the break in Dushanbe winter had fully set in. No more autumnal colours, pale skies and long cold nights with only pumpkins and melon for sale roadside. Where we entered in the South East, Uzbekistan is still very lumpy and we rode though the mountains for a few days before things eventually leveled out into the flat desertyness we had previous associated with the country. A brief respite from simply following the one main road available was refreshing, though served as a reminder to trust our own map reading rather than asking locals for directions. Responses can vary from wild inaccurate to clearly made up.
The horn honking here has been absolutely spectacular. A prolonged angry sounding honk usually just means someone wants you to look at them. Drivers liked to slow down, veer uncomfortably close for a good long stare and maybe wind down the window for an ‘at cuda?’, where are you from? We barely had time to shout back Anglia! before they were off again. If it’s an engagement that brings us to a stop, it will often involve the pressing of anything upon our person that could possibly be a button.
Chasing Tim and Het would had left Dushanbe a little before us, we caught up with them again in Qarshi and rode out together to camp by a farm. A long 140km the next day through post apocalyptic desert nothingness saw us role into Bukhara. Google defines it as ‘a city centre museum’, which isn’t a bad way of putting it, with interesting old stuff around every cold shadowy corner. We had the full attention of the street sellers with it being low season and we had to fight hard to leave without a carpet strapped to our racks. We had the pleasure of staying with Rakima who showed us how to make tradition pumpkin manty and samsa along with her mum, a dough rolling ninja.
We parted with Tim and Het again and headed northwards with overambitious plans to ride the arrow straight desert road to Khiva. With favourable weather we stood a chance but inevitably a biting headwind developed and we watched the speedo drop painfully lower and lower. There wasn’t enough daylight hours or desire from us to make it before the predetermined start date on our Turkmen visa. We dropped into a routine of grinding along for a few hours in the morning before finding a chaihana to defrost in before hitching the distance we needed to do that day. The time spent in the chaihanas was surreal, but educational. We learnt that, as well as general disbelief that we were voluntarily traveling by bicycle, most people were convinced our government must be paying us to do so. We learnt that Uzbeks drink only tea and that only three types of tea exist, black tea, green tea and ‘white tea’. Lastly we understood that a flick of the neck means ‘we’re going to drink vodka now’. Frozen desert camping changed to frozen cotton field camping and a third afternoon of hitching landed us within 50km of Khiva.