Tuesday, 28 July 2015 05:26

Samarkand is essentially a city and at least for me did not quite have the charm and small town feel of Bukhara. The historic part is well preserved and is partly still in the process of being renovated. It was good to relax at Bahodir and take evening strolls in the cooler evening air. The cyclists I had met in Bukhara, Dan and Ritzo left a couple of days before me as their Tajik visas were already valid. Then Patrick and Andreas from Berne and Disentis respectively turned up. Andreas had independently followed Patrick overland from Switzerland hearing various stories through Serbia, Turkey and Iran from other travellers about him, but this was actually the first time they met and my first time since leaving home to hear Schwiizerduutsch again. 

After several days break here and unashamed amounts of ice cream, beer and pizza, I headed back out to the real Uzbekistan. The following days were again hot and the daily rhythm was to leave early (around 5am), relax somewhere from 11am - 5pm and then cycle the second shift. The people here are amazingly kind and hospitable. I was put up in someones house where the wife was celebrating her birthday. It was approaching darkness and I had asked where I could pitch my tent when the invitation came. Not only did I get a bed (futon on the floor), but also copious amounts of food. On the road there are simply so many invites for grapes or melon that most simply have to be declined with a polite wave of the hand.

Other than for overlanders travelling between Europe and Asia, Uzbekistan will never make it as a major cycle touring destination. Even the main roads can be quite rough and after a solid section of asphalt, gravel and stones can appear for several km without notice. The landscape also becomes relatively monotonous with days of flat roads flanked by cotton fields and sporadic houses. The cyclist here is for many like some kind of zoo animal to be shouted at, hooted at and laughed at. The intention is in most cases good, but after a while it becomes tedious and any of these actions were simply ignored unless they were in my immediate field of vision, when they would get a 'hello' in return. Perhaps more annoying and certainly more dangerous are the small shared taxis (marshrutkas as they are called here) which, at the site of a potential passenger, can pull out or pull in at no notice. Other interesting highlights here were:

* Huge quantities of money and the black market. The official rate is 2500 Som / USD but on the black market you can get up to 4300. Changing 50 USD gives you a huge wad of notes as the highest note in common circulation is the 1000 Som.

50 USD in Uzbek Som

* Constant offers of handshakes as if you are a close long lost pal.

* Deep drop toilets.

 A classic and particularly clean 'long drop'

* Plov, lagman and somsas - the national dishes which have fueled me through the country.

* Many weddings and bridal clothing shops.

* Bed like eating areas at the tea houses where you can eat and then lie down for a siesta:

Time for a siesta

I covered the ground to the border quicker than exected and passed through a particularly scenic mountain area around Derbent:

Scenic sunset on the road to Derbent

I spent the extra days in Termiz and Denau, which according to a fellow cyclist has the best supermarket this side of Georgia!

Both towns offered a taste of normal urban Uzbek life and the sanctuary of my own hotel room away from any interrogations and prying eyes.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015 07:20

Bukhara is a fairly compact town with a maze of back streets for getting lost in and an ample supply of UNESCO acclaimed restored buildings. At night the main pedestrian street comes alive with kids driving small electric cars, locals walking up and down and old ladies selling various trinkets. It was a nice atmosphere and a perfect place to unwind for a few days in the company of some other Europeans. 

It also seems to be one of the meeting points of the cycling touring community. Dan from the UK grew up 20km from myself and has cycled here from Manchester. His ongoing route looks very similar to mine, so we will no doubt meet on the road again. (He left Bukhara a day before me) Ritzo from Holland is also heading to the Pamirs.

The days here were also relatively cool due to some whispy clouds covering the sky. Apparently the temperatures in Uzbekistan are regularly fudged in the summer as the government has to pay workers more when it hits 40C.  There are therefore many days where the mercury peaks at 39C!

From Bukhara it is around 270km on to Samarkand. The countryside is relatively monotonous and flat, but the cycling here is never dull. The locals shout repeatedly 'hello' and deeper conversations then go onto 'hat kuda' meaning 'where are you from'. Having got bored with the standard 'anglia', I researched a few other countries in my dictionary and then used these for variety. Bus stops here are a welcome retreat. They mostly offer good shade and a chance to cool down, relax and snack on whatever may be found in your panniers.

Vehicle maintenance Uzbekistan style:

Vehicle maintenance Uzbek style

After an overnight in Navoiy, I arrived early evening to Samarkand and Bahodir hostel to catch old friends and meet new friends. The staff in the hotel in Navoiy had served me a huge breakfast at 4:30 am which had set me up well for dealing with another day of headwinds. The shady courtyard of Bahodir was full of bikes and new guests are offered watermelon, wafers and tea - just what was needed after over 12 hours on the road.

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