Uzbekistan greeted with with a present. After the longest border crossing yet, a total of 5 hours getting out of Kazakhstan and into Uzbekistan my front tyre was flat. Certainly not the bloody greeting I wished for though to be honest it was a compression puncture from the horrible state of the track as you can’t call it a road on the Kazak side of the border for the last 40 kms so I’m being unfair on Uzbekistan.
I’d been warned that 3 things make travel difficult here.
Firstly the customs regime which is one of the harshest in the world I’ve been told. You must declare every valuble item on entry because if you’re checked on the way out and haven’t declared your iphone or camera it WILL be confiscated.
Secondly petrol or to be precise, lack of it. Most vehicles run on either LPG or diesel especialy in the north of the country where we were so petrol is bought on the black market and involves asking around at truck stops or hotels. Our first request led to a 2 hour wait, hence the picture of Ian sun bathing waiting for petrol. You die of hypothermia in England. We also got escorted to somebody’s house for petrol on another occasion and had a car arrive, then the driver disconnects the fuel pump and drains the petrol into a big container for you.
The thrid bug bear of travel here is cash. There are virtually no ATM’s in the country so you’ve got to exchange cash and when you do you need a carrier bag not a wallet. I got nearly half a million for just over £100. Everybody walks around with a huge wad. Its great feeling loaded but a real pain to carry so much cash.
Your bill for the meal and the drink sir, that’ll be 150,000 please! WHAT!
The final problem was the heat. Everyday for about a week it was topping 40c and reached 44c. August weather not June weather apparently and I didn’t cope as well with the heat as Ian.
With all that in mind I wasn’t initially impressed with Uzbek. After the border absolutely nothing for over 100 miles of desert. Flat sandy scrub land desert. A blazing hot sandy dump. Shaun was not happy.
However that was to change with meeting the Uzbeks.
Outstanding generosity, helpfulness and great pleasure to see the bikes. Cars would flash their lights, honk their honks and pedestrians just wave as you go by. When you stop you get mobbed. Makes you feel important.
Even the police are great, there are frequent police check points and we always get stopped on the bikes. Never for documents just for requests for wheelies or even for the police to get their photo’s taken with the bikes, just don’t try to photograph the copper. I did and told to delete the picture. They even want to sit on the bikes or ride them but the height of these things puts them off when they do try and climb on.
Anyway our first nights stop was at almost the first building we saw for 120 miles and it was a truck stop. Not very luxurious but hey it was a bed for the night, had great food and was cheap. It was here that we met Ali who spoke great English.
Ali was a really nice guy and carried on the tradition of pouring very nice vodka down our necks. A quiet night wasn’t so quiet after all. Then in the morning when we went to pay our food and bar bill it turns out that Ali had already paid for it before he left. What an absolute star. I hope he got the email of the picture he wanted of him sat on my bike.
A recurring theme of the trip is the great people we meet and their tolerance of 2 scruffy dusty bikers who turn up unable to speak a word of the local lingo. I do wonder how most people back in Britain would treat a weary Uzbek or Kazak who can’t speak a word of English. Lots of great people so far and only 2 a*******’s
So the next morning we have the 2 hour wait for petrol then it’s off to the Aral Sea or what little is left of it, but first I had a pretty spectacular crash in deep sand.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the Aral Sea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aral_Sea
Here’s what Shaun’s got to say.
I found it mind blowing that what was once the 4th largest lake in the world in 1960 has been reduced to almost village pond. This was once a lake that supported over 500 fishing boats, one of the towns alone, Moynaq produced 25 million cans of fish a year and 10,000 people were employed here. Now that’s all gone. All that’s left is some rusting ships beached on the sand with the sea no longer in sight! You could argue that the water diverted from the Aral Sea helped development elsewhere but I’m not so sure it was worth this catastrophe.
When I first rode to the edge of the Ustyurt Plateau and looked down on what was once the sea I was utterly gob smacked, this can’t be real. Nothing but desert as far as the horizon. Then we rode about 50 or 60 miles across what was once the sea bed to where some of the abandoned boats are in my pictures. I found very moving at such a disaster.
From here it was onto Nukus to the worst hotel of the trip. There wasn’t even a sink in the bathroom, it had been taken out and the soil pipe was stuffed with paper, just a loo and a very grubby bath with very intermittant water supply. Just what you want when you’re hot, sweaty and dirty!
This was definitely my bad mood night in view of the sweltering temperatures, still about 32c at 10 pm. The air conditioning in the room didn’t seem to do anything but make such a racket that it kept me awake all night. Bummer.
After another search for illicit petrol I felt like Del Boy doing more dodgy dealings. Still cheaper than petrol back home. The petrol smugglers obviously are happy with a smaller margin than our government is with tax on fuel. Mind you they’ve only got their families to support rather than 650 MP’s and their expenses. Kate Green the MP for Stretford and Urmston is the exception of course, as she’s really nice having performed the opening of our office in 2009. Political rant over fuel duty done with now before I dig myself a big hole and get into trouble. I can’t afford Ian Hislop’s defence laywer.
Off to Buhkara, an ancient city on the old Silk Road. Wiki is getting some use tonight to save me typing, anyway nothing else of interest happened apart from feeling like an Uncle Ben’s boil in the bag meal for the rest of the day. No wonder my socks smell with this heat and Ian won’t share a room with me.