Our convoy continues on to Uzbekistan, the true heart of the Silk Road. Expect beautiful architecture and another spoon of Central Asia’s hospitality. But before all that, the most feared border crossing of them all, the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border.
Driving in a convoy is awesome: Cold beer after a long day driving? No problem, Team Tuk Tales carry a wicked refrigerator. Need to start a fire or tighten up that loose pipe? Easy, there is no shortage of saws, shovels, axes and cable ties. Fancy hitting a few golf balls? Sure thing, which club would you like to use?
Finding a camping spot is a bit more challenging but the safety of the pack helps you venture through paths that perhaps you would not do otherwise. Note: the tractor is not part of the convoy.
The people of Turkmenistan have been incredibly curious and welcoming. Remarkable, considering they live in one of the most hermetic countries on Earth. Or perhaps that is precisely the reason why. And one last note: Dear Mr President (of Turkmenistan), please stop building white marble buildings in Ashgabat and start looking after the rest of the country, starting with the roads.
The drawback of sticking with the convoy was that we had violated our transit visa by changing our route. Much to our surprise, that only meant an extra $30 at the border, to cover for the extra distance we had to drive. Uzbekistan requires everyone to fill in a declaration of goods and custom officials have the right to check your pictures. All of them. In theory it is to prevent people from entering the country with pornographic material. In practice, the officials just want to mess around. Which would not be too bad, if it wasn’t for the bad manners.
Uzbekistan kindly received us with slightly lower temperatures. We treated ourselves to a nice hotel with a beautiful courtyard, just a short stroll away from the main sights. However, we had another theme in mind for our first night in Bukhara: beers, dinner and sunset.
Next day, after a lovely breakfast based on fruit, yoghourt and raisins we said farewell to our Norwegian friends as they set off for the mighty Pamir Highway. Sad to see the Fellowship lose (temporarily) a member, we went for a walk around the city, to discover why Bukhara, together with Samarkand, are the main tourist attractions in the whole of Central Asia.
The not so golden road to Samarkand…
…specially at night. It may have been the amazing old town of Bukhara, and the fact the we were all a bit tired and hungry. Or perhaps crossing so many timezones makes you lose the sense of time. Whatever the reason, we left Bukhara in the late afternoon and before long, the night fell in. The last 100km felt like a thousand: incoming traffic with high beams, pot holes, people waiting for a lift way too close to the road and the odd donkey crossing over to the other side every now and then.
But Samarkand is well worth the effort and finally we got to admire the Registan. Since we started planning the trip, this amazing complex was one of the top sites we were most looking forward to and it lived up to the expectations.
One has to register with the police every 72 hours while in Uzbekistan, one of those rules that no one fully understand. This makes camping a rare thing but not impossible and so we all decided we would camp in the wild on our last night. Time to stock up on food and… a hitchhiker: Adam, a young man from London, who is hitchhiking his way from Europe to India and then New Zealand on its own. How about that?
We will always have Achamayli
We left Samarkand early, determined not to drive at night again. For once, the roads were surprisingly good, for Uzbek standards that is, and soon we started our usual search for a good spot, this time, somewhere south of Tashkent. And a good spot we found, just outside the little village of Achamayli, a green field by a nice little stream. As we were parking our vehicles, a group of curious local women approached the convoy and in a mixture of Russian, Uzbek and sing language they told us that there was a problem.
Our conversation continued for a while until a young man arrived on his bike carrying a melon and asked us to follow him. Trusting locals has proven to be the best thing on this trip so far and the convoy did just that once again. What we didn’t expect was for the guy to take us to his house and offer us a room. Soon after we parked our cars in his courtyard, the neighbour arrived with delicious homemade food. And the police, who couldn’t get their head around our trip (not many people can to be honest). They took us on their Lada to the police station, some 20 metres down the road, to register our passports and we ended up taking some pictures with them (not sure how legal that was). The night finished with a lively conversation with our host, using a spanish-russian dictionary. It turned out, Abdulah is just 27 years old, his wife 21 and they have 3 kids.
This trip has already changed us somehow. Although rather than the trip itself, it is the people like Abdulah that have confirmed that this world is full of wonderful people, regardless of age and race. And with a warm fuzzy feeling about life in general we headed towards the next border. It is funny how most countries keep their best until the very end, away from the big cities and the crowds.
Time to choose a border crossing into Kyrgyzstan. Would it meet our expectations of beautiful landscapes and raw nature?