Monday, August 11, 2014

Days 26-29: Tourism and Gas Problems in Uzbekistan

Day 26:

The plan for the day was to make it to Tashkent crossing the border at Uchkurgan. From others in the Bishkek hostel and elsewhere I'd heard that police in Uzbekistan, especially in the south were exceptionally corrupt and a few people had horror stories to tell. Police check points were everywhere as well as marked, unmarked and fake police road blocks. At any of these stops, an officer may steal your passport and demand a bribe.

I'd also heard that the border control process was long and thorough. Two rules particularly worried me. The first was that you are required to stay in a hotel every night of your stay in Uzbekistan. At the border you have to show the police a registration slip for each night and if you're missing one you could be forced to pay a huge fine or bribe. The second rule was that you have to declare all cash on you and if you have more money on you when you leave, they may take it. Also, I was told to expect a very thorough search of all my belongings at each border crossing.

I woke up early, and made my way to the border. On the Kyrgyzstan side, I nearly missed the border control station. The whole operation consisted of a stop sign, two officers and two trailers. I was the first through so they made me wait out side the gate for a bit then It took maybe 15 minutes and I was in no man's land. The Uzbek border was a bit more official looking complete with real buildings and cement walls. It hadn't opened yet so I waited around in no man's land and made a cup of coffee on my stove. The border control process was definitely more involved but nothing like the stories I'd been told. The officers were friendly and helpful. They did search my bags. At one point a scorpion jumped out of my tank bag at an officer while he searched it. They looked at my books and asked if my journal contained any terrorist writings but that was about it. No searching my phone or camera, no looking for money, no bribes. And it only took an hour or so.

In the east of Uzbekistan, its portion of the Fergana valley, I saw mostly pastoral countryside. I stopped in a village and had some barbecue and here the crowds returned. It was just like China again. The same questions (probably, at least I told them the same things) photos, thorough inspections of the motorcycle. I also noticed other drivers in Uzbekistan wave much more often and I soon I felt like I was on Vinalhaven. Every once and a while a car would flash its lights at me or pull up beside me and shout. It was kinda nice.

Later in the day I came across another motorcyclist on a nice Italian bike. When I stopped he pulled up beside me. He turned out to be an Uzbek investment banker living in Hong Kong. He showed me the way to the city and we had a cup of coffee together while I searched for a place to stay. Then he was nice enough to call and drive me there. He did offer me a place to stay but I was worried about the hotel rule.

All in all a good start. I did notice that a number of gas stations were closed but most were open so I didn't think much of it.

Day 27:

I left my nice hostel in Tashkent early, filled up my tank and jerry can and headed for Samarkand. It was a relaxing day, only about 300km and I got there around 4 in the afternoon. At this point I haven't had cell phone service or reliable internet outside of my hotels for a while so I've been downloading my maps for the next day to my phone and using those. The locator function still works without internet so its usually just as good.

Samarkand was a beautiful city. I walked around the Registan, the most famous building in Uzbekistan but it was too late to go inside. Then had a dinner of kebab and went back to the hostel to sleep.

Day 28:

Today I was headed for Bukhara. The motorcyclist had told me that this was his favorite of the old cities in Uzbekistan. The trip was very short, only 275km, and I arrived early in the afternoon. The morning was when I first really noticed how bad the gas situation was in this country. I tried for an hour or so to find an open station but finally had to settle on a station that was selling gas in plastic 5 liter water bottles kept in their basement. I'm not sure if its always like this but there was definitely a shortage of gas in the country. On the way to Bukhara, despite having plenty of fuel, I stopped at a few decent looking gas station but found they also had nothing to sell.

I arrived early enough in Bukhara to do a bit of city walking. I found the old section of the city, which is still pretty much intact, and got lost for a few hours among the short old buildings and narrow winding roads, not wide enough for a car. Eventually I found the center of the old city: Mosques with turquoise tiled domes and beautiful artwork and arabic writing covering their faces and minarets and markets filled with touristy things, silks, spices and local crafts. There I found a blacksmith and picked out a nice gift for myself.

Day 29:

Today I was to get back into adventure riding. The plan was to make it to Khiva, the last silk road city in Uzbekistan but to get there I had to cross the first bit of the Kyzyl Kum desert. In all my planned route would be over 450km, 350km of which would be through the desert. I found a gas station on the edge of town and loaded up. My tank's range is a pretty decent 430-460km and with the 5 liters of extra fuel in the jerry can, I can easily go about 550-600km without needing a gas station.

Once I got into the desert, the temperature rose above 100 degrees and the wind picked up. I quickly learned that riding with your jacket open to the desert wind is a big mistake so I closed all my jacket's air vents and zipped up. The wind in the desert feels like wind from a furnace even when you're going 80 kmh and it dries your sweat too quickly. I had actually read about this before and bought this jacket instead of a mesh one just for this reason. Zipped up with a bit of water down my shirt I felt perfectly fine.

This desert seemed more beautiful than the Taklimakan. The dirt had a redish color and it was covered in small plants. In this desert as in China, there were a few people living out there in the middle of nowhere. In this part of the desert the people operated cafes or shops which made the ride much easier than I had anticipated.

When I got near Khiva, it was still early so I decided to go on to Nukus. A further 210km but this put me over my gas range. Once again the stations I tried had nothing. The people I asked knew nothing. Eventually, I found one of those plastic bottle gas sellers and bought 5 liters (1.3 gallons) for $6.50, a ridiculous price. Nearly twice what the gas stations charge.

This section was another desolate one. After 100km or so the sun started shining in my face and I started to get anxious. I needed a hotel but with little day light left I'd be forced to stay at the first cheapish one I could find. To make things worse, my phone ran out of batteries so I had no map. I got to the city and eventually found a $70 hotel, the most I've spent on a hotel yet. The internet didn't even work but they did share some of a strange looking melon with me before I went to sleep.

This was one of the longest days. Including all the driving around looking for gas, I totaled 610km.

1 comment:

  1. "Kyzyl Kum " (written in Turkey Turkish "Kızıl Kum") means "Red Sand" (red as in Red Sonja). Just FYI :D Really enjoying to read your motoblog so far :)