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Relaxed Uzbekistan

 

It’s the tenth of June, time to leave Turkmenistan and I must say: I don’t have any problem with leaving. After a motorbike check and some purchases on the market at the other side of the street I take off to go to the border. Hopefully they are as happy to let me go, as I’m happy to leave.

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The border is only ten kilometres away from the hotel and when I arrive I see two other bikers. One of them has bad news. His visa ends tomorrow and he is not allowed to leave today. I really expected the officials to be glad to have us out of the country. Strange… As just fifteen minutes later, the biker has left already, Benoit steps out of a car, the whole situation gets even more ridicules. Benoit’s visa is also valid till tomorrow, but he is allowed to cross the border! I guess he just put some banknotes in his passport, something I never do, although here at the border a young conscripted soldier openly asks for it. He tells me that he needs the money so that he can go to university. Apparently you have to/ can pay to get into university. He says that if you have the right education you can get in for free (but I think it must be hard to get the right education) and if not you have to pay. I’ve already heard that you have to pay as well to get a job. About university: if you pay to get in, you don’t have any choice of where and what you are going to study. All that money and such a rotten system.

The three of us follow the meanwhile well-known steps: passport control, customs control. We have to fill in lots of documents, get checks, but after all it only taken us one and a half hour before we can ride on to no mans land.

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At the Uzbekistani side I expect a more smooth procedure, but I’m surprised about the strict control here. We have to fill in paper after paper, have to do it again while not ok. The German biker doesn’t understand a thing although the officials speak English so I help him translating. Apparently he’s contaminated with a Turkmenian virus; when he’s ready he leaves without saying a word.

After again one and a half hour I’m entering Uzbekistan. Although the officials were strict, they were very friendly. As always I sense the atmosphere of the country within the first ten kilometres. Uzbekistan feels relaxed. It’s like a weight has fallen of my shoulders. Not only did I manage to get in time for crossing Turkmenistan, I also have no rush anymore. I’ve got plenty of time to get to Mongolia. It has to sink in. The landscape has changed. I’m passing long stretched villages with mostly small farms. The people are busy on the fields and I pass a lot of them transporting their hay at all sorts of ways: with tractors and trailers but also on donkeys, bicycles and even a horse so now and then. This region is very fertile because of a big river, the Amu Darja, flowing trough. At some places the Amu Darja forms the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

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Xiva or Khiva is not far from the border. It’s only sixty kilometres and the roads are ok. So within an hour I arrive in the city and again with the help of the waypoints I know were to go to. Khiva is a small city but the centre is very old. I read about it in many blogs and about everyone suggested to come here. As I ride to the homestay that is pointed out I have to drive around the old walled centre. What a wonderful view that big old mud wall with its towers. The entrance I take is the one at the side of the big bazar. It’s crowded with people and cars; it’s hard to get through. But when I finally manage, I see a couple of guesthouses on my right. The first one seems to look nice so I take of my helmet and open my jacket as quick as possible (it’s so hot) and ask about the price of a room. The very friendly owner, Hakim, tells me he asks thirty dollar for one night. That’s too much for me. In Turkmenistan there are no cheaper accommodations, but here I have plenty of choice. When I tell him he asks what I want to pay. I want to pay fifteen dollars for it. He then lowers his price to fifty dollars for the three nights I want to stay and that offer I can’t refuse. I must say, his house is redecorated completely in the last year and everything looks brand new. Some chairs are still covered in plastic. The room is beautiful, with brand new bath. I can’t wait to get into it.

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Again I’m very tired. My right foot hurts, I still cannot walk without pain and my left leg, which seems to be stuck under the motorbike when I fell in the desert, is completely swollen and bruised. I haven’t noticed any pain at that time but my legs looks terrible. When my luggage is in the room and I’ve had my tea and shower, I just take some rest. Today I do nothing, maybe just some shopping to buy fruit and go to the computer store Hakim told me about. My laptop cable is broken, I can’t charge it any more. For me it’s a big disaster. Without laptop I cannot write and publish, I cannot save my photos and films. In compared to the things I’ve just seen in Turkmenistan it’s a luxury problem, I know.

After a rest I stumble to the computer shop. It’s still hot and sticky. The man looks at the cable and after fifteen minutes, helping other clients in between, he tells me he can repair it, but it costs fifteen dollar. ‘Ok’, I say, ‘I pay you fifteen dollars but only when it really works’. He agrees. I’ve got a macbook and normally the cable cannot be fixed at all. A new one, if available here in Uzbekistan (surely not here in Khiva) costs me at least eighty dollars. It takes him another fifteen minutes before he tries out the cable and to my surprise: it works. By pulling out the cable it’s broke again. He has to glue it. When finished, now it really works even after puling it out several times, he asks me twenty dollars, which I start to laugh. ‘No’, I say, ‘we agreed on fifteen!’ ‘Yes, but I had to use glue’, is the answer. Even the other customer in the shop protests and under the pressure of the both of us he agrees on the fifteen dollars. After a stop at the bazar to buy something to eat I again go to my room for a rest. I’m really tired.

The second day in Khiva I use to write and try to publish. It’s hard. The Internet connections so far have been really bad. Loading pictures is a real nuisance. It takes hours and a lot of attempts. But the loads of tea and lovely cookies soften all of it.

I’m feeling better and my foot has had some rest. So the third and final day I go into the centre for some sightseeing. The weather has changed, it’s cloudy and it even rains so now and then. A client of mine gave me an address of a friend of hers: Ruslan. He has a travel agency and visits Germany quit often. Because Hakim works in the tourist business as well I ask him if he knows Ruslan and yes he does. Before I know he has him on the telephone. We agree to meet at twelve. I’m looking forward to it.

Khiva really is a stunning place to visit. All the buildings in the old centre are made of mud and only the religious buildings are partly covered with beautiful coloured tiles. I love this colour pallet. The blues and turquois on the sandy background. What I don’t like are museums so I skip that. It’s still warm despite the rain and my foot is still protesting so I won’t keep it long, my sightseeing tour. What I do like is wander round in the small alleys behind the tourist attraction. There I see the daily life. Children playing. Grandmothers sitting together in the shade, chatting about hell knows what.

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At twelve I go to the house where I’d meet Ruslan. He bought this beautiful house in tehe middle of the old centre and is still renovating it into a teahouse. Ruslan knows everything about his country; it’s great to listen to him and his plans. I’m glad to see a man proud of his country. We have dinner where I get to eat all the specialties of the country. What a delight.

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After three wonderful days it’s time to go. I enjoy the last breakfast here at Orzu Guesthouse, the best I’ve had so far. My next destination is Bukhara, about three hundred and fifty kilometres form here. The first part I follow the river and later on there is a highway. Again I pass the farmers villages until I ride along the river. An impressive sight. I have to cross it at some point and am surprised by the enormous security. At a checkpoint just before the bridge they really check if I have camera’s running. They tell me it’s strictly forbidden to make pictures. On my helmet I have my GoPro. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked what it is and mostly I can just leave it by telling them it’s a camera, but not running while: battery is empty, it’s broke, or whatever excuse I come up with, but this time the man is very persuasive so I take it off. Such a bummer I cannot make pictures here. When riding over the bridge I’m surprised to see the most beautiful scenery. The river is flanked by sand dunes with some trees and because the water isn’t that high, there are sand banks visible. The wind is very hard today so the sand dashes on, just like the water. It makes it all to a mystic scene. Just after the bridge I put on the camera again turn it on first and try to elevate my helmet to get just a patch of this scenery on film. Didn’t work out… Now I’m riding along a canal. The road is very bad, sandy and bumpy. It’s great to ride here but takes some time to finally reach the highway.

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Uzbekistan is mainly desert. The part along the river is rather an exception. Now I’m back to sand al over. And the temperature that comes with it. My motorbike starts to protest. He’s losing power and gets hot. I have to stop several times, not for long, but I’m able to ride on to Bukhara where I arrive just a bit before 16:00h. I found out on internet that there is a bank where I can get dollars. Also here in Uzbekistan you’ re better of with dollars then euros. I walk into the bank, the security asks me what I need and when I tell him I want to use the ATM to get dollars he tells me to rush. That office is closing after 16:00. He walks with me to guide me to the right office, quickly explains what I need and then the lady behind the desk nods ‘no’. Just five minutes to late. The internet connection of the pin device is broken already…Hakim arranged a hotel for me, it’s not that far away, but too far to walk (with my injured foot). There is no other option as to come back tomorrow. I have changed some euros for local money so I’m not totally lost.

Fatima hotel is situated in the old centre of Bukhara. Perfect! I again can park my bike at their courtyard, but for that I have to drive trough small alleys. At the end there is a big wooden door and behind that some steps with a plank on it. There are builders working at the courtyard and they’ve blocked the passage with bags of sand and other building material. I have to make some room. And even then it’s very narrow. I first walk inside to put of my helmet and then help is arranged easily. The builders help me through and would have carried my luggage if needed.

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Like the arrival in Khiva I’m tired because of the ride in the heat, so again I leave the hotel just to buy myself something small to eat. When walking around I spot another motorbike. Since Iran I am surprised to see the absence of motorbikes in the streets. These countries are not motorbike-minded and apart from the two German motor bikers at the border I haven’t seen many other travellers on motorbike. When I walk towards the bike, the owner steps out of the hostel the bike is parked at. Gabor, his name is, is from Hungary and traveling in the same direction. He is in a hurry to get to Almaty to meet his girlfriend so driving together is no option, but dinner is. It’s really nice to meet other motorbike travellers.

Later at night I start to feel sick. It’s like I pulled the plug out. Not much sleep, lots of toilet. The next morning I feel like a truck drove over me, but despite that I want to go to the bank. I already asked how to get there: bus 9. It’s not far, but the way I feel at the moment every step is far. The pin action is like pinning in a shop, but now you get money, or should I say it differently: you pay money to get money. The whole process takes fifteen minutes including the usual paperwork. I feel like being in the army again (I worked in the army as a Physiotherapist ones): filling in papers three times to get a simple thing.

I’m so glad to be back at the hotel, where I stay in bed the whole day. I know why I’m feeling this way. It has nothing to do with bad food; it’s all the stress coming out. Here in Uzbekistan for the first time I feel free of stress. I don’t have to be on time for anything. It literally falls off (out) me.

Like in Khiva I saved the last day here for sightseeing and like in Khiva it rains. The last few days I saw some tourists, but today the streets are deserted. Not really nice for sightseeing. The market is almost empty, also because of the weather and when I arrive at the old walled city I find out I have to pay to just walk through the empty streets. All the museums are closed. Although I don’t like museums, I’m not going to pay for just walking through empty streets in the rain, so I walk back to the hotel. On my way back the rain is pouring from the sky. In front of the hotel I meet Ted a backpacker from the United States of Florida as he used to say himself. And not much later two Russian ladies, mother and daughter) I met at breakfast the first day join us. We have interesting conversations about difference in culture, education, and politics although that’s a precarious subject. If I notice that Bukhara for me feels very easy to be, could be a European city, all three are looking like I’ve said something stupid. I’m not very interested in the old buildings; it feels all quit normal here. When I’m telling this, I start to understand what’s going on: I’m finally adapted, I’m finally traveling, I just let go off everything. What a nice feeling!

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The afternoon is reserved to do the very necessary maintenance on my bike. Yesterday I posted on Facebook that my motorbike was having problems and my very nice GS club friends remembered me that motorbikes need some TLC as well. So today I’m going to check all the liquids and change the air filter. The builders at the courtyard immediately gather around my bike and me. This is totally weird of course: a woman who tinkers with a motorbike. Soon I see I need coolant but where do they sell that! Now the builder team comes in hand and not long after I’ve made them clear what I need they come up with an address, or rather an area: the Maschina Bazar, there I can find what I want. They even are willing to order it for me, but I need it right away, so I decide to take a taxi. It’s at the other end of town. During the e pass a fuel station selling petrol with ninety-five octanes. I have to remember that. Arriving at the ‘ Maschina Bazar’ the taxi driver jumps out of the car and helps me finding the right store. Within no time we find the coolant. Back at the hotel I fill up the radiator and put everything together again. Hopefully my wonderful bike will be pleased with all the TLC.

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It’s time to leave Bukhara to go to Samarkand. Hette will be there as well. He ordered parts and is still waiting for them. The road to Samarkand is not as boring as the last part on the highway to Bukhara and I even meet a couple on pushbikes. They did the same route, but it took them fourteen months to get here. Now one of them has problems with the bike and they are hoping to get transport to Samarkand. Not long after we manage to stop a truck, we load the bikes and gear and of they go. How I respect those bikers! Unbelievable, all the effort they take. I have thought about going by bike as well, but it would have taken me too long to get were I want to go.

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In Samarkand the hostel again is situated at a prime location. Bahodir Hostel is situated right next to the Registon Square with the three ‘Madrassa’s’ (a Madrassa is a university). When I enter the hostel I directly feel a difference in accommodation. This is a real backpack hostel with the additional atmosphere. I suddenly feel my age; I’m old here. Especially when I see Hette again, sitting at one of the tables with some other guests. All his age. Luckily I don’t have to share a room. I sense that I need some space and a place of my own. Hette and I have some catching up to do so we have dinner together. He is still waiting for the fuel pump he ordered more then a week ago. His motorbike still has problems. I can feel he’s fed up with it and doesn’t want to wait any longer. Tomorrow he will ride on to Tashkent, just to stay in the country for another day or two, just in case the parcel will come after all, before leaving to Dushanbe in Tajikistan. In Dushanbe seems to be a good mechanic. I feel so sorry for him! On our way back to the hotel Hette takes me to the Registon square, and when I get sight of the old Madrasse’s I immediately feel the magic. I was afraid that I couldn’t enjoy the special sights anymore but this opened my eyes again. It’s strange but I have the same kind of feeling as when I saw the Taj Mahal. It’s magical. I’m stunned by the view of these old buildings.

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Hette left this morning and I am lazy. Just sitting in the beautiful courtyard with all the flowers and a cup of tea, writing and reading. In the afternoon when I just want to get out to buy myself something to eat, I can’t resist visiting the Madrassa’s. While walking up there, I walk through a park where some women are cleaning everything wearing white clothes and some of them even white gloves.

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At the entrance of the Registon Square I even accept the invitation of one of the many guides. She starts telling me about this place as if she is a tape recorder, and although it’s valuable information I can’t help to press on her stop button so now and then to ask a question. She doesn’t like it, this interruption of her well learned lesson, but it slows her down a bit. When we arrive at the last Madrassa she tells me that one off the architects also was part of the team of architects that build the Taj Mahal. I’m speechless. So I sensed that well! The strange thing is, that I never ask a guide to show me around. The only time I was persuaded to do so too was at the… Taj Mahal.

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The next day when I wake up I don’t feel at ease. Yesterday evening someone pointed at my left leg and said it didn’t look well. I’m a bit worried about my right foot and my left leg. They both still hurt. My left leg is swollen, the bruising is getting less, but I still am not reassured. At the other side of the street is the Hospital and when I say to the owner of the hostel that I want to go there he joins me for translation. The hospital looks ok form the outside but inside it is like they never did any maintenance after they build it forty years ago. What a mess! When the doctor orders to make X-rays I can’t believe my eyes when I see the X-ray machine. I guess that even at my grandmother’s time this was old. But the nice doctor makes up for all of that and delivers a good quality picture. Nothing broken. I have to go to another doctor for my left leg. There are two of them. The younger one immediately describes my antibiotic, which I don’t like, but when he leaves, the older one tells me my leg is already getting better. It just needs time and rest.

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I will do that this afternoon, but first I’d like to go to the market. It’s further away as expected, but when I arrive I am confronted with the rest of the beauty here in Samarkand. I’m not well prepared about all the sightseeing stuff, so I thought the three Madrassa’s were the only place worth visiting. Against all the advice I just had I stay longer to visit some of the beautiful buildings.

 

Back at the hotel my wishes came through. Some other bikers arrived, also some of them just did the Pamir Highway. I am starting to get nervous about that part of my trip. It’s a daring part of road and the last few days I’ve heard a lot of not really reassuring messages. The stories these bikers are telling me are so diverse, I don’t know what to think about it any more, but the tension isn’t getting less. Tomorrow I’ll leave to go to Dushanbe. It’s a long ride, because of the closure of the nearby border. I was in doubt whether to take the northern border or the one at the south. It’s going to be the last one. With some tension in my stomach I go to bed. The Pamir… will I make it?

 

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