the last conversation I had at the Tajik side of the border:
at the customs:” $10″- points at the stamp
b: да, да (yes, yes)
me: нет, нет
puts the stamp in my passport without saying anything.
Sometimes they aren’t very elegant about the way they are trying to get a bit of extra money out of you…
A lot of people online write about Uzbek police and how corrupt they are. I expected the worst and was mentally prepared for long draining discussions with them.
I walked to the Uzbek guards and watched them for over an hour going through my bags, taking apart my helmet, pens and other items where they were hoping to find drugs and besides that going through all my photos on my phone and camera looking for anything that might not suit the regime. RIDICULOUS!!
Finally after almost four hours at the border I got my Visa stamped and I was in the country. Very quickly everything starts to look different. The further I drive the less I see. Less houses, less people, less life… I am in the desert.
As it took me much longer than expected at the border and the roads aren’t lit at all I decided to pull over at a truck stop/restaurant after driving in the dark fo a while. I ask:” sleep ok?”as there is no accomodation anywhere close, and instantly get: да, да as an answer and made myself comfortable on a bench outside. After a short rest me and a few truckdrivers had beers, tea and neverending conversations without understanding a single word the other person is saying. This and similar experiences make travelling on a bike even more special for me..stopping at random places and seeing a country from outside the big cities.
The sun woke me up early the next day and I hit the road at 6 a.m. in order to escape the heat of the day. I made it to Samarkand, one of the main cities and old trading hubbs on the Silk Road, just after noon. The roads were good now and you can’t imagine how good it felt.
…Now there was a new challenge…the heat. Sweat was dripping down my forehead under the helmet and the wind felt like a hot blowdryer pointet right at my face.
In Samarkand I spent my time walking around looking at majestic madrassas, mosques and mausoleums. This was the first time since I started this trip through Central Asia that I saw big tourbusses and tour groups sightseeing.(still comparatively few)
-For some of the sights you have to pay a little entrance fee, however, if not many people are around you can usually bargain the price down to almost half or some security guard will just take some money for himself and let you in on the side-
The heat made me tired and driving became a drag. In this country the journey was not the destination anymore as between the cities there is literally nothing but camels, people selling watermelons (never have I seen that many watermelons before) and the occasional cafe (I once ended up at some reuninon party at one of these cafes in te middle of nowhere holding a speech and dancing with the people there for hours).With Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan being sort of similar in some ways being in Uzbekistan was quite a contrast. Anyway, I suppose the cities made up for it.
After Samarkand I drove to Bukhara to do what I did in Samarkand, look at madrassas, mosques and mausoleums. Most of these buildings have been restored and renovated during soviet times, which for some people makes it a lot less impressive, however, they are still unbelievably stunning in my opinion.
With the largest bank note being the equivalent of just less than $1, as the government doesn’t want to admit how bad the currency really is, Uzbekistan can make you feel super rich and your backpack a remarkable amout heavier.
Another small issue driving in Uzbekistan was the petrol. Most cars drive on gas which means normal petrol is sparse. I put extra coca cola bottles filled with petrol on the bike and if that wasn’t enough I had to somehow find it on the road. You stop at a small village with not even a restaurant whatsoever and ask someone for petrol. I sat around these places not knowing wether they understood me waiting for about 10 minutes till a car comes dropping off big plastic bottles filled with petrol. In these countries everything seems like a mission at first but in the end always works out more smooth than anywhere else.
In order to make sure I wasn’t just dreaming the whole time I moved onto my last stop, Khiva to look at even more of those buildings before I move to the next border.
During my whole time in Uzbekistan I had no trouble with police and the bike which came as a positiv surprise. I got stamped out of the country quickly and found myself in Kazakhstan. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see much of this country as I only had a single entry visa and drove through Tajikistan and Uzbekistan instead of crossing straight from Kyrgyzstan. I was forced to take a ferry across the Caspian sea as it wasn’t possible for me to get a Turkmenistan or Russian visa and had to go to Aktau where the boat departs and at least got a small impression. After I crossed the border I spent one night on Beyneu before going there. I already had lost quite a few of the spokes in my rear wheel and was aware that if I broke more I wouldn’t be able to drive anymore. As there was no way of fixing the problem there though I left for Aktau the next day hoping I would get there without problems. After 30 km of driving I noticed something was wrong…another flat tire. Even though I wasn’t happy about this happening in the middle of the desert in the heat I was glad it wasn’t the spokes. Soon after I stopped people who passed by gave me a big 10 liter tank of water and two kind truckdrivers tried to help me to sort out the problem. Taking the wheel off and fixing the tube wasn’ t the issue, however, putting the wheel back on just didn’t happen for over 2 hours as parts were bent. Finally I somehow managed and kept driving. I was glad to be back on the road…for 20 km when more spokes broke and the bike was undriveable and I was stranded in the desert with no water as the bottle I got was too big to take on the bike and no tent as I lost it in Tajikistan. Luckily I soon managed to hitch a ride with a small truck where I could put the bike in the back and we drove to Aktau through the night. Now, those situations are obviously quite frustrating and not fun, yet it is the most incredible thing for me how things always somehow work out here. I got the bike fixed in Aktau and waited my Azerbaijan visa while relaxing at the beach and thinking about the upcoming countries.
I already crossed the Caspian sea and drove through Azerbaijan succesfully. I am now in Georgia and start to see how everything is becoming more and more western and I am getting closer to home.
Kazakhstan was the end of my time in Central Asia and all I can say is that it was incredible. As I wrote in my first post it wasn’t the plan to be there but I am now unbelievably happy I got to see these countries and will never forget my time there.