Without the Mercedes van in our rear view mirror, we continued towards Uzbekistan. Just before the border, an overpacked Lada stood by the side of the road. It had seven people inside and about 500 kilo on the roof, so no wonder the back tire burst. We helped them to change the tire and kept bumping in to them on the road to Moynaq. They were moving most of the time, so the relocation service proved adequate in the end.
Swapping the sea for cotton
Moynaq is a small town in the west of Uzbekistan. It once was a thriving port of the Aral Sea. But the Aral Sea shrunk so much in the last decades due to cotton field irrigation, that the shoreline is now 200 kilometers from the town. We watched the beached ships, the old fish cannery and the local museum with a feeling of sadness. But apparently the Uzbeks are quite happy with the gasfields they discovered where the sea once was. The joyful part of our Moynaq visit was meeting Polish Andrzej and Alicja, who have been travelling for four years and keep a very informative blog (in Polish).
Medressas, mosques and mosaic galore
We headed for Khiva, one of the three major silk road cities in Uzbekistan. We arrived at the loveliest guesthouse just before midnight and decided to go for a stroll. We zigzagged through the pink and green lit ancient city when we heard some music in the distance. We followed it all the way to a big decorated hall and were invited to join the singing and dancing families. It was a great welcome to Khiva city.
Exploring the old medressas, mosques and wooden pillars is a real treat. And Uzbekistan has such a rich fabric and pattern history, there’s just so much to discover. We visited the ‘Suzanni workshop’, partially beacause of the name of course. This workshop is a place where the local ladies embroider beautiful pillowcases, placemats and duvets. And some also weave silk carpets, which can take up to two years to finish. Every produced item has a little secret; a hidden pommegranate figure. It’s a fun game to try and discover them all.
Bukhara felt a lot more touristy with less of a relaxed atmosphere. But it was impressive to see the medressa which is still in use by students today and to see all the miniature paintings that Bukhara is so famous for.
We left Bukhara for Samarkand, had the best chicken dinner ever and slept between the cottonfields. Samarkand is another beautiful city with amazing mosaics and tiled domes. We also had another mission though; finding a ‘pacimnik’ in the car bazar. Imagine a busy Arab style fruit and veg market, but then only selling car parts and accessories like the smelly tree-shaped refreshers and dozens of different car horns. After checking around, everybody said that Tashkent would be the place to find it.
Off we went to Tashkent. When we got to the check point just before the capital, we were told that Tashkent was closed for us that day. Everyone else simply drove through, but we were expected to head back to wherever we came from. We refused to bribe the guard and decided to sit it out right there at the gate. He got tired of us quite quickly and let us in after 15 minutes or so. Crazy business.
The car bazar in Tashkent was much bigger than the one in Samarkand. With great help from the security officer and his friend we managed to find the right stalls. But unfortunately none of them had the fitting front wheel bearing. We did manage to find a solution for the worn out front shock absorber rubbers, which was good timing considering the rocky roads of Tajikistan still ahead.
So we got some money, got the car kind of fixed, and now our next challenge was to find diesel. That’s not easy in Uzbekistan, but we were lucky to find a guy who took us to his friends house. His friend was selling diesel from his garden and was a supernice man. He invited us to stay the night, which was a great way to experience Uzbek family life.
We learnt that the border officials are quite strict on the hotel registrations, it’s not a myth. As a tourist in Uzbekistan you have to register at a hotel, some say every third night and some say every night of your entire stay. So we ended up staying in hotels and asking for extra days on our registration slips, which was fine. When the border guys spotted the matrass in the back of the car, the slips came in quite handy...
We discovered that finding diesel in Uzbekistan is a real adventure. You can not just go to a petrol station, because they save their diesel exclusively for companies and truck drivers (at a very nice rate). We, the normal people, have to find a guy who knows a guy who knows a place with another guy and get the first guy to get into our car to take us to the place. Then the chapter of price negotiation starts and we increase the amount of liters we want to buy to get a better price. Anything between 2500 and 2700 Som per liter is acceptable, but usually they start at 3000 Som. The pure joy of overlanding becomes apparent here.
We are rich!!! Oh no, we're in Uzbekistan...where the money only comes in huge piles of small bills which you can only get from an exciting black market tradesman, in full view of the rest of the town. We love it here.