Kyrgyzstan came and went all too quickly and before we knew it, we had crossed the border into Uzbekistan. The two hours spent at the border (having passports and visas checked, filling in customs declaration forms and having our panniers thoroughly checked) provided a stark reminder of the fact that we were now in a country where they still appear to be a little bit paranoid about allowing 'aliens' into their country!
After enjoying Kyrgyzstan so much, I found myself instantly disliking Uzbekistan. The roads were awful and, from the border at Uchqorghan for the next 50km to Namangan, lined with an almost constant stream of houses and light industry. Every other car blasted friendly greetings, people on the street shouted, whistled, waved and wanted to take photos of us! I felt totally overwhelmed and claustrophobic. When we stopped to buy provisions and change some money (the largest denomination note is 1000 som, which is the equivalent of about 30p....you end up with a very big wad of cash when you exchange your money!) in Namangan we were instantly surrounded by dozens of inquisitive strangers, eager to meet us and ask a myriad of questions about our adventure. Of course we were smiley and friendly, but inside I was screaming for space, peace and quiet. Eventually, we made our excuses and escaped to a quiet cafe where we feasted on delicious laghman (a noodle, meat, veg and soup concoction) drank tea and were able to reflect on the stark changes that had taken me completely by surprise. The 'time out' helped me to simply accept things as they were rather than longing for something different! We continued on our way to the sound of car horns and 'revelling' in our newly found 'celebrity' status!
The landscape in Uzbekistan is nothing to write home about and the roads range from simply awful to acceptable. However, the people are some of the most friendly and generous that we have encountered and the food has been cheap and delicious! We have regularly been on the receiving end of gifts of water, invitations to join families for tea and even 2 'knock off' Moschino t-shirts bearing a Union Jack flag! It's interesting, and a little bit concerning, that most people seem to associate the Union Jack flag with America rather than the UK!
The temperatures have been regularly hitting 40°c (that's in the shade. Unfortunately, we aren't cycling in the shade and have to contend with temperatures pushing 50°c) which is an interesting experience! It feels like we are cycling inside an oven and are guzzling water to replace the constant stream that drips from every pore! Fortunately we have an MSR ceramic filter, so we are able to source water from pretty much anywhere and not worry too much about drinking contaminated water or contributing to pollution by constantly buying bottled water.
Despite the precautions we have taken with regards the water, both Ash and I have had bouts of sickness and diarreah. It's not much fun when you're cycling and you suddenly get the urge to stop and find somewhere to...well...release the pressure! Out in the wilderness it's not so bad, but I had to be very creative and lose all inhibitions on four occasions as we entered Tashkent...how I longed to be at home in close proximity of creature comforts! But hey it may feel crappy (no pun intended!) at the time, but we'll be laughing about it in a few days!
We now spend 8 days in Tashkent while we await our Chinese visa to be processed before heading south to Tajikistan. The visa application seems to be going well so far, fingers crossed, although any mention of cycling would have been detrimental to our application so we have had to invent a fake itinerary and made cancellable flight bookings to Beijing, just to appear like the kind of tourists they want to attract!
Tashkent isn't the most exciting place in the world to spend an extended period of time, but it is certainly pleasant enough and there are interesting bazaars to explore and plenty of green spaces where we can relax and, after what we have just cycled and what is yet to come, that is just what we need right now!
Love and hugs. X