You need to be careful what you wish for. After cycling through the mountains of Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan we were looking forward to some flat roads in Uzbekistan. Our wish was granted we had flat roads which would take us to Tashkent but we also had strong headwinds and temperatures in the low 40s. I think we will have to be more specific with our wishes in future!
The ride into Bukhara should have been easy but not against a 30km head wind which blew sand in our faces and when we found shelter for something to eat blew our bikes over and covered our food in sand.
The roads were better than those in Turkmenistan and for the first time since Albania we were seeing people using bikes to get around. The cars were nearly all small Daewoo/Chryslers because there is an assembly plant for them in Uzbekistan, plus the usual contingent of Ladas. The driving was pretty good and even on some narrow stetches we always felt safe.
The people were really friendly as well. Whenever we stopped people would come up to us to talk, asking where we were from and how old we were. Fellow cyclists would share our complaints about the wind. There were stretches of desert but also arable land and some trees.
The Middle East was certainly different. We were having to keep drinking and drinking because of the heat. Along the roads women were selling fresh apricots and cherries which were delicious. The cities were fabulous with amazing buildings in Bukhara and Samarkand. The women were wearing bright colours and the sun was very hot. There was a big difference between the official and black market exchange rates. On the black market you could get 3,000 Som to the dollar. Money changers were easy to find but you needed to take a shopping bag with you to carry the notes back.
The old town in Bukhara was spectacular and whilst we were there the annual silk and spice festival was on. There was music and dancing everywhere. Despite the heat the bazaars remained cool. The old town used to be covered in bazaars with numerous medrassas and mosques. A few of the bazaars remained and the medrassas had been restored. The medrassas were schools with rooms opening out onto a large central courtyard usually with an integrated mosque. Most dated from the 16th and 17th century.
Unfortunately Pip picked up a stomach bug in Bukhara which made cycling a bit difficult. We made an early start to beat the heat and made the 105km to Navoi but Pip was wiped out. We found a hotel in Navoi and I searched for a taxi to take us on to Samarkand the next day. The journey was a bit of a nightmare with the taxi driver spending all the time on his phone and narrowly avoiding crashing a few times.
Samarkand was a lot bigger city with a far less defined old town. The Medrassas were spectacular as were the Mausoleums. It had a very different feel to it though, it felt like a modern city with polished tourist attractions.
We needed to get visas for Kazahkstan in Tashkent and were disappointed that these would take over a week to process. Tashkent itself is a big city spread over a large area with no real centre. It had been raised to the ground by an earthquake in 1966. It had been rebuilt as a modern Russian city with wide roads, big monuments plenty of big parks and thousands of apartment buildings. It had a good metro with grand stations which were all Russian built. It was quite easy to cycle around despite the heat but too big to walk anywhere.
We had been on the road now for a year and hadn’t seen some of our family for nearly 2 years. There were problems on the road ahead through Kyrgystan to China. Whilst waiting for our visa to come through we decided to take a few weeks break and fly home and catch up with our family.