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Published: October 1st 2017
Geo: 39.7659, 64.4223
At 1am, the phone rang. It was Keegan, telling us that Kyla was having a seizure. Dammit. We ran upstairs, and she was on the bed, holding her arm. She was coming out of the seizure, but her arm hurt a lot. It looked, unfortunately, dislocated, but we called Sue to see if she had the same diagnosis. She said she also thought it was dislocated. So Paul went downstairs to ask the front desk to call our guide – and they also called the hospital, which dispatched an ambulance right away. They arrived quickly and recommended that we take Kyla to the emergency room. So, we quickly dressed and got in the ambulance with Kyla. Three young men who work at the hotel – or are some how associated with the hotel – offered to accompany us. One spoke English well and would serve as guide. We were very grateful and accepted his offer.
At the hospital, the doctor agreed that Kyla's arm was dislocated. He wanted to take an x-ray, which he did, and then they moved quickly to relocate the arm. The arm was back in place within an hour of Keegan's original phone call to us,
maybe less. In the meantime, the men from the hotel had contacted our guide, who arrived just after Kyla's arm was reset. She took over translation duties, which, it turned out, included making a report to the police officer who had been notified about the incident. I gather that this is common, and that the police need to investigate most emergencies, to ensure that everything is okay. We assured them that Kyla had not been assaulted, that this had happened before, and they seemed satisfied. I signed the police report, which our guide had written and explained to me. The doctor wanted to put a cast on Kyla's arm, but we declined. They then wrapped it in gauze, like a sling, which would probably be sufficient. We can always rewrap it each morning after she showers. I can look for a better sling in Uzbekistan. We then paid the bill of $97 (which was all the money we had) and were given a lift back to the hotel with the young man who had been our translator.
It was, by this time, around still before 3am, and we settled Kyla in bed and went to sleep.
In the morning, we were up
a few minutes before 7am. We showered then had breakfast. Our guide had bought yogurt for us, which was delicious. We then packed and went downstairs. Sue wanted to buy a t-shirt, so our guide called the shopkeeper, who came over to make the sale. We ended up with three t-shirts and some postcards – I hope it was worth it. In any case, before our planned 9:30am departure time, we were on the road.
We began to follow the same road toward Merv, then turned off right before the ancient city and headed another direction. During the drive, our guide told us stories from ancient poets … one, who I will have to try to learn more about – he has a monument in Bukhara – told many funny stories, including my favorite: about a beggar who was attracted by the smell of soup in a shop. He took a piece of bread and wave it through the air of the shop, hoping to catch some of the aroma in his bread. The shopkeeper said that he had to pay for the smell of soup. So the poet shook his pocket which contained some coins and told the shopkeeper: there,
you've just been paid for the smell of your soup with sound of coins.
Through the province of Mary, the drive was mostly through agricultural regions. It was hazy, but it is a remarkably flat country, without even undulations in the hills. The road was not very good – lots of slowing and side-sway to avoid potholes, but it was okay. I've had worse (Guatemala!). By the time we entered Lebap province, agriculture had given way to sand. The sand dunes are low, and fairly vegetated. The roadworks people have built low straw sand-stops along the road, which do a remarkable job of keeping the sand dunes at bay. Our guide said that Turkmens claim they invented them, then the Uzbeks claimed they invented them, but the Chinese say, No. We invented them first. Driving through, I tried to imagine being in a camel caravan, plodding along in the extreme heat (or extreme cold); I also could envision the Mongol hordes, sweeping across this vast, flat expanse, drinking mare's milk mixed with blood.
The drive took a little longer than expected, about four hours. We were stopped twice by the police during the drive, although we saw many other checkpoints.
The first checkpoint was fairly cursory, but, at the second one, the police officer had an issue with extra holes in the license plate, and it took a few minutes for the driver to convince him that all was okay. We stopped for lunch in Turkmenabat, which is also being developed into a white city. The hotel we lunched in was a marble monstrosity. We entered at the lower level, into the empty bar, then proceeded into the empty restaurant, where we were told they had limited choices. The girls all opted for the lentil soup (which was good), while the boys all took the chicken and rice (which was fine). Then, around 3pm, it was time to head to the border.
So, the border crossing. First, the drive begins with a detour from the main road, alongside the canal, and, just when you start to wonder if you're lost, a building – not covered in white marble – appears in the distance. The process began at a small dirt parking lot. We got all of our bags, said good-bye to our driver, then walked to the first gate. It was closed but unlocked, we went inside, and showed our papers
to the guard. Our guide had our letter of invitation. The guard told her that we were not from the United States but from Mexico. She said to us, "He's not very good. He can't even read Turkmen," and showed him that it said United States. One at a time, we showed our passports then walked a few steps towards the main building. At the building, waited in a lobby area, before the metal detectors that were not turned on or working (our guide said that they almost never work). One at a time, we came forward, showed our papers to two guards, and made a ceremonious unzipping of our suitcases. Then we queued up to see the border patrol, who appear to be army. In any case, they were wearing fatigues and had their name and blood type on their uniforms. We were stamped out of the country then moved to the door. At the exit of the building, we said goodbye to our guide. Then we piled into a small white minivan and were driven the kilometer to the border. The transfer cost $5 for the six of us and was totally worth it. We had to show
our papers to the final Turkmen guard, then crossed the border.
The Uzbek guard on the other side of the border took our papers and reviewed them carefully. When he was done, he went back and leaned against his guard post. Keegan asked him in Russian, “Where do we go?” and he pointed down the road. Well, I think we knew that. “How far?” Keegan asked, again, in Russian. The guard held up one finger. “One kilometer?” Keegan asked. The guard nodded curtly once. So we started down the road, dragging our bags, in 35 degree heat. Fortunately, we all have a sense of humor, so we made the best of it. The other good thing is, that being a not-very-used-border, we did not have to worry about traffic. We did encounter one bicyclist on the road, going the other direction (he would later reappear at the Uzbek border) but that was it. The only vehicles crossing were trucks, and they were stuck doing paperwork. It was strange to think that 20 years ago, no-man's-land were probably people's farms. I think the border is the same as it was between the soviet socialist republics, but I don't think that they were
A plaza built around a pool, where locals gather to gossip and discuss trade. In older times, there were many pools and canals, but the water was not clean, and most were destroyed by the Soviets.
separated by 2 km. Finally, the long march ended, and we entered our first building, where we had to hand over our papers for inspection and our foreheads for temperature reading. Of course, I understand that the country doesn't' want to let in anyone who is particularly feverish, but we had just been dragging bags across dark tarmac in the hot sun for a kilometer – none of us passed the temperature test the first time. The girls all passed with a second reading on our necks; Keegan and Paul were held back until they cooled sufficiently. Then, we approached a second building, where we received our entry stamps. No one was manning the x-ray machine, so Sue waited in the entry room, watching the swallows in the ceiling. Finally, someone came and provided us all with forms to fill out. They then began to process us each individually: first scan the bags through the x-ray, walked through the metal detector, which went off without fail, then take us into an internal office and review the forms before giving their final approval. While we were queued up, a few Uzbeks arrived, carried their bags through the metal detector and were
processes quickly. The guards were all very friendly and clearly interested in practicing their English. We were very friendly as well, and willing to help them practice their English. Kyla was asked, “Where are you?” In a very confused voice, she said, “Uzbekistan.” The guard smiled. Paul was asked if he had a vehicle for transport. No, said Paul. “You walked?” the guard asked, and shook his head. Of course, we're mad. Finally, we were all processed. We had another 50m or so to walk to the final gate. Kyla was asked to present her papers to a guard who walked across the tarmac to see her, but I think he just wanted to talk to her. He was very friendly, didn't ask to see anyone else's papers, and he told me I had beautiful children (he's right). Our presentation of papers to the final guard, and then, we were in Uzbekistan. As we walked down the road towards where the cars were parked, a young man began to walk towards us. He had a paper with my name on it: Hurray! We had found our guide!
The drive to Bukhara was easy. It took maybe an hour. The roads were
generally better, particularly near the border, and we saw only one police checkpoint (and we weren't stopped). It is, of course, more densely populated, with clearly identified shops everywhere and no marble monstrosities. The cars are smaller, but still fairly new. We definitely saw more variety in women's dress.
Arriving Bukhara, a little after 7pm, we circled the old town, previewing sites for tomorrow's tour, then were driven through narrow alleyways to the hotel. The hotel (Kumin Guest House) is charming! It looks and feels like an old home, with wooden beams, plaster moldings, and many different courtyards. Our room is comfortable, clean, and cozy. I'm glad we'll be here for two nights.
After a brief rest, we went out to dinner. The man at reception recommended a kabob restaurant in the old town. It was delightful to walk through the old square – the mausoleums were lit, the fountains were on, and many, many families were out enjoying the warm evening. We took a few photos then found the restaurant. We were offered a table upstairs, which was lovely except for one small thing: the tiles on the floor had been exposed to the sun all day and were
radiating VERY hot. By the end of the meal, my feet felt like they had been sitting on a radiator for an hour. But it's a small complaint. The food was very good (especially the tomato, onion, and cucumber salad). We had 4 different kabobs (8 skewers total), bread, two salads, beers, wine, and water – all for around $35 for the six of us. It was very tasty, and I was completely satisfied with the quantity without being stuffed.
Then, we went back to the hotel and to bed.
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