July 1 - I was still wondering how the entry to Uzbekistan would be, as there were many things that could be quite complicated - the customs, the passport, having to claim and possibly show all your money here, changing money (you get double the money on the black market, but that is not possible in the airport), getting a taxi for a good rate. But just before the flight landed, the woman across the aisle said something to me and we started talking. She is Uzbek and I asked her a few questions and then a guy in the aisle said he was also going to the same guesthouse as me. All of a sudden, things got easier. There were two guys from the states traveling together, they had just finished college, and they were just finishing their Central Asia travels. They had already been to Tashkent and were coming back for their flight home. All was solved. They had enough money and experience to get a cab for a decent price. They were going to the same place. They spoke some of the language - amazing. We even got through the airport in less than an hour- usually people
take 2-3 hours to get out. But we were the only plane, so it went quickly.
Once we got to the guesthouse, I found that I had the dorm to myself (yay!), but that there was no a/c or fan (boo!). It is much hotter here than in Baku, believe it or so. It actually got to over 100 F yesterday (like 39 C). It's so hot that even my quick dry underwear won't dry while I'm wearing it. The guesthouse is situated with the rooms around an open grassy courtyard. Pretty traditional. There is even a water mister for the grass. I've also seen this phenomenon on the entrance to several restaurants and shops. The dorm has a room with 2 beds, but then you walk through to a room with three beds, and that is mine. It is quite traditional inside, with wood cabinets and paneling. I waited a while, talking to the guys while the guy from the guesthouse went to change money for me. He came back with a bag of money. The inflation is high and the largest bills he brought back were 1000s. I changed $100 and got 600,000 som, in packets of
100,000. It is literally a stack of money. No wallet possible. What to do? I barely have enough room in my new bag for my things. I was tired and went to lunch with the guys, though I didn't eat. It was good to see the food and see how things go. Differently for men, to be sure. Oh, but I found out that the boys had an unused precription of Cipro (antibiotics) for travel bellies, and since they were leaving, they offered it to me. Yes, please.
From there, I went to explore the Chursu bazaar, an enormous outdoor market not far away. Well, on a map it looked really close, but the distances here are deceiving. Everything is sprawling and far apart. Surprising, really. I found the market and walked around for a while. All manner of fruits and veggies and grains and spices and meats and cheeses and breads. A lot of normal bustling daily life. Very cool. I did get hungry, so I bought a bread and ate some on my next walk. I thought I would go to see the oldest Quran in the world, but it was hard to find and then I
realized it was after 5pm and the museum would be closed. So I came back with some water - so hot! - and spent some time talking to one of the guys before heading out again to meet Gio and Tommy. One of the guys helped me find the metro - it is near the market, but I hadn't seen it. He could ask for directions better, and we eventually located it. From there the metro was easy, but I had to show my passport and visa copies and have my bag checked. Getting off the metro was harder. There were multiple exists and I chose poorly. Asking directions and even using a map, I was 20 minutes late, as I basically went around 3 sides of a block before needing the fourth. And the blocks are huge.
I eventually made it to The Irish Pub (oddly), and this part of town was more modern. Gio and Tommy have been traveling for six months or so, and it looks like we will be able to rent a 4x4 and driver together to travel the Pamir highway, one of the things I was most interested in doing on the this
trip. It will be about 10-14 days, and we wanted to meet to discuss things and also just to see if we could hang out together for that long. I think it will work well. I started to get sleepy so I left and headed back. They told me the faster way to get to the metro and all was well, until I chose the wrong way out of the one I needed. It was getting dark and it was hard to figure out which way to go. It is not a proper city, by any means, and no signs anywhere. I asked around a bit and then found my way back to something familiar. But it was weird and dark and mostly through the marketplace. Back at the guesthouse, I talked to the guys and the owner a bit, though he doesn't speak much English. That said, everyone here speaks at least two languages. He was spraying the grass in the courtyard that the rooms are situated around with a hose of water for at least half an hour. And it did not turn into a swamp. Water must evaporate super fast here. Eventually, it was time to shower
and sleep. It was a shared bathroom, and fortunately, just for me. But...have you ever been super gross and sweaty, just waiting to take a shower, and then you get in and find you only have cold water? This sounds like it should be ideal, as I felt hot and gross. But it did not work that way. I have so much trouble showering in cold water. I had to just splash handfuls of water at a time to make it bearable. So cold.
Saturday July 2 - I didn't sleep that well last night because it was warm in the room. I was also worried about it being loud, since the windows faced the courtyard, so I used my earplugs. I got up at 8am and started to pack up a bit. Then I had some breakfast with the guys. It was bread and an egg and some melon. Melon is VERY popular here. I decided to give it a try since I started the medicine and hadn't had any problems for about 24 hours. It was nice to eat. I was trying to decide if I was going to go to see one quick site in the
morning before leaving for the airport, the one that houses the oldest Koran in the world - something like 1000 years old. I just wasn't sure if I could get there in time or find it. But the guys were heading there and we got a taxi together, so I agreed. "Taxi" is a very loose term here. Most cars will stop for you. So this guy stopped and he had someone in the car with him. It should have been a two minute ride, but he dropped the other guy off first and then tried to take back alleys, possibly to impress, but we got stuck for about 10 minutes. Ridiculous. He finally got us there and I said good bye to the boys. They were going into an area I didn't have time for. So I paid the ticket fee, had to buy little plastic slip-covers for my shoes, and then I went in to see the book. No pictures allowed, but it was pretty cool. Very large and made of deer-skin. I took some pictures of the building there and then got myself a random driver on the street. I offered 2000 som, which he accepted straight
away. I probably paid too much, but it's like 30 cents.
At the guesthouse I finished packing up, paid for the room (66,000 som = $11) and by 11:15 took the taxi he arranged for me for the 20 minute ride to the airport (less than $2). Amazing. Even more amazing? In line at the airport I was behind two French backpackers! I made friends immediately. They had to be on my flight - the only one at that time - and they were. They were going to a different end point, but we're going to meet in Khiva tomorrow night and get a taxi together to the next town. Perfect. We checked in eventually (there is no real line and people kept pushing ahead of us). We had to wait about five minutes before we were allowed to go through security, and when it opened, it seemed fine. I went through, then Guillaume and then Alex. But Alex got called back by security for this checked bag, so they took him away somewhere. And then Guillaume noticed that he had Alex's luggage ticket, so it was actually for his luggage. Anyway, Alex came back eventually after having to
open and then repack everything. They had flown overnight from France, and then took a taxi around the city before this flight. When they said that, I realized I had seen them earlier at the place with the old Koran. They are in a picture of mine! So strange. On the plane I ate a cheese sandwich - so far, so good - and then it was time to wait for the bags. It's a tiny airport and we just walked from the place inside to the luggage place. We ended up speaking to a guy and I asked him how much a taxi to Khiva would cost. We were in Urgench, about 25 minutes away. He said he would help, that the airport is too expensive. It was unclear how he would help and how much that would cost. We made it outside with the bags and the guys were able to arrange a taxi to Nukus, a few hours away. I, meanwhile, was getting nowhere with the taxi drivers who were so badly trying to rip me off. Eventually Omar said there would be no charge, and I figured he would take me to the shared taxi stand.
And he did. He even negotiated the price for me. Less than one dollar. The guys at the airport wanted $10. He said he plays soccer - possibly professionally. I'm not clear on that. Anyway, he was very nice and it all worked out. (continued in Khiva blog)
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