Day 89 Samarkand-Jizzakh 99 km
Day 90 Jizzakh-Yengiyer 128 km
Day 91 Yangiyer-Olmaliz 132 km
Day 89 (Samarkand – Jizzakh)
Finally it was time to leave Samarkand. At the hostel there were now 11 cyclists and three had left the day before. Most of them are heading towards the Pamirs while some have just arrived from that area and are going towards Iran. We have been to the Pamirs before so we have decided since long ago to exit Uzbekistan through the Fergana valley.
We have now travelled together for more than a month. Not that we have been together all the time because we have split from time to time, but we have had these friends around us for some time now and it feels a bit sad to part.
Saying goodbye took a long time and instead of starting at 7.00 we weren’t on the road until 10.30. It was a strong headwind all day and we tried to cycle extra slowly to not run out of energy before arriving at the town of Jizzakh. Fortunately the temperature had dropped a few degrees and it was now possible to ride in the afternoon without suffering from the heat.
The landscape after Samarkand is much more interesting than in the western part of the country. Green surroundings and everywhere we could see people working on the fields. It seems that the endless flatland is replaced by a landscape of small hills. Finally there is something nice to look at as we pedal through.
When we thought that Jizzakh would be only 10-15 km away we saw from a distance how the road was going over a big steep hill. We were certainly not in the mood for any steep climbs but once we got to the start of that climb we saw a road sign telling that Jizzakh is to the left into the valley and Toshkent straight ahead over the hill. I can’t remember when I was this lucky last time… 😉
Jizzakh is a bigger town than we had thought. Some swiss cyclists at the guesthouse in Samarkand had told us about a hotel near the railway station that is not only cheap but also able to register foreign tourists. The problem was that we couldn’t find the hotel and when we saw a sign for another hotel we decided to try our luck there instead.
The hotel was located in a small side street with lots of commerce going on. The barber shops were open late and there were small restaurants and mini markets. Bread vendors sat next to each other selling exactly the same kind of bread. Do they compete or do they work together, or is it simply so that their breads taste differently? Our taste buds are not enough developed to detect any difference.
The side road was only 100 meter long but both of us got a feeling of being on a busy side street in Bangkok or any other Thai city during a late evening. The fact that people look more asian enhanced that feeling too.
The hotel is a local business hotel with a standard that is higher than anything we have experienced for a very long time. It is a normal hotel room, it is very clean, has a nice bed, TV, fridge and a nice bathroom. We are not used to this standard anymore and got extra happy when we bumped into such a hotel by accident.
I can’t remember when I watched TV last time. Our hotel room had hundreds of channels but only 2-3 in English. The story of Edward Snowden was told and re-told again and again. Maybe not having access to TV is a good thing – I doubt I will become more enlighted by listeneing 5 times in one hour to the same interview with Snowden’s lawyer telling he has brough some books and clothes to his client
Day 90 (Jizzakh – Yangiyer)
We didn’t want to leave our cosy and clean hotel room, but sometimes there is no mercy to be on a cycle tour. The visa clock for Uzbekistan is ticking and we must move on. Overstaying the visa validity in Uzbekistan is a really stupid thing to do since the fines are huge.
There was no wind in the morning and it was cooler than the days when we cycled to Samarkand.
On the way out of town we passed a very big market with roads leading through it. Some of these roads through the market had sections where minibuses stop to pick up passangers and once again it felt like we were already in Thailand.
Our target for the day was the town of Gullistan. Outside town the road split and we could take either way to but we didn’t know which to choose. Asking people only gave us very different answers until we met someone who argued that we should take the road towards Tashkent because it was of better quality and also shorter. We decided to follow that advice.
The road was indeed good and we kept going at high speed. After 55 km we saw a big sign telling that we should go right at the next intersection. It felt a bit too early to turn, but if the signs say that is the way, then why hesitate?
Soon we were on bumpy gravel roads and my built in compass made me feel that it was all wrong. We stopped and asked people and got more and more different answers and we felt really confused. Not that we don’t believe the locals – they all know the road to Gulistan, but the language barrier made it problematic to communicate.
We then met met a man could explain in a clear and simple way how to get back to the road we should have been on (we had turned off the highway too early). He even drew a detailed map how to get there and finally we felt sure about the way. However, that man’s advices wasn’t worth much if we didn’t follow them and just at the junction after a canal where he told us to go straight, we turned right…. 🙁
We have done many tours by bicycle and shouldn’t fall into such easy traps. The rule is to always aske two different persons for direction and if the indicate the same then go that way. If the indicate different ways, then ask more people.
The guy who made the map told us to go straight, then when at the intersection we asked another one, who clearly got confused by the question and first told us to go straight, but then changed his mind to turn right. So now we had two different opinions and the rule is then to ask more people, but we didn’t and ended up in the wrong town and loosing 40-50 km.
Fortunately some cyclists at the guesthouse in Samarkand had told us about this town and that there was a hotel there so we knew there would be somewhere we could stay. We saw a car parked at the side of the highway about one kilometer outside town and we thought it could be a good idea to stop and ask for directions to the hotel. When getting closer to the car we saw a women sitting in the backseat facing backwards and below her the head of a man who had his face forward. Something was obviously going on in that car that we didn’t want to interrupt and we decided to continue and ask someone else instead.
One kilometer down the road road goes up on a ramp to a bridge across the railway. We saw another car parked below that ramp but it was difficult to get to so we decided to ask someone else. When we were on that ramp we it was once again obvious what was going on in that other car too.
Secret activities in two cars within a kilometer from each other – this must be a sign of something. Either it was dirty business going on in those cars or the youngsters in that little town have nowhere to be alone with their girl/boyfriends.
When we finally arrived in the hotel we were told we can stay for free and the only thing we had to pay for was the food in the restaurant. We were very careful when we studied the prices in the meny but it turned out to be normal prices that we would have payed anywhere.
Day 91 (Yangiyer – Olmaliq)
The hotel only had four rooms and no breakfast was included and knowing we would be in the bigger town of Gulistan within 90 minutes we only ate a couple of sandwiches in the room before leaving.
We never went into the center of Gulistan and only passed it on the big highway leading to Tashkent. There were lots of small stalls selling water, soft drinks and bread but we decided to stop at one just after the town. The one we found looked different from the others. It had a single table with a plate with boiled eggs for the guests to eat and so we decided to stop at that little pretty place. We are traveling through tea land now but this place had coffee where you could select if you wanted sugar and milk instead of the disgusting 3in1 instant coffee that are usually served. Plenty of fresh pirogs made it to be the complete roadside breakfast to be had in this country.
The people running the place were very nice too. I think they were ethnic russians and spoke only uzbek and russian, but we managed to have some fun while we enjoyed our breakfast. A neighbour to the lady running the place dropped by and got engaged in the conversation and told us he had been posted to south Poland during his army service many decades ago. When we left, the shopkeepers daughter offered us some free icecream which we really enjoyed since it already had started to get hot.
The road was very good and we moved forward at a steady pace of 25 km/h which is good with our heavy bikes. While cruising at high speed we discussed when we had a flat tyre last time. That was a stupid thing to do because at the next intersection I heard a ”pffft” sound and I had got another flat. A new rule is to never talk about flat tyres…..
After fixing my flat tyre we turned east from the main road leading to Tashkent. We were afraid it would be of poor quality, but it turned out to be very good and we could keep on going at good speed passing endless cotton fields.
It is melon season now and we enjoy one or two stops a water melon vendor each day. They usually put their melons in a big pile and sit and wait for customers in the shade.
We drink a lot during a day and eating water melons is a welcome change to drinking warm water from our bottles. Since we sweat a lot (our shirt gets white stripes of salt on the back each day) both of us has got an increased taste for salt. We both miss the salt and dried chilli mix that is included when buying fresh fruit from vendors in Thailand.
We stopped one more time to eat some bread and buy some water at another roadside vendor selling ”ayran” which we learned to enjoy in Turkey. Ayran is a mix of youghurt and water with added salt. Three ladies were selling home made ayran beside the road just next to a huge pipe pouring out water into a canal. It was a good place to make money since many of the people who stopped to fetch water or just wash their faces also bought some ayran.
In the late afternoon we approached the city of Olmaliq. A week ago I didn’t know that there was a city with this name, but before leaving Samarkand I googled the town and knew it was a city relying on heavy industry. Already far from town we saw big piles of slag and tall chimneys from which grey smoke was billowing up to the sky. It didn’t look healthy and when we rode past the piles of slag we could see that the factory was very old and worn I thought it all resembled the factory portraied in the Deer Hunter movie.
As mentioned before we do feel a bit exhausted and we have decided to opt for the simple and convenient way of doing things which means staying at hotels. The good thing with this is also that we get the opportunity to collect the stupid registration slips.
When passing the factory we saw no sign of where the city center is and we stopped a worker walking towards the bus stop to ask for directions into town. He made a very precise description and we started to pedal the remaining 4 km to the center. After a kilometer we came to yet another old and very worn industrial building with the fancy name of ”locomotive deposi” on it. We guess it was a train depot and the little monument outside was just as colorful that the rest of the building was not….
The city was bigger than we thought and we stopped at a large intersection to ask for directions to the hotel which was just behind the next corner. I went in and found a very charming lady who certainly hadn’t understood that the soviet union had ceased to exist. She didn’t know how to smile, she almost yelled at me and she only rose from her chair to go and slap the feet of a teenager who wasn’t sitting properly in the sofas. Besides the customer friendly appeal it was also ridicously expensive so I showed her a bit of the basics in a market economy by simply walking away. She had the supply of rooms, but the demand was gone. A little bit more customer oriented behaviour would have led to some cash in the register….
Wej was waiting outside and next to the reception there was a large dining room and loud music came from it. We glanced into the room and could see old ladies having dinner while young girls in traditional dresses had a dance show to the rock’n roll version of the traditional russian song ”Ochie Chornie” (Black Eyes) which I am sure you all know when you hear it.
We met people outside the hotel who told us there were a much nicer hotel in the other end of the city center. They made a simple map of how to go there and off we went. At an intersection we stopped to ask a young man for further directions and the first thing he did was to ask if I was a spy. I sincerely hope he was ironic but unfortunately he didn’t look lite that.
When we were wating for green light at another intersection another young man walked up to us and started to talk to us in very good English. It turned out that he just got his degree from Tashkent university where he had majored in Enlish. Now he is eager to go and study for a masters degree and he is eying at Korea or Malaysia. I hope he succeds because Uzbekistan needs more people like him.
Finally we made it to the hotel that turned out to be more expensive than we had been told. It was too late to go for the plan B which was to go out of town and find a tea house where we could camp. There was no option than to accept, pay and check in.
When cycling to the hotel we passed a place selling döner kebap and still on the bikes we decided to have our dinner there. Later when we left the hotel to walk there we found a schaslyk (barbecue) restaurant only 100 meter from the hotel. It was more of a local pub than a restaurant and it was very busy since it was a Friday night. Russian and western music was played inside and the guests were talking loudly not only because of the volume of the music but also of the volume of beer they had consumed.
We decided to sit at one of the tables on the outside and the servant was busy running in and out all the time. The owner was tending to the schaslyk grill on the pavement and when a fist fight started some 15-20 meters away he quickly told all able men to go and separate the fighters.
Sitting in this local pub, seeing all these men from the factory enjoying their Friday night made me once again think Pennsylvanian town portrayed in the Deer Hunter – maybe it has a sister town in Uzbekistan.