But let’s take things from the beginning.
In Uzbekistan we entered in the afternoon, the whole convoy together. Eight cars. In the first town we were stopped by the police for speeding. However they did not spend much time on us, because of the big circus following. The roads were significantly improved compared to those in Turkmenistan and the teams started running to catch the night. First was the Yaris, driven by the Danes and we stayed at the last places, with the roof rack still ripped. Our goal for the day of course was still far and the night fell long before we made it there. Now the scene changed. We passed the other teams one after the other as if still. The experience of night driving from Turkey seemed to be a big advantage. We were the first in the convoy now. A position which certainly had its risks, since we were also the first ones to be stopped by the police roadblock a little down the road. Our papers were requested, new stories, they kept us in their records.
The Spanish team following stopped to see what was going on. The same with them. Gradually the whole convoy was stopped behind us.
We left only to be stopped again 2km away. It was ten o’clock at night and the policemen were in the mood for games.
In the end, we were the only ones who reached the goal of the day, all the way to Khiva. All the other teams slept in the previous city. Khiva is a city with a big history, having served as a huge slave market in the region, but also a stop at the Silk Road. Now it is a small tourist paradise, since it is the best preserved village look-alike, with houses built of clay and straw and huge earthen walls. So far we had only seen something like that in the books of Unesco. We chose a hostel proposed by the guide and fell immediately asleep.
The next day we had work to do. Washing clothes and getting the roof rack fixed. The hotelier had a friend with a garage where we could go, but he was only released from his duties after 12 o’clock, noon, to lead us there. We went out of town and drove to the next village. Streets of soil and water for each use flows in streams. The repairman was younger than us, and of course didn’t speak one word of English. All communication had to be done through the hotelier. Even when he left, we had to call him on the phone to make arrangements.
Finally, we gave up on the idea of welding the roof rack and proceeded to the drilling solution. Two holes in the frame, on the roof, screws and nuts and hopefully now the rack would not go anywhere.
Of course, the whole process lasted approximately three hours due to an electricity blackout, a break for lunch, shopping in the market for screws and so on.
During these hours under the sun, at 40 degrees we obviously got thirsty. We were offered fresh water from the well, and although we understood that it was definitely not a good idea, we didn’t want to offend them. We kind of saw it coming…
By the time we finished, the rest of the teams had disappeared and the only ones still in town were the Spaniards who run out of battery and had adventures similar to ours. Together we ate and spent the afternoon in the city, in which a melon feast took place. Spyros met with some locals and ended up eating with them in the park, and dancing to 80s music with some overweight middle-age ladies in an open air disco. Cult in all its glory, but this is how you get to know the culture.
The next day we were supposed to travel with the Spaniards, but more delays took place on our side. Spyros and George were sick. The water from the well has started to ’work’.
At the exit of the city we came across a Romanian Rally team (who had a wine barrel tied on the roof). Not surprisingly at all, everyone had a hangover and they were also moving slow.
On the way we stopped for lunch in what seemed to be an ancient café, but couldn’t finish a single bite. We arrived to the beautiful Bukhara exhausted. Spyros fell asleep at 20.00; he couldn’t even hold his head up. Daniel and George found some other teams and spent the night drinking. The city was once again offered, since Uzbekistan has proved highly touristic (given the area), with magnificent temples and monuments, a lot of Western tourists and hence all the tourist suitable bars and restaurants.
The next day we visited the Ark castle of the city, for which we had to pay twenty times more the price for locals. The castle proved a failure, and the museums in it only managed to make us appreciate the museums in Greece. We enjoyed the view, met with a group of unibrow girls with unshaved legs (typical example of Uzbek beauty) who, although did not speak any English, accompanied us for a walk in the bazaar. There we did a little shopping (scarves, gifts, etc.), and explored the musical culture of the country, looking for an ukulele for Eirini.
In the end, as always, we went to lunch and having eaten a lot of Greek salad wannabies, (due to the illness), we threatened the restaurant that if the salad didn’t have real feta cheese, we would not pay! Obviously there was not any feta cheese in the salad – and, obviously, we paid for it!
We departed again and our troubled stomach made us stop at many gas station toilets, which normally we wouldn’t even consider going to. A hole in the ground filled with feces and two meters over it, two boards for you to put your feet on and ‘go’. If you have seen the opening scene of “Slumdog Millionaire” you might be able to get what was going through our minds.
With this and that, we finally reached Samarkand, another remarkable city with rich history and amazing bed and breakfast. We booked the room and went out to eat. All except George, who was dealing with convulsions and high fever, and stayed in the room. When we returned, we brought him some yogurt; that was the only thing he could eat, and hoped he could get some sleep.
The next morning he woke up a mess, so he went to the pharmacy and got some antibiotics and then, back to sleep. Spyros and Daniel went around town. They visited the magnificent Registan Medressa that has now turned into a mall, and the mausoleums of the city.
George’s parents had started to worry very much and through some friends, they managed to inform the Minister of Health of Uzbekistan regarding his situation, who arranged a doctor waiting for us in Tashkent!
After exchanging dollars on the street and buying the necessary supplies, we departed for there. The capital, however, is fully booked, and we had to go around finding accommodation. When we finally found a place to stay it was too late for the doctor.
We struggled to exchange money in the middle of the night, and find something to eat and eventually we managed to do it with some employees at a supermarket.
The next morning George went to post some gifts for Greece and the prices were so outrageous that he ultimately sent only some clothes to make room in the car. We departed in order to enter Kazakhstan, but at the first borders, it was forbidden to cross a car, at the second boarders, it was forbidden for foreigners to pass, so we drove 80km back to be able to enter.
Our friends tracking us down back home, through the online tracking system, thought we gave up and were heading back to Greece!
Finally we arrived at the boarders at 18.50. Only to find that they had a break from 19.00 to 20.00. Patience, paperwork and checking our stuff and especially medicines, made us enter Kazakhstan after 22.00. Night driving and we arrived at Saryagash. On the other side of the border, where we had previously been rejected! A day wasted.
In the meantime, George got worse. Apart from having high fever, he had begun to swell. We found a shabby hotel and stayed overnight. One on the floor, one on the couch and one on the bed.
The next morning we had a fight with the owners after being asked for more money and we almost hit them; we even included some policemen from the near by police station to settle things.
It was clear now that the whole thing has changed. In the hotels, they are no longer interested in our paperwork – all they want is money.
Our next stop was at medical center of the village, because George’s condition was getting worse. They knew no English of course, so we had to call an Estonian friend back in Zurich, to explain her the problem in German, so that she could translate in Russian. We still do not know what they understood, but they granted George with some serum, and gave him a bag of drugs (and the phone number of the doctor’s daughter) and greeted us goodbye with a price five times higher than what we had originally agreed on before the examination. At least George seemed to be doing better so we continued, though he was not in a position to drive. The driving weight laid on the other two.
On the way we got stopped by some police officers. The first time for allegedly overtaking a truck, the second for crossing the speed limit. We acted crazy and pretended to be stupid tourists. We got away with it, both times, and we even kept a police dictionary as a souvenir.
Corrupt cops was a reality in this country and knew we would come across with them every day.
At night we arrived in Taraz. The hotel was guarded by armed men, but we didn’t ask what was happening. We went to a nearby restaurant, where there was traditional music playing and dancing. The music was something between folklore and bling-blings from the 80s, and impromptu dancing moves on the dance floor. A chaos. We ordered chicken skewers by going koo-koo, making our hands go up and down pretending to be wings. Eventually they brought us 16 instead of 6 and at the end we started sharing them with the whole restaurant. Pure paranoia.
The next morning we had to go to the police station to register as required by the law, but ultimately the job could not be done and they send us to the next town. The scenery begins to change and instead of desert, now there is only steppe. Vast, arid steppe.
We drove up to the huge Lake Balkhash and spent the night in Balkhash town. When unloading the car, we realized two sleeping bags were missing. That morning it seemed that we didn’t tie things very well.
Our hotel had a wedding so we went out to eat. There we came across a greek couple traveling by motorbike. Looking back at the journey, they were the only Greeks we met! We drank with them and returned to our hotel. There, Daniel hung out with some armed men, who proved to be undercover policemen.
The next day we fixed a bent rim and went for the police record. We found the same policemen as the previous day, who helped us with the process. If only we knew, the friends we made the previous night would be life saviors in the morning!
We got our papers and directions to the capital Astana.
It was raining again after quite some time.
On the road that day, the police stopped us only to say goodbye.
We arrived to the city and did the classic tour in search of a hotel. At some point, a car approached us, telling us how they had a hotel with a sauna to show us. They drove ahead of us to show us the way without us having agreed. It was so hard to get rid of them, without pissing them off…
In the end, we found a hotel to the area they took us.
The next morning we did a little tourism, in the impressive artificial capital, which had nothing historical to offer, but it was selected 20 years ago as the place to construct the new capital. We wandered the huge tent, a trademark of the city, serving as a department store, and then, we left the city behind us. Just like the previous days we drove like mad to catch up and make up for the lost kilometers and relaxing days in Uzbekistan.
On the way we had to bribe some cops two cigars, to let us go. The usual tricks didn’t work this time.
Arriving in Pavlodar, in the north of the country, we asked some truck drivers for directions and one of them took his vehicle to show us the way, and for a farewell gift he gave us 10 liters of gasoline at the gas station. Weird people, can always surprise you.
In the evening we reached Sherbakty and spent the night there. This was the last village before the Russian borders.
Tomorrow, a new day will rise…