2012
05.09

SYNOPSIS:  IN A TAXI ON THE ROAD TO HELL OR BUKHARA, IF YOUR CAR MAKES IT THAT FAR. 

Did I mention that I ran into the “Frenchies” again, the ones I met in Tashkent and whom I asked to share a taxi to town with me? Well, I did, within minutes of my arrival on the streets of Khiva! The first thing they asked me was if I wanted to share a taxi with them to Bukhara tomorrow. And guess what? I am leaving for Bukhara tomorrow. Thanks Ganesh! You are doing great work. This will save me about $60!

That’s how I packed my bags this morning and met up with Giselle and Claude again. They had bargained a taxi to Bukhara for $80, with me as the third person the price went up to $90; still quite acceptable for a 500 km journey. Our luggage just about fit and what did not, ended up between Giselle and myself at the back seat. Chori was our driver; he is in his forties, I guess, and prone to break out into song, especially when the road conditions get bad and anyone else would get upset; he seems to cope by singing and pounding rhythms onto his steering wheel instead. We commented on the bad roads as we were rolling along and Chori laughed: Wait and see! The roads will get much, much worse ahead. Communication of course went via sign language and a few bits of Russian “plocho garoda” – bad road (some of these words seem to surface out of nowhere for me).

He was not kidding. Of the 8 hour trip, 4 hours were spent on 85 kilometers of a road that does not even deserve the name! There used to be a road. The broken up piles of asphalt can still be seen heaped up here and there. And there is to be a road in the future – the concrete band is already winding through the desert for the most part. But money seems to have run out or people just don’t feel like working on this road anymore, or what?! We saw exactly 5 people with buckets and hand tools working at some point. That was a joke! Age-old road equipment was stored at one location, but it did not seem to have been in use for a long, long time.

We saw about 10 cars that had broken down – people camping out with their luggage in the middle of the desert, obviously expecting to be there for a long, long time. Each time I said a prayer to Ganesh – “Please don’t let it happen to us!” This was about the bumpiest, roller-coaster road I have been on in my life. Usually, you put up with something like this for may be a kilometer; that is in an emergency. But 85 kilometers of this?! These conditions must have gone on for years already and at the tempo of work we observed, it will be the next millennium before this road is finished. Mind you, this is the only road between two major cities in Uzbekistan. Trucks, buses, taxis, private vehicles, all have to take it or leave it.

But enough of this road business; really, this was a boring day. The landscape changed from the fertile area around Khiva to flat desert with sand and low growing shrubs. The most exciting thing all day were a few animals (goats and cows, one turtle and one lizard) crossing the road and all the broken-down vehicles. We tried to snooze – of course there was no air conditioning in the car. And of course, Chori had to smoke every so often… Imagine the dust and the smoke we breathed. When we pulled out our suitcases from the trunk they had changed into uniform beige pieces. What was on the suit case had to also be on my lungs… Not a happy thought. I am just glad this was a one-way trip.

Since there is nothing else to report, I will post pictures today of some of the people I have met so far, like the Frenchies, and Rashid, the owner from the last hotel I stayed at in Khiva; and pictures of that hotel and of the women who worked and lived on one of the rest stops along the road. She somehow took a liking to me. We chatted about this and that in body language. When we left, she came running and handed me a little wooden plaque with Mecca on it! Just because. I am sure it will bring me good luck.

She, as many, many other people I have now seen on the streets had her mouth full of golden teeth. I think this is another indicator about a country: Health care. I noticed it for the first time in Cuba many years ago: There was national health care and despite the overall poverty of the people, everyone had a healthy big smile with all teeth intact, present, or repaired. You can’t say that of the poorer strata of society in the States. And here, everyone over forty has their mouth full of gold. I guess that is still the preferred method of fixing teeth. I remember it from Soviet days in East Germany. I bet you, it’s covered by their national health insurance. But then, perhaps, it’s just a status symbol.

The Frenchies and I are staying at the same hotel; by pure coincidence that is. We are located directly off the main plaza in Bukhara – it could not be more convenient to reach the historical sites to be close to the heart of the local night life. This is a real town. It’s not as picture-postcard-perfect as Khiva, but it’s real. It has quite a few tourists, but it also has lots and lots of locals everywhere.

And since I finally had internet, I had work to do. First, I loaded some long overdue pictures. That still takes a while, but there was reasonable progress, so I did not mind. And then, there was more writing to do as I had fallen behind with my computer dilemma. So, all is good and couldn’t be better. And that goes for the next two days.

Good night.

P.S. I asked around about the road condition between Khiva and Bukhara and got an interesting explanation: This 85 km stretch used to be a minor side road. Under the Soviets, of course, all the neighboring countries were united under one umbrella. Since the 1990’s their independence has come with a price: No more visits without costly visas. No more convenient crossing of state lines to reach another town in the most efficient and straight way. Everything has its price, it seems. It all makes sense now. Except, that nobody is working on that road…

3 comments so far

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  1. I’m so glad to be back in touch after more than a week with the computer being repaired. Never realized how much I would miss it. Now I can hardly wait to continue walking with you on your journey. ( I had a good laugh over Ann’s comment – see what you have done to us, Elisabeth?)

  2. Went back and looked at your pictures of Nukus…the Mizdarkhan Cemetery Shamun Nabi Tomb…kind of reminded me of Tintoretto’s The Last Supper, except he had his “table” going the other way, a higher perspective, and his image was about a supper and yours a tomb, and of course the lighting is a bit different! Except for those few minor items…well, who can miss the resemblance. Ain’t it a beautiful thing to have had one class in Art Appreciation and see all these parallels…lol…I now see Chacmools all over the place!!!! Yikes!!!!

  3. I remembered your trip out of Khiva to Bukhara and had a good laugh today as I drove Territorial Road East from 23 down to Dixboro Rd. They were “working” on Territorial at about the same pace as on your road in Uzbekistan…you know the Michigan routine: lane closed, one way traffic. Wait and wait and wait while some cigarette smoking yahoo
    (probably with no fancy gold teeth, just blank spaces) finally twirls his sign to SLOW and you and a whole procession crawl through pot holes and chunks of cut up road. Not quite as bad as what you experienced, at least no cars broken down along the way. I guess we haven’t come “that far” in road work…or maybe I need to experience your Uzbeistanian road before I pass judgement!!! lol