It was full-bosomed Russian Ljudmila who greeted me as I looked in awe at the rolling hills of sand, the dozen or so yurts, and the camels resting on the hill top.  After all the mosques, courts, pishtaks and minarets, this was culture shock!  She looked a bit surprised at this lone traveler but she had room for me.  I negotiated a small discount with her, but at $35 per night, this was certainly no cheap place by my standards.

Second in the greeting line was Alibek, a fabulously athletic, good-looking middle-aged man with short hair who turned out to be the leader of the group that was sitting under  a long table shaded by a straw roof.  They seemed to have fun!  In accented but good German, he offered me his services as translator and in case I had any questions.  Great!  But that meant I had to admit, that I spoke German.  I guess in the desert, out here in the middle of nowhere, it would have been quite stupid if I had isolated myself as I so often do.

I was happy to find the group to be German and not French.  In Uzbekistan there seems to be little else.  It’s either Germans or French everywhere; by the busload.  And probably topping them are Russian tourists.  Single travelers come from a variety of places.  I have seen an Indian couple, a Dutch couple, an Italian couple, a few Brits.  I have yet to find another American.  Americans are pitied the world over for their limited vacation time and excused for their absence.  But really, is it just the 2-3 weeks of vacation per year which hardly can compete with the Germans’ 6 weeks?  I think there is more to it.  There is no “travel culture” in the States the way you find in Europe.  And when Americans travel, they have so much to see in their own continent and in Europe – why go to far-out places of the world, like Uzbekistan.  Am I a wrong?

There were about 17 yurts total and some wooden buildings; and there was the very idiosyncratic looking Mercedes Tour Bus.  But you could look the other way and pretend it was not there if you wanted the scenery unspoiled.  Sometimes, I get lucky:  Since I was all by myself and there were enough yurts, I got my own!  Most others had to share a yurt between 4-6 people, I found out later.  I dropped off my luggage at the assigned spot and joined the group.  They had advanced from tea to beer and vodka already…   I came to sit next to Angelica and Victor.  They were super friendly and included me in their conversation.  We exchanged travel stories and Victor shared some amazing video footage about a permanently burning crater in Tajikistan (?) in the middle of the desert.  Alibek sat at our side of the table and we had a grand time.  For dinner I sat with Renate and Dietmar, Sylvia and Wolfgang.  I particularly enjoyed talking to them.  And for breakfast the next day it was Ursula, Dietmar, Walburg, Inge and …Dieter?  I think I got these names almost all right (give or take a few mixups).  I loved it.

Don’t get me wrong:  I love traveling by myself and I have never, ever been lonely.  But it was exactly for this change of pace, that socializing with these strangers was so enjoyable.  And, it certainly had something to do with our surroundings.  In a city, in a restaurant, I would have never even gone near their table.  Here in the desert, we were thrown together with nothing to distract us except the still ominous looking sky.  The thunderstorm had just passed and this bus had ended up here not as scheduled, but because they got stuck for a long, long time in that same roadblock that my driver so recklessly  bypassed.  Fate had brought us together.

A big bus full of Frenchies and another small bus full of Frenchies arrived, but somehow they seemed to have yurts for all of us, and I did not even have to share mine.  Dinner and breakfast were prepared by the camp.  In a humungous iron pot, the chef stirred the plov (the national Uzbek rice dish that claims to come in over 100 variations) over an open fire.  In the kitchen vegetables were chopped and there seemed no end to the supply of water, beer, or vodka.  How they get this all out here!  This is quite an operation.  And a lucrative one, I would imagine.  In a single day, filling up all yurts, they could make thousands of dollars.  There were flushing toilets and showers!  If anywhere, I would have expected a hole in the ground in the desert.  I have seen them most everywhere else – the “squatters”.  You get the point.  But this was Western style comfort.  Well, almost.  The showers in the morning only had a trickle of cold water.  But each yurt had an electric outlet, and you would have found me writing my blog until deep into the night, charging my camera batteries and all.  And to think that I almost would not have been here either if Fatima and Furkat had not talked me out of my original itinerary.  This was definitely worth it.  I am glad, it all happened the way it did.

The Germans were going on a desert hike during the day.  I was going to put in a day of writing, reading and relaxing, but it turned out that there was no getting away from this camp; no public bus, no nothing.  I had to figure out what to do since my driver had turned back yesterday.  The Germans were leaving in their big bus the next day; they had lots of empty seats.  I asked if I could catch a ride to Samarkand; there and my next destination.  I asked for a vote and Alibek in his wisdom made it an anonymous paper vote.  He brought me a hat full of snippets just before the group took off.  I counted 13 yes votes, 2 no votes…

Alibek wanted democracy.  The majority accepted and welcomed me.  But does the majority win?  Is it that easy?  If there are two people who objected to my riding along, they could cause trouble for the group and more so, for the leader.   Could I reckon to be the cause of that?  This was almost a philosophy lesson.  More and more recently, I have wondered about the limits of democracy.  The voting majority has made so many horrible mistakes in history’s past based on pure ignorance and stupidity.  Tiny minorities can cause so much trouble in the world by holding power and guns.  It does not matter, what the majority wants.  It only matters who can cause trouble.  It is the sad truth.  Two “no” votes… I wondered why?  What were they losing?  Space?  There was enough.  All they really lost was the opportunity to be generous.  Did they win anything?  For their sake, I hope so.

I knew what I had to do, but I agonized over it, since the alternative to the Germans was grim:  Ljudmila, the cut-throat director of the camp asked for $100 if I wanted to go with her driver who was going to Samarkand today anyhow.  Can you believe this?!  That was a full taxi price, plus.  That is what the Frenchies and I had paid for almost 600 km on an awful road between Khiva and Bukhara.  This was half the distance and the car was scheduled to go with or without me.  I was speechless, but without a real alternative.  I refused the price and asked to be dropped off at the nearest village with a bus station for $10.  Ljudmila accepted.  I waited for 2.5 hours for the driver to leave.  Departure was postponed and postponed until we finally took off around noon.  By that time, I felt awful.  Instead of writing, I was just “studying” the ceiling of my yurt.  Was it the big dinner I had?  Was it something about breakfast?  Was it the vodka?  Curiously, I had felt nothing last night or this morning.  Perhaps, I was just due for a sick day?

Finally, we left.  It took all my strength and creativity to negotiate with the non-English speaking driver over the audacity of charging me $100.  We finally settled on $40…  Still too much for one person in a “taxi” that was none.  But by that time, I was just glad that I was somewhere and going somewhere and needed all my concentration on keeping myself together.  I had prepared for all eventualities with a plastic bag and reviewed the most important Uzbek phrase for the day:  Tochteting!  Please stop the car (now).  I needed it about three times and left a few marks on the road between the yurt camp and Samarkand.  The road was almost as bad as the road between Khiva and Bukhara.  That did not help!  I made it to a hotel which thankfully had room for me even though I had no reservation.  I made it to bed.  And that’s where I spent the next 16 hours.  No soup.

Good night.

6 comments so far

Add Your Comment
  1. The yurts we visited in western China, close to the boarder, were rustic with no showers or flush toilets and we were surprised to see a goat brought across the road that was going to end up for dinner. So sorry to hear that a miserable stomach has caught up with you and hope that tomorrow will be much better.

  2. Hope you are feeling better Lady Godiva. I got the crud myself. Hope you are feeling better then I. Be safe, Stay Healthy

  3. P.S. Do we ever get to see a picture of you doing your thing at the ends of the earth?

  4. Oh, yes, I did not miss the coiled snakes on the sleeves of her blouse!!!!

  5. Ljudmila definitely looks like someone not to mess with. Period!!!! lol
    What an incredible photo/portrait you have of her!!
    Indeed, the philosophical implications of democracy: when it goes my way, it’s a wonderful system. When the Tea Party or some other fools have their way, it’s a horrible system.
    I simply cannot imagine what those two people who voted “no” had against you riding in an unoccupied seat. Maybe they wanted some kind of monetary compensation or something…or they just like to create misery.
    Speaking of misery…wow, what a taxi ride you had. Glad you got a chance to rest up in a hotel.
    The more you describe your interactions with those taxi drivers, the more I’m thinking that they have waaaay too much power. I wonder if Ljudmila started her “career” out as a taxi driver!!!

  6. Wow! You are amazing! Aller Achtung!