Uzbekistan, a country in between past and future
After rushing through Turkmenistan, the first feeling when we crossed the border into Uzbekistan was: relax! Less kilometers and the time for a cold beer, as a kind of a reward.
The more we travel East the less we know about the countries we are cycling through: on the good side, this gives us fresh eyes to look at what we see and experience. We like to talk to the people we meet, ask them questions and learn about the countries in this way. Then we add some reading and research when we have time.
Uzbekistan, for us, was the Silk Road, of course, and a couple of city names: Bukhara and Samarkand. Not much, indeed. But history here is rich and full of events: over the centuries people from modern China areas, Mongols, Arabs and Persians were here, then Russians, just to name a few. The traits on people’s faces, here, bear the traces of this mix (and it’s fascinating – even if history is made also of wars, conquests and defeats).
We entered Uzbekistan from Farap, the route we followed brought us to Bukhara, Samarkand, Jizzak, Tashkent, Ferghana and Andijon, last city in Uzbekistan before crossing to Kyrgyzstan at Izboskan border.
The countryside we’ve been riding through in the East had something familiar; it reminded us of the Po river valley of… maybe a few decades ago: most of the fields we’ve observed were still worked by hand. The contrast between farm houses in the country (without running water and with electricity coming and going) and the fancy touristic cities is sometimes striking, but they seem to coexist like it’s just natural.
Big architectural renovation is going on, especially in Samarkand where the pictures of ultra-modern skyscrapers, malls and hotels create a big contrast with the simple buildings around. But one thing we felt for sure: this country is going to change a lot in the next years – and tourism will be one of the bigger factors, for better and for worse. Starting from February 2019, many nationalities do not need a visa anymore to visit the country and that already boosted tourism a lot, according to the people we spoke to.
Roads, overall, are in much better conditions than the ones in Turkmenistan even if sometimes the can get pretty rough. Traffic can be huge and most of the Uzbeks drive Chevrolet (that are manufactured here by GM Uzbekistan).
As often, people made our adventure through the country unique. In absolute random order:
#1 Meeting a middle school director and two teachers in a small restaurant when we stopped for lunch: he spoke very little English but he put us on the phone with the English teacher, who showed up a few minutes later. They took care of us, they paid our lunch and ordered some more food for us to take away for dinner, they offered us a couple of beers and lots of chats. We ended up at the director’s house to drink tea and eat delicious strawberries. he really wanted us to meet his family and daughters and speak some English with them. They also invited us to stay for the night but we had kilometers to ride. It was probably the longest lunch stop on our trip but so worth it.
#2 At some point we stop to buy fresh fizzy water on the side of the road from a young boy, we pay 3.000 soms (a little bit pricey, but the only available solution) when two men came and started to talk to us: very little English on their side, very little Russian on ours. We took pictures and laughed and then one of the men gave us 5.000 soms as a gift. Unexpected and surprising. In the end, the cheapest water we bought!
#3 Camping close to a farm house with the young kids really curious about us and our gears (tent and bikes especially) and getting their language books (English and French) to have some conversation going on. Super welcoming family, not only they allowed us to pitch the tent but they also invited us for tea, some dinner and breakfast in the morning. The true meaning of hospitality is here: just helping a stranger who came out of nowhere with the little (which is a lot!) you can provide, asking nothing in exchange. Touching.
#4 The super funny and smiling lady that invited us for tea after we stopped to buy some water and food in a grocery store in a small village. She was a baker and she just spoke Uzbek and Russian but it was so easy to understand her. Her laugh was energetic and contagious.
#5 After booking a room on Airbnb we ended up at a family gathering for a birthday party so we were invited for tea and food and a fair amount of vodka… not bad for a welcome to Samarkand!
These are just quick notes and memories, for sure there is much more that it’s left behind: like the nice stay in Tashkent with Oskar and Viola, the beauty of the climb to get to the Ferghana valley – and the fun time spent in Ferghana at the Sakura Inn, with a Uzbek-Malaysian-Singaporean-Italian connection… as always, we prefer to publish something even if it’s incomplete or just short sketches instead of aiming for perfection (especially if it’s been a month since the last time we published something here!).