The road from Samarkand was fine in most parts, until we took a secondary road to avoid going out of our way to Tashkent before taking the highway leading us towards Osh. We were driving along and Sebastien was doing an excellent job of dodging potholes.
There were hardly any other cars on the road, which helped because you could always just drive in the lane for oncoming traffic when your lane was really bad. Shortly after I commented on this to Sebastien we hit the mother of all potholes. Even our new fancy off-road tires couldn’t handle that. We saw smoke, heard an enormous pop and pulled over immediately. Both of the tires on the left side and the rims had battled with the pothole and lost badly. Our rims were extremely bent and our tires were flat. We stared at them for a while, then decided to look for our jack. We had one full spare, but weren’t sure what to do with the other tire. (we also found out that although we had a jack, we were missing a tire iron, so the jack was quite useless). Having little knowledge of what to do in these situations, we did the best thing we could have – asked a local to help us!
There was a little rest stop about 50m from where we got off the road and we found a super friendly man, who laughed at our lack of knowledge and tools, but very helpful.
It was at this point that we realized we didn’t even have a tire iron. There was a jack and a spare, but nothing to loosen the bolts! We flagged over another car and before we knew it there were three dudes just going at it on our tires. In 40 degree afternoon sunlight. They used a sledgehammer with more precision than I could ever manage and pounded our rims back into a mostly circular shape. One rim was beyond their help, so we put the spare on. One of our new friends pumped up our tires and we were more or less back in business. We still needed to get to an actual garage to get the rims sorted out properly (it was a hand pump and I had the joy of pumping the tires – ever pumped off-road tires to 50 psi with a hand pump in 40 degrees while recovering from a fever ? Quite fun. I was doing a slow job apparently and the old Uzbek dude took me to school, grabbed the pump from my hand and started bobbing up and down on it at light speed, we were good to go pretty quick – S)
One of the men beckoned for us to follow him, and we followed him about 10km to a small village, located just to the left of the middle of nowhere. He explained what had happened to the guys at the garage (garage is a strong word, it was more of a shack with tire fixing tools), and they set about to fix it. With those roads, we realized this must happen all the time, even to locals!
After about forty minutes of hammering away at the rims (with a giant pipe, I bet these guys don’t have any trouble getting paid –S), and a snack of fresh grapes from the garden behind the auto garage we were ready to rock. We waited hesitantly for the bill, sure that it was going to break the bank but happy to have our car back and be ready to go with only a 2 hour detour. The total was 5,000 Uzbek SOM. That is less than $2! We were so happy we gave them $5. While we waited another nice local brought us into his garden and gave us fresh grapes and let us hose off at his well.
We continued on our merry way towards Kyrgyzstan and met some other teams at a police checkpoint! So many people are on the same route, but it’s funny because you can go days without seeing people even though they might only be 5km away from you. We met some Canadians (the Mighty Yaks), some Aussies (the Mongol Rally Roos) and a Brit (the Empire Strikes Yak). We drove on, and as night fell decided to stop in Kokand for the night with the Mighty Yaks and head for the border in the morning. We were excited to find a hotel with air conditioning and hot water, but the power went out that night so we didn’t really enjoy either of them! :) We popped into a cafe and had a delicious meal of soup, fresh vegetables and kebabs, Uzbek food is pretty good.
The next morning we hit the border with the Mighty Yaks and had a really smooth border crossing. We were in and out in an hour and a half! The other team (and teams that arrived right after them) were not so lucky, they ended up spending almost six hours at the same crossing! Guess we must be border guard whisperers. (Aruna pokes and prods and says “my friend” to them until they relent – S)