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Monday, August 6, 2012

Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan

The drive from Darvaza to Konye-Urgench was bumpy. Turkmenistan might have a lot of money from oil and gas exploration, but they really need to start using it to upgrade their infrastructure. We drove for about six hours, stopping at some ruins in Konye-Urgench and at a bazaar in the town to eat lunch. We arrived at the border and reunited with some other teams. The border was closed for lunch, but the guards invited us to come to their canteen (which was air-conditioned) so we all ate a bit more food and sat around until they were ready to work again. This time, the border was much more efficient. In total, we spent about four hours and even snuck in a little nap in our car.  

The Uzbeck guards let us in pretty easily, except that they inspected every single car and bag.  One of the ralliers, Kevin, a doctor that looks like he’s in ZZ top, had to do a lot of explaining about the pills he had.  The guards didn’t understand what the antibiotics were for, so we had to act out infectious diseases, which was quite funny.

We had planned to drive from the border to Khiva, but stopped at a hotel about 30km outside of the city for the night in the town of Urgench. Sebastien and I were both super tired and feeling a bit sick, so we hit the NeoCitran and got a much needed twelve hour sleep.

The next morning we headed into Khiva and spent a few hours wandering the walled city. It is very well-preserved and beautiful. We climbed to the top of the wall and walked around for a bit, enjoying the view and imagining what it must have been like in its heyday.

We then set out on our way to Bukhara, about 450km away. Up until this point, the roads in Uzbekistan had been really good so we foolishly assumed our luck would continue, which was not to be.
They are building a new concrete highway in Uzbekistan, but while that is being finished cars have to drive on the old road which has been scraped. This means extremely bumpy, tons of potholes, going 30km/h and super dusty. It took forever! 

This was interspersed with some sections of decent to good road and the odd stretch of concrete. It was particularly painful because while you are driving along this crappy stretch of road, you can see the finished concrete road on the side. The odd car or two was driving on it, but we decided that wouldn’t be a good idea because while it could be easy to get onto the concrete road, there may be some difficulties getting off. After a lot more bone rattling bumps, we finally gave into temptation. We drove up onto the concrete road and were flying along happily, very pleased with ourselves and the calculated risk we had taken. 

Eventually the concrete road ended and we had to get back to the highway part we were supposed to be on. We looked at the dip between the two highways and were fairly confident we could make it. That confidence was misplaced. Pretty soon our Perodua was firmly stuck in sand and despite my best efforts with my huge muscles to push the car we were going nowhere. Luckily, we had a tow rope and all that was needed was to get a tow. We flagged down a huge truck that was driving by and although he clearly thought we were idiots, he towed us out. We later found out that a few other Rally teams had this exact same experience.

At this point two carloads of Russians had stopped and were chatting with us. We made friends with them and gave them Canada pins and were on our merry way. We ran into the Russians later on in the drive when we all stopped for gas. They helped us out because we had been exchanging our dollars at the “official” exchange rate of $1USD=1900 SOM when in fact the black market rate is $1USD=2800 SOM. 

At this point it was getting a bit dark, so the Russians told us to convoy with them and that we would all hang out in Bukhara. As our Russian is very bad, this is what we think they told us at least! Sebastien and I were happy not to be driving alone at night and we arrived in Bukhara without incident. We bargained a good rate for a hotel room, and the two carloads of our Russian friends ended up staying here too! Sebastien and I went for food and ran into some other ralliers – Mark and Pat and the Hard Yak team. We hung out with them for a bit and came back to our hotel and spent some more time with the Russians. They are very friendly, although we wish we spoke more Russian. They speak some English, so while conversation can take a while we can still make ourselves understood. The vodka might have helped with that. One of the Russian guys, Sergei, owns a hotel somewhere in Russia and he has invited us to come ride quads with him and shoot bears. The boys are very interested in this possibility, while I don't really want to make the detour.

We spent a relaxing day today wandering the streets of Bukhara and admiring the beautiful tiled buildings.  (I spent most of the day nursing my hangover, my Russian friend Lenur and I may have had a few too many vodka shots last night, totally worth it! – S) We ran into the Irish team and had lunch together and traded rally stories. Tomorrow we’re off to Samarkand – ready to complete our tour of Uzbekistan’s big three Silk Road towns. 

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