Despite hearing of the invasive border procedure for Uzbekistan, the experience could’ve been far worse. Some phones were searched, the guards checked a few bags and some car compartments were examined but they didn’t probe everything. The part that probably took the longest was the lunch break that they had half way through. A personal highlight of the experience would be the border guard finding a video of Joe from Yurt Lush twerking in slow motion and with an bemused look on his face asking if it was Caroline. Again, she was the centre of attention as immature border guards hit on her.
From the border town of Nukus, we set off with the hope that we could make it to Bukhara that night. En route, there was an issue involving the engine overheating so we had to take a break at the side of the road and allow it to cool down. This may have been caused by the hole in our coolant reservoir which we had been driving with for the past few thousand kilometers pretending it wasn’t an issue. Luckily, this didn’t rear its head again that day.
Due to the lengthy border crossing, Bukhara was not possible so we settled in Urgench to find some money, food and water. We were all parched. Driving through the desert with little water is inadvisable so as soon as a water shop was found, we drank as much as we could. The disastrous error of sparkling water was made at first but still was found soon afterwards. Next on our list of things to do was find accommodation, this gave us a chance to change money too as ATMs appeared to all be off or broken all over the city.
Petrol is hard to come by in Uzbekistan. After some quick research, it would appear this is due to their production not being able to meet domestic and export markets therefore many of the cars on the roads are LPG. This made our lives more difficult but not impossible. In the morning before leaving Urgench, we bought benzine from the black market for the first time. As we travelled east, we learnt that ‘benzine’ translates to ‘petrol’ in so wherever we go, it was easy to tell people what we were looking for. Thinking about the quality of the fuel is not recommended in Uzbekistan as it cannot be guaranteed let alone the octane count of the fuel. The sticker on our filler cap asking for 95 octanes had to be ignored. Our dealer turned up with some jerry cans which were decanted and a few water bottles filled with petrol. After paying over the odds, we hit the road again. Today we aimed for Qarshi with a stop in Bukhara to see the historical city and then continue to cover some distance as my visa would run out the next day. Of course, this failed. By the time we reached Bukhara, light was fading and once again the whole troop was starving. The Micra had a problem whereby the temperature of the engine would start to creep up whenever our speed went above 100km/h. The smooth tarmac motorway in the middle of nowhere teased us as we had been driving too fast on poor road conditions previously and now had to drive slowly on good conditions! This prevented us from covering the distance we would have liked and whilst I would like to blame this issue entirely, our inability to leave on time was more likely to blame.
In Bukhara, an Italian restaurant called Bella Italia was on the map so we first stopped for dinner. This wasn’t the Bella Italia that you are thinking off but still provided food to fill our weary selves.
After dinner, Yurt Lush and Sightseers were about to share an upsetting moment where we go our separate ways until an explosion went off in the street. Before departing, Kye was about to start filling up the Skoda with the black market petrol from a water bottle unaware of the pressure that had built up inside. One small twist of the cap and the petrol smelt freedom. As fast as you could say ‘benzine’, it had skyrocketed out and towards Kye’s face. Cries for water followed as his skin and eyes were now screaming with a burning sensation. We all scrambled for first aid kits and bottles of water, first grabbing the sparkling water questioning why we bothered to keep hold of it and then finding still water for Kye to rinse his eyes and body with. Luckily, there was eye wash to hand too. The next few minutes were spent panicking, considering hospital and making alternative plans to get Kye in a shower. The scary part of this happening was that it wasn’t regulated petrol from a pump but a shady man with some bottles in his boot delivering the petrol which meant that we didn’t know the actual contents.
Due to this incident, Caroline and I decided that we’d spend the night to make sure that the Kye didn’t go blind and because driving on Uzbekistan roads at night would be challenging as the motorway had ended. This had the added benefit of giving us time to see a small snippet of Bukhara in the morning. From what we saw, it was yet another place worth revisiting.
The time had now come to leave Yurt Lush as they head east to Kazakhstan and we headed south to Tajikistan. Thanks to politics, the Penjikent border is shut between Samarkand and Dushanbe therefore a long detour over the hot arid landscape to Denou was required. After breakfast and another top up with petrol, our convoy split up and we travelled towards the border. The roads were okay compared to Turkmenistan so I remained relaxed despite the visa situation. Should anything happen with regards to our car, I would be in serious trouble with the Uzbekistan authorities which is not a situation I wished to be in. Luckily, with our speed below 100km/h, nothing negative happened on the journey and the border was quiet.
Borders are interesting places where people demand money for all sorts of reasons which a language barrier keeps a secret from us. After questioning a $6 dollar piece of paper and failing to find out what it was, we paid and set forth for Dushanbe and Green House Hostel on the off chance that some ralliers may have been staying there. 3 attempts to find a way around road works eventually led us there. We knew this was the right place as rally cars littered the street. When we reached the gate, a familiar car was parked outside with “Genghis Carn” sprawled across the bonnet. Who knew that the prophecy from the port of Dover that I had written on their car would be true and we would actually see them on the Pamir highway! We wondered inside to be greet with Mitch’s surprised face as he thought Tbilisi would be the end of our convoy. At this point in their rally, they had joined the Ladateers in a new convoy from Bukhara but not content being replaced, we rejoined them to start on the second highest road in the world (after a little misunderstanding).