Tuesday, 6 May 2014

the road to Samarkand

loading up again

While Franzi and Jona make a bee-line for Dushanbe, we mooch off in the direction of Samarkand with Gabor.  The heat in the afternoons has become unbearable so we are really keen to start early to allow enough time to cover some distance before our extended lunch periods.  At least that's the idea.  Gabor is good company but he remains painfully slow at doing anything.  I am sure he knows we feel frustrated by this, but probably not how much. It's inevitable that when you cycle with someone else there will be differences - it's really a question of how well you cope with them.  Our first day takes us on a quiet road out of the city and into a bleak desert landscape with hills in the distance.  We stop for lunch at a base for roadworkers because several guys call out to us to get water.  They have a very inviting well inside their gateway.  Little do they realise we intend to stop for four hours, but neither do they mind.  At around 3 in the afternoon Gabor notices the temperature on his bike computer reaching 38 degrees, in the shade.  He is preoccupied by a slow puncture and he sets about doing an appropiately slow repair.  No problem, we have hours to kill.  Later on we head off with some shade from clouds sheltering us from the harsh sun and we find a camp spot in amongst stunted pine trees next to a ridge of hills.  At nightfall we are treated to a light show courtesy of an electric storm raging in the distance.

friendly guys at the roadworker's depot
 This little fella passed by when we stopped for a break.  He was going quite fast, but then he did have a tailwind.

the open road, yawn

The morning brings us a headwind.  After a slow morning we reach a junction with a choice: continue into the headwind or turn our backs and over the hills to the main road.  It's a no-brainer.  From the top of a short sharp climb we get a flying descent down to the charming city of Navoiy, surrounded by nasty concrete works producing clouds of white dust.  The big park in the city centre provides us with our designated lunch stop.  Locals pass by us laid out on the park benches trying to catch up on our sleep.  These early morning starts are killers.  The afternoon ride is much more satisfying as we pick up speed on a decent road without any wind.  The main road is busier than our morning back road, but it's also greener, with plenty of farmland and houses along the route.  Inevitably this causes us a problem when we start to look for a camping spot.  
proud dad and kind host, Anwar

In the end Anwar comes to our rescue.  He lives in a hamlet of houses away off the main road and when we ask about camping he begins to lead us to a spot in the trees we have asked about.  But then a neighbour interjects and Anwar asks if we would like to come to his house.  We do not refuse.  Anwar was pushing his twins around in a pram when we arrived, and now we are introduced to his mother and father, while his wife stays out of the way.  They give us a room with thin mattresses to sleep on and seem happy for us to cook up our tea in the yard.  It's now a familiar scene to us: the house has a courtyard and garden area, shelter for cows and a pit toilet in the far corner.  There are fruit trees and rows of vegetables in the garden.  It seems rather timeless. But hardly perfect - there's no running water, no bathroom.

child labour is rife in Uzbekistan
The next day we are caught by Daniel, a German cycling our way.  We chat a while before he whizzes on ahead of us during a particularly scrappy patch of road.  The infrastructure here is very basic - most of the roads look like they have never been maintained and even new stretches of road look poorly built and doomed to a potholed future. We muddle along and find a roadside chaikhana for lunch.  There's a well in the backyard plus the traditional style raised platform with low table covered in matresses and pillows, so we have a kip here.  Then we drink the well dry before continuing finally into some open country where we find a little sheltered spot away from the road. 

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