Riding through Uzbekistan was a wild time filled with violent food poisoning, riding in miserable freezing wet weather, and a zillion police checkpoints. I got pulled over by the police on an four-lane highway for “speeding” at 81 km/h. The thing about Uzbekistan is there aren’t any speed limit signs, so it’s all a guessing game. They showed me a laptop with a photo of me riding along and over the top it said my speed. According to them it was a 70 zone. After a half hour of standing around confused, as they half filled out a ticket that had to be paid at the bank, the guy asked me to start my bike, grabbed the throttle and revved it a few times, then told me to go. Got off free somehow after all the bad stories I’d heard about the corrupt police. At the many checkpoints along the roads, the police were always really friendly and playful, and all of them had an obsession with wanting to turn the throttle. Then they would beg me to burn out as I left.
Coming into the country is no small feat. Besides the three weeks it took me to organize the visa and it being the most I’ve ever paid to enter a country, they give you a proper search lasting for hours. To put it lightly, Uzbekistan has a fairly paranoid government and is a bit of a police state. It’s illegal to bring porn and basically any type of drug into the country. This includes even Ibuprofen. So before hitting the border it’s wise to give yourself a thorough search over. Everything on the bike had to be taken off and put in a pile. Then the officers spent over an hour picking through it all and leaving nothing un-inspected. Then the dog was sent onto my pile of stuff to thrash it around and stuff his face into all my smells.
All my electronics were searched, every memory card and camera had to be looked through, hard-drive gone through in detail, and laptop searched. I loved his first search he did on my laptop, he typed in “sex”. I had episodes of the show “Archer”, which is a funny adult cartoon. Of course he went to a ridiculous scene that confused him immensely. The guy in charge repeatedly grabbed things and would demand, “what is this”, even when he would be holding something as obvious as a pencil. They all had a good attitude about it and I sensed some subtle humor behind things they were saying. They found the shell casing that I had kept from Kyrgyzstan when I shot the Kalashnikov into Issyk-Kul Lake. Every single officer inspected it and smelled it vigorously, and then turned to the others the reconvene. Eventually I convinced him that it was the only one I had and that I didn’t have any guns. Then when we were almost finished I reached into my back pocket and pulled out a handful of stuff to show him, and just my luck, I had forgotten another shell casing in the jeans back-pocket. The look on his face was priceless. I would love to have it on camera.
The search was back on full-scale. They acted convinced that I had a gun somewhere. Finally when they were convinced I wasn’t a terrorist, they made me ride back over to the Tajikistan side and throw the shells in the “neutral zone. Strange times at the border. It was very similar to the intensity of search we received going into China, except that the officers were more or less friendly. In China they were rude and indifferent.
Here’s what else I got up to for the week through some pics.
The ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara are filled with mosques and from a looooooong time ago.
Religious sights, like temples and churches aren’t my favorite thing in the world, but it was a cool place to witness.
I have a better time just hanging around the bazaars watching life go on. The women in Uzbekistan wear colorful vibrant outfits.
If you want to really get a feel for a country and it’s people, there’s no better place to go than the local bazaar. The life and energy of a country and it’s people ooze from these gathering places.
If I could describe Uzbekistan in one word it would be “bread”. Round loaves of bread, made in traditional tandoori ovens, are everywhere and served with every meal. These circles of goodness are all over Central Asia, but nowhere quite has the love affair that the Uzbeks have.
It reminds me of India where it’s unfathomable to eat a meal without a heaping pile of rice. The meal isn’t complete here without that chunk of carbs.
Wandering the streets you see the diversity in the country from centuries of people form surrounding regions mixing. Many Uzbeks could be mistaken for Russians.
While wandering in the old Jewish-quarter, me and a buddy ended up at a guys junk sale and he had us try on some outfits.
Night is the perfect time to see the mosques and mausoleums all lit up.
After riding for half a day in torrential rains and bone-chilling temperatures, the skies finally cleared as we approached the Kazakhstan border. It was by-far one of the worst days riding of this entire trip. I couldn’t feel my legs from the knees down, and was in a constant shivering and shaking for hours. My hands had pretty much completely frozen and wouldn’t work anymore except to turn the throttle. I had to have someone else fill out my immigration card at the border because I couldn’t write. My mask was a constant foggy mess giving just enough view of the road to stay alive. Traveling at it’s best. It’s not the most inspiring landscape in the world, but they do have camels.
After crossing into Kazakhstan, we camped in some harsh weather. I was up most the night massaging my frozen feet. The twenty-dollar Kathmandu sleeping bag strikes again. Everything outside our tents was frozen solid in the morning. During a night like that, you just lay and fantasize about that big beautiful sun and counting the minutes for its arrival.
Kazakhstan was filled with many more goofy camels. The final big mission lay ahead of us now. Crossing the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan, and just as we had read, isn’t as easy as you hope. But when the going gets tough just think of a goofy ass camel chewing his food and maybe that can cheer you up.