We have had a mega good week. The winds finally changed and we had a bit of a tailwind blowing us through the Kazakh steppe. It was great, we were speeding along, practising our singing and loving the fact it was slightly cloudy and therefore not boiling hot.
We had lunch and after lunch naps at an amazing teahouse, run by some lovely bemused ladies who didn’t mind 7 dirty cyclists asleep on their outside tables, and Jade tried both fermented camel and horse milk (and didn’t like either!).
The tailwind held till we arrived in Beyneu, our first big town for a while! We rode together practising singing ‘the grand old Duke of York’ and rolled into Beyneu to find a hotel and a beer.
Beyneu was a big town in the middle of the desert which has multiple shops, bakery’s, cafes and hotels. And it seemed like a bit much after the uninhabited steppe. We found multiple beers, some good food and Claremont and Fanny (a French couple on a motorbike we met on the boat!) after an afternoon nap, and enjoyed a long evening in the Aircon.
The next day we got to experience the Kazakhstan banking system. The ATM ques were big. A horde of people milling around two ATM’s, with at least 6 people jostling for space just in front of the screen, everyone clutching multiple cards with pin numbers on scraps of paper. It was chaos for a que loving Englishwoman. But although it didn’t look like it, there was a system. Everyone knew who was in front of them so even though it seemed like there was alot of pushing in, you just had to wait your turn.
Here the Mercuri 7 gang split up, Ian, Jamie and Nick headed off for more long uninhabited stretches of desert while Tim and Adam joined us with jumping on the 3am train to Nukus.
The train was intense, we jammed the bikes into the door compartments and found our beds. We all had top bunks, so had a precarious climb up to our beds, where we had a thin mattress between an open window and a long drop to the floor. Perfect. Every bunk was taken, and we had numerous stops as we crossed the Kazakh/Uzbek border. But all went well and we managed to get quite a bit of sleep in-between the hawkers selling anything you can imagine.
We arrived in nukus, found a guesthouse and grabbed some dinner after alot of confusion at the train ticket office. Trains book up fast here. We also swapped a few dollars for tens of thousands of Som. The money is crazy, we ended up with a 3-inch wedge of notes which do not fit in my purse.
Back on the bikes we headed south. The main road was pretty terribly surfaced but there was an unused brand new road next to it which we hopped onto. The Uzbek desert is very similar to the Kazakh desert, just a bit hillier. Stopping at a teahouse we were given huge slices of three types of melon by some lovely ladies.
The desert was more of the same, hot, tiring, sandy. Tim and Adam were ahead of us, and stopped at what they though was a teahouse to find it was just a house. They flagged us down as we passed as the man who lived there had invited us in for tea and served us some lunch. He didn’t speak English but we enjoyed watching a dubbed Jane Austen movie with him as we ate and drank. The generosity of strangers is incredible.
Soon after this we stopped at an actual teahouse and had our usual long lunch and nap. We then passed alot of industrial mines and the road became worse and worse.
In the next town we stopped to restock at a tiny shop and started talking to Botirova, principal of the local school. She invited us back to her house, where we met her entire extended family and enjoyed a wonderful evening eating and drinking. The boys enjoyed lounging in the main room, snacking, drinking cay and watching TV, while I got a full tour of the beautiful house, helped pick fruit in the garden and prepare dinner, and spent time talking with Botirova and her daughters. We felt so welcomed and spoilt! Although I don’t agree with the gendered split in the household, I did enjoy getting to spend time with the women of the family and see more of the way they live. The boys only got to see the main room!
They then showed us to a second house where they had a big room for parties which we could sleep in. It was ace. We took loads of photos and leaving after breakfast was quite hard. We promised to go back if we went back to Uzbekistan and I’m really hoping we do one day!
The next day we cycled on alot more rubbish road, but we were no longer in the desert! We were cycling through green fields and rice paddys and villages! It felt very busy and populated. We arrived in Urgench, spent some time in a cafe and the poshest hotel (for the WiFi), then managed to squeeze onboard the train with seconds to spare.
This train was newer and cleaner but a thousand times hotter. So the journey to Bukhara was a sweaty one. We got to Bukhara at 11.30pm, and cycled to the hostel to find it full of Mongol ralliers.
We have enjoyed a day off in Bukhara, wandering round the old town, visiting mosques, minarets and medressas, and lazing by the Lyabi-Hauz, a shaded plaza built around a pool. The architecture is really beautiful and it’s nice to experience a big town instead of empty desert.
Tomorrow we are back on the road to Samarkand.
Jim’s words – Teahouse, Beyneu, Pressure, Sleeper, Hospitality, Perspiring and Bukhara.