Of mice and men…

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And off to the mountains we went …the traffic was busy, there was lots of billowing black smoke from the friendly truck drivers as they passed and lots of swirling dust from the regular roadworks on the way out of town but the edge of city was in our sights.

We could almost start to smell the air freshening. Then it happened. The gear cable went. So the best laid plans of mice and men and indeed us were going nowhere. We pulled over and then into a garage to assess the situation. It was right in the middle of roadworks so the swirling dust was in overdrive.

After our own investigation and a chat with trusted NZ bike mechanic we realised we wouldn’t be going any further today. So we started to disassemble the gear lever and got out the tools – all amidst swirling dust. It was the fine dust, like the red bull dust of the north of West Australia – it gets in everywhere. As you wipe your face you can feel the fine grit down the side of your nose and on your cheeks, sunglasses are a must but not for the sun.

As we are thinking of what to do, the sky starts to change- this is something we are becoming used to – heavy afternoon thunderstorms. It’s far from ideal conditions to dismantle a bike – so we decide to hitch back – at least one bike.

True to central Asian form – it doesn’t take long – we flag down trucks or vans – one stops – assesses our situation but gestures he has no room. The next truck stops. With charades we explain the situation – I’m getting much better at this. Kazim opens his truck – it’s empty – but not for long. Soon it is loaded with two bikes eight panniers, two handlebar bags and two large plastic bags with tents and seats. We jump in the cab with him. It starts raining.

All loaded up and ready to go
With Kazim who safely delivered us back to Shymkent

So it is back to the city hostel – feeling just a little lost regarding our next move. The hostel tells us about a bike shop that may be able to help, so we head off – a little hope restored. The bike shop is not a workshop just a retail shop – we feel a little like we are being ignored. We should know better by now. A phone call is being made – I am passed the phone – it is Shavkat, he is not far away – his workshop is closed but he will wait and meet us.

Shavkat (in red) Assel (in white) – and other Shyment bikers group members
Assel and other members of the SBC

Shavkat and Assel meet us and take us to meet with their Shymkent bikers group – it includes Alfir a bike mechanic. Once a week they meet in the park and offer to fix peoples bikes for free. We are on foot – our bikes back at the hostel. We talk about the problem – with some translation from Shavkat, and images from google. They have never seen a Rohloff hub before – but Alfir is keen to learn. We plan to meet at his workshop tomorrow at noon. The upside is we have time for a proper coffee!

First real coffee for a month

We have printed instructions, and the photos on the iPhone and we all sat together working through things step by step, ticking things off as we went. Alfir is a technician – with Shabkat’s translation and a review of the associated image – he goes to work. Many hours pass. We are down to the last four steps (of about 25. By now we are all feeling better

With iPhone and printed instructions at the ready
Alfir starting to feel confident
The emotional stages of cable transplant

It was pretty clear that Alfir was keen to finish things off without the hoardes around him – so with our growing confidence in him, we left him to it and sat and chatted and ate and drank with Shavkat.

Alfir, Shavrat and us after a successful cable transplants 😁

It was late afternoon when we finished. It all went well. Back to the hostel to cook, eat and get ready for our DeJaVu departure. Then Assel messages, she was going for a ride later – at 9.30 with others from the club. Did we want to join them? I wanted to get ready for departure so I declined but party girl Adrienne was a keen yes.

With Assel outside the hostel

After not long I got a message that they were having a cuppa close by and I should join them. So tea, chocolate and many renditions of Kazak top of pops ensued.

Some of the Shymkent cycle crew
A rousing rendition of Kazak music

Take two – departure – the Thorne wasn’t quite ready to go. Peri however was itching. So another trip to see Alfir, more fiddling and twiddling and we head off. Thorne is less than perfect, the gears are working but not as well as they should. Redoing kms you’ve already done is always hard especially when your bike is not in tip-top shape.

The perfect chai stop

The trip is slow – the Thorne has a slow leak – a possible result of the late night adventure whizzing around the streets of Shymkent (but it was worth it). So a chai stop out of the dust is what both Thorne and Adrienne need and of course fate prevails and that is exactly what is offered up.

The kilometres slowly roll along and soon I am rewarded with a glimpse of the snow capped mountains we are heading towards.

Mountain glimpses
Back to an expressway – the views make it bearable
Roadside afternoon delight

Late afternoon we meet up again – (Peri and I now have the itch out of system) -after a few kilometres of expressway it is good to head back to the quieter country roads. Sasatobe is only 10km away so we head there.

Sastobe campsite – early evening

This wins the prize in a not very hard fought competition for best camping site so far. We have visitors but not many and they dont stay too long, we have soft grass to set the tents up on, we have a the sound of running water, the water is crystal clear and a frog chorus to send us to sleep. Who could ask for more?

What a difference a day makes! It’s a beautiful morning – we take our time and it is already warm when we leave. With ample clean water about we afford ourselves the luxury of wet heads and hats and clean faces before we ride off to face the day.

The roads are good, the incline is slow and steady and so are we. A bit further along -I am waiting by the side of the road, though I am never alone for too long. Peri always sparks the interest of someone close by.

Peri heads off for a short ride with her new found friend

Before long we hear women calling out. They are working the other side of the road and have seen us stop, chat and more importantly take photos. We don’t know many Kazak worlds yet but we share one word in common, selfie!

We wander over, chat, shake firm strong hands and yes take photos.

Before long we are on the road again. It’s beautiful. There are snow capped mountains to the right and rolling green hills to the left.

To the right
And the left 🙂

It’s hot though and even slow and steady on an incline seems to raise the temperature quiet a bit. So we are in the look out for a lunch stop – a cool place of rest.

Veggie noodles! (With just the odd bone!) to restore, revive and replenish!
Not long after us a carload of women arrived
When the dancing started she was shy but with encouragement joined in.
And the dancing begins…
There was much dancing and frivolity and leaving was not an option

We ate, we danced, we rested. Then we headed off in search of Zhabagly. The town on the edge of the mountains and the gateway to Aksu Zhabagly national park the oldest national park in Kazakhstan and the only one not to allow cattle grazing. It also happens to be one of the most prolific tulip growing areas in the world. Who knew tulips originated in Central Asia! (We are just a month or so late – instead we see a plethora of other flowers).

Approaching Zhabagly

The optical illusion of going downhill is compelling – however our legs beg to differ. The very gentle incline continues. We arrive late afternoon into Zhabagly. We’ve tried calling ahead – three different options where we can set up our tent – but all to no avail. Not sure why be bothered. Of course a car stops, chats and directs us to where we want to go.

A night in the village, long hot shower and chatting with others travellers and we are ready to head for the hills. First off though we have booked in for a tour with the ranger (you cant just go into the national park yourselves).The guide Majolay doesnt speak English, we dont speak Russian. Despite being visually stunning – it may not be very informative.

Enter Theo … The Dutch Entomologist!
Majolay – our Ranger
Orchid
Lots of blues, purples and pinks and the ubiquitous whites and yellows
The of over 20 varieties of onion weed
The chance to cool off and explore the other side was not to be missed …

Late afternoon we returned to village to gather our belongings and head back up the mountains for a couple of days R&R. A flat tyre meant a car ride for one bike and all our luggage. After the steady and gentle incline of the last few days the steep ascent was exceptionally difficult even with an unloaded bike. Although late afternoon it was still incredibly hot. The road being narrow only room for one vehicle at a time – I was delighted every time a car passed – it gave me license to get off and walk for a while!

The final camping spot made the ride worthwhile – Tourbaza Ruslan
Time to relax and make friends with the locals

We spend the late afternoon and evening chatting with other travellers, Andrea and Magdalena, young dentists from Germany who have been travelling and running some voluntary clinics in areas of need. More chatting with an international group here on a Botanical tour! It’s another easy pleasant evening.

Magdalena, Andrea and Ruslan (who runs the placew we are staying in.)

Today we appoint as a rest day – just a flat tyre to fix – the rest of the day – catch up on emails, the blog and gaze at the snow capped peaks around us keeping a careful watch for ibex, bear, wolf – all of whom we saw or saw evidence of on our walk. (Happily the bear and wolf left only evidence).

Flat tyre -repaired and replaced.

The joy of not packing up is overwhelming so we decide to stay put for another day. We have soft green grass underfoot (and tent), amazing view and clean air, access to hot showers, toilets and a kitchen. It’s not a hard decision to stay another day! Soon enough we’ll be on the road to Almaty.

Meanwhile plenty of mountain gazing to do …

The last drop

It wasn’t exactly hard leaving Uzbekistan but at the same time we were in no rush (except of course for an expiring visa). So we left late morning and took advantage of a roadside stall offering kartoshka camca (similar to potato samosa). Of course just because it was advertised it didn’t mean they had any. But soon enough they did – making some especially for us and while they were baking, we were given all sorts of treats – so much so we hardly had room for the camca (somsa).

Then as we go to pay we are told no it’s a gift

In Nukus we met Christian, he’s Canadian though has been living and working in Central Asia for over a decade. He told us that there is false hospitality here – people offer chai or say you don’t need to pay but actually want something else. So you must try at least three times – we reflect on all the gifts – but are pretty confident they were indeed genuine. Though with that knowledge we try, very hard to pay, at least three times – no, no, hand on heart and head bowed, no. So we offer thanks and great appreciation and get on our way – eking out the last drops of Uzbekistan warmth and hospitality.

Fresh fruit is always a treat – small apples plentiful and apricots just coming in to season

We cross the border mid afternoon- after reading other travellers tales about delays and bureaucracy we were delighted with a smooth transition from Stan 1 to Stan 2. As always we have helpful guards and other people. I had to provide some accommodation registration documents but only enough to show we had been collecting them – so it wasn’t rigorous and by the time Adrienne went through they didn’t ask for any papers. It may not be as easy for everyone – as we approached the border, we passed trucks backed up for at least 2 kilometres – so perhaps a much slower border crossing for them.

By 4pm we were in Kazakhstan- money changed – and on our way. We of course didn’t get far up the road before we were offered chai. Keen to get just a few kilometres away from the traffic and busyness of the border we decided to politely but firmly and successfully decline the offer.

The curiosity doesnt stop at the border…and further down the road one of their wives is waiting to greet us!

A thunderstorm stopped us in our tracks – though we managed to find a chai stop. So within minutes we were out of the rain, and drinking fermented mares milk, as you do – or if you want our advice DONT. I’m sure it’s an acquired taste – and though I drank the bowl offered it didn’t help in me acquiring the taste.

Fermented mares milk – hmmmm

The joy was though – being entertained by four delightful sisters – who had a great time sifting through our Aus and NZ photos.

Long days are a blessing when you’re looking for a campsite. At least Kazakhstan has wide open spaces. We pulled off the road – thinking we’d found a good spot only to be followed by a car. We thought they were checking on us but no, there was a spring and they’d come to fill their water. We checked in and they said it was a good place to camp.

It was late when we set up the tents – so despite having a fabulous new stove and oodles of food to cook we opted for muesli and then took to our tents to wash of the hot sticky (despite the rain) day.

Enjoying the quiet evening light
‘Night Peri

There was no other visitors. It was peaceful and quiet and the stars were out. Morning brought our first visitor. Nurmalka, a shepherd. He was very happy to see us and chat – though he had to keep running off to check on the sheep. Then his friend arrived whose land we had camped on – he too seemed happy to see us. It was a lovely slow entry to Day 2 in Kazakhstan.

Nurmulka the freiedly shepherd – smiling in photos here seems not to be the done thing

The day was very hot and so after not long an amazing memorial appeared and warranted further exploration. More turquoise blue but not tiled just paint. Better still a large covered area – shaded and with a breeze blowing through – a great place for a picnic.

It was hard getting going again – it seemed even hotter so when a row of big shady trees appeared within the hour – we decided to lay and laze till it cooled off.

Nothing to do but find some shade…then the sky went black
Very hot and loving time in the shade

Just over an hour later and we were back on the road and caught in another thunderstorm. It was welcome after the heat – but once I was drenched the novelty of being cool started to wear off.

We persevered – there was nothing else to to – no shelter- so we rode on and on and eventually the rain eased. As we went through small towns the curiosity and genuine respect was obvious. We had truck drivers, women, men and children all wave and give is the thumbs up or fist in the air with big smiles. Sometimes when we were stopped people would walk over 500m or so just to come and shake our hands!

Keen to shake our hands…

At least the big hill climbs in the afternoon were in the cool and wet. Rolling down the other side was a treat, speed hit 50kph or more on the last hill, we had a great surface no sharp turns and so we happily rolled and rolled all the way into Rabat.

A shop stop proved a bonus – offering us a dry place to put up our tent. And no surprise we were also gifted some dry cheese balls (a delicacy we are trying to develop a taste for (more on that later, and some chocolates and dates.)

Our dry place while the tropical thunderstorm, howling wind, lightening, thunder and rain raged.
Our wonderful host – she was at home alone coz her husband was off having a kidney transplant (kidney diease a major issue here)
The very well stocked shop

Joy joy joy – we (well Adrienne actually) cooked dinner on our new stove, no smell of paint thinner, no black smoke, no blackened pots just clean gas and a quick easy really delicious meal. (Thanks Akbar – the effort was really worth it.)

Wandering after dinner I’m invited in across the road for chai. I explain I’ve already eaten but still get offered bread – and butter from the cow and much food. I manage a little though am really full from dinner.

Our neighbour across the road
The wide open spaces and rolling hills of Kazakhstan

As I get up to go I am given a bag full of bread and kazak dougnuts, a bag full or dried cheese balls and then as we are walking out apples from the tree. The doughnuts are great, not too oily, much lighter than bread and not sweet or salty. The cheese balls – well am still trying to develop a taste for them.

We were gifted some from our host and now have another bag – at least 1.5kg of dried cheese balls. .

Carrying an extra 1.5 kg of something you are not sure you will eat is challenging – but so is leaving behind something you have been gifted, especially when its a local delicacy and gifted from people who dont have much. So we pack it up, grateful and hopeful (that we’ll find other traveller to share it with!).

Leaving Rabat is smooth and easy – the road surface is fabulous – in fact the best we have ridden on – and we are riding a slight downward gradient, there is silence as our bike roll along, its blissful. What fabulous roads they have in Kazakhstan!

Leaving Rabat

Within 5 mins of leaving town there are roadworks – so much for a smooth ride.

We have the option to ride a little further and risk the road being blocked and having to ride back up the hill on the gravel or to turnaround now and ride the long way. After the wonderful night shelter and glorious morning we are up for the risk.

Even the roadworks here are better than many roads we have ridden on
Its a good decision we make it through the roadworks onto a very quiet back road then a short ride on the expressway and into Shymkent

We arrive into Shymkent just before another bout of rain – we dont have much information but end up at a park just near the city hostel. Shymkent is modern and cosmopolitan – more so than anywhere we went in Uzbekistan. It’s the third largest city in Kazakhstan. We re not sure if we’ll stay very long – but once we check in we decide on two nights. Hot showers, good wifi and an interesting city to wander helps make our decision.

Shymkens summer park
The back streets of Shymkent
Sand castle or stone castles they all bring joy

We sit in mall after an early dinner waiting for the lights to come on. It’s not long before someone comes along to practice their English and we get to find out more about the country and its politics.

The lights are beautiful

So yes there are elections – but the result is predetermined. Yes there are some places in Kazakhstan that are more progressive than others – Shymkent being one of the those places. Here for the first time we have seen many girls out riding bikes, and even 2 young women kitted up in full cycling gear (road cycling not touring).

So we have SIM cards, good wifi and a chance to see and speak with family – technology is so fantastic these days and of course a chance to update the blog. In case you’re wondering – no I’m not carrying a laptop or iPad – just a phone and lightweight folding keyboard -which I can thoroughly recommend.

Uzbekistan ay have started it – but Kazakhstan is continuing on in fine style -already impressing us with warmth and generosity. Feeling dry, happy and tired.

The joy of wide open spaces, rolling green hills and the promise of clear mountain streams is not missed on us. One more sleep then we are off into the mountains – no doubt the climbs will be challenging and slow and absolutely worth it!

(D)Rama Done

Well nearly. We arrived at the beginning of Ramadan and we leave just a day before the big parties. In true fashion we are eking our the adventure to the very end. Our visa expires tomorrow midnight. We’ve spent the afternoon in search of a camp stove – assisted by the incredibly helpful Akbar – who will be opening an AirBNB next year and we can already highly recommend his services! It’s been raining torrentially, flooding has already started on the roads.

Within 45 minutes of torrential rain there was flooding

We met him at 3pm it’s nearly 7 – he has postponed his work twice – and we not only have what we need, we also found an Asian shop so now have dried shiitake mushrooms and seaweed (which when you struggle to get vegetarian food is very very very exciting! Small things I know. So one more sleep and then the next adventure begins…

Last Friday, we were in Nukus and knew we had to be out of the country by Tuesday via TashKent which was 858km away. There weren’t enough days to ride and anyway a train journey sounds relaxing after all that mud, dust, potholes and headwinds right? Not exactly.

With Michel who will also be on the train – but heading to Samarkand
All ready to climb aboard

It’s 1am Friday night – I am laying – very still on my narrow top berth afraid of rolling over a landing 5 feet below. There are 6 beds in each section, 4 long and wide, two short and narrow. No guessing which ones we ended up with. I have a chance to experience what many of my taller family and friends do regularly – head and toes touching the end of the shelf – I’ve decided calling it a bed is stretching it.

I’m lucky though I am by an open window. Fresh air is the upside. The down sides – the window opens in and so reduces my already narrow shelf by a few inches and of course there’s the noise. No gentle rhythm just the percussion section of an orchestra warming up and the sweet pungent perfume of burning diesel.

The train ride will be 20 hours – we are just over 5 hours in. Patience grasshopper. Patience.

And at least we have great travelling companions An Ni from China and Nic from Malaysia as well as Michel and of course a whole warm friendly Uzbek family sharing our section of the train and an English teacher next door.

Michel, An Ni and Nic
Peri with friend

We arrive at about 3pm – and with help unload, then reload our bikes and we’re off into Tashkent traffic and heading back to what has quickly become our home base, Sebzhor district.

Makhsuda at home – there to greet us

Arrival is often about cleaning ourselves and our clothes and this time our bikes as well. The muddy roads have taken their toll and the clean up takes a while (as does the clean up of ourselves). So we do little else – just settle in to home. And of course chat with Nargiza, Hilola, Alesha and Makhsuda – our Tashkent family.

The next day we are back on the amazing subways of Tashkent. Approaching each station I feel the excitement and delight of a 5 year old – where everything is new and wonderful – wondering what visual delight we will be treated to. We have a destination – we are meeting Firdavs – our guide from Samarkand. We made a small pottery purchase while in Samarkand but of course couldn’t take it on the bikes so he has offered to make the 600+km round trek by bus to deliver it for us.

It’s the cosmonaut station – celebrating the numerous cosmonauts !
Subway travel – we are always always given a seat!

It’s wonderful to see Firdavs and we wander through places we haven’t yet seen in Tashkent, Amir Temur park, and find somewhere to eat. It isn’t long before we hear raucous laughter, an Australian accent and the slow drawl of USA’s south (North Carolina). We all sit together sharing stories and laughter until it is time to go.

Sue (I think) – and Lynn (from North Carolina – I hope I’ve hot that right)
Adrienne hoeing down on the hot wedges 😁
Our lunch with the lovely Firdavs

So Tashkent- so Uzbekistan it’s been wonderful- people of Uzbekistan you’ve been amazing. We’ll be back in August. For now we’re off to Kazakhstan and the adventures that lie beyond the border.

Kazakhstan is about a third the size of Australia though its population is almost 20 million – so not quite as sparsely populated as Aus – but still much more sparse than Uzbekistan.

25km and a border crossing and we’ll be there. So perhaps no wifi for a while and no comms till we can get SIM cards and money and that sort of thing, so until then, love and much joy from us both. Thanks for all your messages – we love getting them, keep up the good work!

So in celebration of World bicycles day yesterday – we are off until next time 🙂

Part two – Head west they said..

The old fortress across the river
Crossing the pontoon

Our feet and bikes are caked in mud. The space between the mudguards and tyre jammed with thick mud. It takes every bit of strength to push through it … of course there was the option to leave the bike by the road and just walk in. One of us did that.

Gyaur kala – one of 50 mud brick fortresses still surging but crumbling
The bike give you some sense of the size of the fortress

As we climb aboard I realise I left left our Satellite tracker back at our campsite. An hour plus ride or hitch. I opt to hitch. For the first half an hour I think I have made the wrong decision- then finally a car comes and stops. It is a grandfather and his granddaughter. I climb in. About 5 kilometres later I am dropped off – he is turning off, his grand daughter starts crying – she is about 18 months old – and he can’t get me out quick enough. Not long after another car stops. It is full. Two men in front, 3 in back plus small boy. The somehow make room for me – four grown men and one boy in the back. I am dropped back at the covered market area. The stall holder waves and is holding up my tracking device!

Meanwhile back with the bikes, Adrienne is patiently knitting

A taxi takes me back to the pontoon but won’t go any further. Thankfully, there are motorbikes with side carts and I’m invited on for the last few kilometres.

My ride back across the pontoon

The rain has all stopped and we head off in search of water – by now our supplies are getting low. As the roads dry, the dust starts swirling.

There are mines probably sand mines along the road and a few camels too
The scene looks a little like something from Mad Max
Trucks are pretty good – there’s almost no road trains and they generally move over

Just as our water runs out we reach the Uzbek version of a roadhouse. More eggs, tomato and cucumber salAd and bread and lots of water. It’s getting hot now. Only about 80 kms to go and it will be on the main road so we foolishly think that will be quick.

We hit the trifecta- bad road surface, headwind and hills.

The highway

As are lucky to have long hours of daylight. Sun rises just after 5am and sets not long before 9pm. It was a long hot dry and dusty afternoon and evening.

A mausoleum along the highway
The earth is dry and cracked – any rain just runs off
Cyclist and truck sharing the roads that is often three vehicles abreast going in various directions!

Finally at around 9pm we roll into Nukus. Michel is at the hostel to greet us. He excitedly shares our exploits with other travellers. We are hot, very tired, dirty and hungry. It is great to have a helping hand to find some food before we eat wash and crash.

We have two days – and an amazing collection of Russian art held in what is known as the lost Louvre of Uzbekistan

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2019/may/21/lost-louvre-uzbekistan-savitsky-museum-banned-art-stalin

Recognise this?

The museums are an art lovers paradise! One more day absorbing it all then we’re on a train for about 21 hours from here back to Tashkent.

Head west they said…

Khiva’ s iconic squat tower

And we climbed on our bikes yet again – but the ride was short just to the car station to find a car to take us and our bikes to Khiva – that was Plan A. Mohina met us there – via a few unintended detours on our part. It seemed cars could not take the bikes but there was a train at 1am, so at least another good option.

Mohina – an English teacher who was very keen to help including getting up early in her day off to meet us!

But of course, standing around, being relaxed, things can change. By now Mohina has left, and we had met Michel. A French Israeli or and Israeli Frenchman who lives on Wallis Fortuna in the Pacific with a passion for travel and adventure. He was also heading to Khiva and was looking for other travellers to share a ride with. ( he also happened to be born in Sept 62 (2 days before me) and was finishing his trip in July to return to Paris for his dads 90th – I head back in August for Dads 90th!).

Michel

After lots of no answers, it is not possible- as often has happened it was all of a sudden an option. There was a car with a roof rack- yes yes it was possible. And so with much trepidation my part – bikes were lifted on the roof rack and tied on.

Loaded but not convinced
Three passengers, 10 panniers (counting handlebar bags), one large backpack and we’re off f!

For the next hour we travelled along one of the worst roads we have been on. It was baked mud. The car rolled and bounced and rolled back the other way all while I held my breathe. Thankfully the driver was careful and the rolling was reasonably slow at least. If you can imagine a four wheel drive track full of potholes and ditches but with edges smoothed through rain and wear – well that was the road we were on, but in an old two wheel drive with precious cargo tied to the roof with rope and icky straps!

It looks better than it was!

We stopped along the way, it was hot and dry and we experienced our first Uzbek truck stop

Washing up before lunch
Truck stop lunch
About half way there Buxoro to Khiva

Finally we arrived at Inchon Kala – Khivas old city where we will be staying. It is very hot, but agin the spectacular scene and the warm welcome (plus some air conditioning) help us settle in quickly. Being inside the old city feels good, it is small and contained and not to full of tourists – unlike the Bukhara spice festival.

It is surrounded by a continuously curving wall that you can walk around providing a great vista for both inside and outside the city.

The city walls of Inchon kala
For the effort of a climbing a dark winding staircase up the minaret we are rewarded with framed glympses of this beautiful city
One of the locals

Unlike many “Old Cities” that are tourist destinations- Khiva is full of local people who live there. Our hosts at are AirBnB are wonderful. We are the first guests and every effort is made to make us happy – including an amazing vegetarian feast for dinner, and then again for breakfast. Lucky we have decided to ride from here to Nukus so we can burn off so we can burn off some of this food.

Our wonderful Khiva hosts
At our outside dinner table
The Khiva minaret
Just another local

It’s so easy, on the foot and on the eye we spend most of our time in the old city, there is of course more to see outside as well – but there’s only so much time…

The watchtower at dawn
Floor, ceiling, walls and doors – it’s all spectacular
Khiva tiles had a green we hadn’t seen before
Most of the mosaics include quotes from the Koran
Like kids everywhere playgrounds are wherever you make them

Khiva is a wonderful rest, but time is running out in Uzbekistan- we have a 30 day visa and we only have just over a week left. We still want to see Nukus and the. Get back to Tashkent with a few days to spare. The ride is about 160kms. We think we can do that in 2 days – though of course we never know what the roads, the weather if the gradient will be like.

Our breakfast stop – having left at 5am we decide to have breakfast on the road
We stop in what we think is a chai shop! It isn’t but we get chai anyway – gifted as often happens .
Peri as always is a great source of interest

We left Khiva staying away from the main roads both seeking the quiet of the countryside. The roads were good and apart from some rain we made good progress.

Riding through the fields of cotton, rice, wheat and corn there are always industrious women at work

By mid afternoon we are looking for a spot to stop and eat – they are becoming more sparse. We are also hopeful of some Ymir’s than what has become our standard fare, eggs usually fried occasionally boiled, cucumber tomato salad with garlic and dill and bread lots of it. Carbs other than bread is a constant challenge. (Unless you strike it lucky with plov).

Despite the limited options we stop anyway. We eat and the rain starts. A full torrential tropical storm erupts, thunder, lightening and buckets and buckets of rain. Of course as it eases I’m keen to crack on – wanting to get half way. Adrienne in her wisdom suggests an early dry start and as the clouds crack open again I am convinced.

Within minutes the ground resembles the bubbling mud pools of Rotorua

So we stay put hopeful of finding somewhere dry to camp. Our initial requests fall on deaf ears, but we stay put anyway. A very short stroll, watching more bread get made in the tandir and then into the covered market stand.

It’s a hot hard job but the bread is impressive wach area stamped with its own particular stamp before going in the tandir
And yes thankfully we have somewhere dry – under the covered market

We’re on the road early. It’s very wet, muddy and blissfully quiet. It’s slow, dodging potholes of every size, it’s a truck route do very worn and bumpy but after the rain it’s dust free, quiet and just glorious.

After 10kms – which takes at least an hour in those conditions- we are rewarded by reaching the pontoon and a distant view of one of many old mud brick fortresses.

Sugar and spice and all things nice…

Those in the know had warned me Uzbekistan may not exactly be a vegetarian heaven. As if it wasn’t strange enough to have two grandmotherly types (certainly in the eyes of locals that’s exactly who they compare us to) arrive on bicycles, to have us then try and explain we are vegetarian is sometimes more than they can bear.

Bukhara’s annual spice festival – another lucky break!

Of course sometimes we strike it rich, Feruza, our rescuer in Ishtyxon, spoke a little English and so understood we were vegetarian – so for much she made us pizza – no meat of course…though it did smell like meat so thought I should double check – no meat, definitely no meat…. just sausage – and was crestfallen that we would consider that meat. There is lots of meat and many local dishes have meat as their base but fortunately it’s spring and so in addition to all the meat dishes there are salads too and lots of fresh herbs. Dill and coriander flavour most of the salads.We’ve taken to lunch time salads whenever we can- fresh vegetables are such a treat in a diet heavy with sugar, cream, bread and pastries.

Bread is served with just about everything – with the favoured dip being egg white beaten with sugar until strong white peaks occur – that’s right – meringue – only you dont cook it – you just dip your bread in it.

As Adrienne doesn’t eat bread – or hardly any so I feel I have to do my bit 😉

We rolled into the outskirts of Bukhara on a tail wind, though the pace the slow as we meandered though small gravel and baked mud tracks. There were no trucks whizzing by, no horns, no offers of chai, it was quiet and peaceful and we could just roll our legs over and take it all in.

The peace was blissful

The road looks better than it felt. Each crack and hole had to be carefully ridden.

Being in cities our experiences are very different to being on the road, there is still warmth and generosity, but we also have to accept that we are tourists. While we see ourselves as travellers and it feels like that is how we are seen where on our bikes, once we get to the city and park our bikes and walk – we are transformed in the eyes of others and we are included in the general throng of tourists. It’s a very different place and takes some time to adjust to – so despite the clean clothes and showers – we often find ourselves quickly longing for the country. A bus trip with a wonderful teacher and students, then ending up at the local markets made us feel a little like the obvious tourists we are.

Always keen to practice English – at least hello and my name is …
Lunch with locals
More wonderful women from the market
It’s unusual not to see a golden smile – more people seem to have gold teeth than not
Lots of free samples for us to try – and it didn’t just feel like a sales strategy !

One of the many joys of being on our bikes is we are often joined -by another cyclist – most often young men – but they are happy, interested and chatty and it is a delight to ride alongside them for the few kilometres they join one of us.

Azamat – my co-rider
Or if not other riders – excited schoolchildren running to catch us and say hello

Bukhara like Samarkand (and Khiva where we are heading tomorrow) are major historic cities on the Silk Road, full of spectacular Islamic architecture and beautiful finely woven silks, both carpet and fabric, rich embroideries, many other fabrics and of course spices. So after the usual washing of clothes and selves we ventured out to explore our new surrounds. (We both bought outfits we felt more comfortable wandering in – so could happily take to the streets without standing out anymore than necessary.

A splash of orange never hurts!

The minaret is one of the defining architectural features of Bukhara, its striking in its simplicity. Unlike the flamboyant and conspicuous Samarkand, Bukhara’s architecture, while still awe inspiring, is more subtle, using large expanses of plain brickwork to accentuate the shapes and flow of buildings. (There is still of course plenty of colour)!

The minaret
Khalon mosque – with separate prayer areas for men and women (many of the other mosques have been men only)
Here there are more buildings in ruin
The Ark fortress – being decorated for the festival!
The minaret – striking in its simplicity
The covered bazaar – full of textiles
A quiet moment listening to the women’s prayer
The joy of backlighting
There is more colour around the entrances and inside

After a short stroll we wind our way to the women’s hammom – a bathhouse where we will be steamed and scrubbed and massaged, with the passion and enthusiasm we have come to expect from the Uzbeks. It felt good to feel so clean – though laying on the hot stone floor – it was hard not to have your nostrils full of smells of the DNA of the thousands of woman who had laid here before you.

Clean as a whistle

Wandering the streets as well as visiting old palaces and being in the bazaars, the vibrancy of colour and the style with which it is worn and combined is hard to miss. As the days go by the vast range in quality is also becoming obvious, the tightness in weave, the fabrics, the length and evenness of the stitch… particularly on the Suzanis – embroidered cloth. Then there’s all the weaving – stunning design of every colour imaginable. Seeing it all worn together, the scarves, tops, trousers or skirts, under layers, over layers – often all different is a feast for the eyes.

So many stunning Suzanis
So many different fabrics
Lots of rich velvet with gold
The ikat cloth being woven

The annual silk and spices festival started today – a parade, lots of colour, and lots of noise, large horns, drums and the noise of a happy excited crowd. The rain dampened the grass but didnt dampen anyone’s spirit.

There was lots of music and dancing too
Colour everywhere you look

And while it is different in the cities, there is still warmth, generosity and curiosity. It may not. Be as dramatic as offers of chai and a bed for the night, instead its telling you to go first when waiting in the toilet queue, offering you a more comfortable chair, giving you food to try when they know you have no intention of buying.

Apart from genuine curiosity and interest, the Uzbek people we have spoken to also feel a great sense of containment. For many they would love to travel – initially the preferred destination seemed to be USA but lately that seems to have changed to Australia – but its almost impossible for them to get visas – and if the Aust government travel warnings are anything to go by – its more than possible that the views of Aust Government are very outdated. Of course in addition to the challenges of international travel, there is containment around expectation – particularly for women, with expectations of marriage generally a non negotiable. It’s a great joy to be riding along seeing women working in fields give us a big thumbs up as we ride by – it feels like they both approve of and are impressed by our freedom to ride.

There were also sports on display as part of the festival
And mastercraft demonstratiosn and workshops

I tried without success to find the blacksmithing workshop but did see some of their amazing workshops, tools and finished products.

So many interesting architectural features – inside and out
More ikat weaving
Working on a Suzani
Working for photos

Tonight we met Mohina and so tomorrow morning she has offered to come with us to help us organise a ride to Khiva ( not a bicycle ride this time – our time is running out and we’re keen to get to Khiva and Nukus. ) she is coming with us simply because she thought it would help, there is no expectation beyond that.

So it will be a mix of transport to Khiva- though until it happens we won’t know really know just what type of transport it will be – train, shared taxi or bus – and of course if all else fails we’ll just ride somewhere.

Next stop Khiva!

On the road again

It was a much easier route out of town and we were moving well. Within an hour we got invited in for chai and by then we were ready for a stop. Another wonderful stop Azusa, Laziza, Rahmad and their family. Adrienne was whipped in a game of draughts with Fazinli the 6 year old.

Beaten – Uzbek rules 6yo style
The whole family
Twins – Rahmad and I are the same age

After the over stimulation that was Samarkand- despite how wonderful is was – it was great to be on the road again. Feeling relaxed and refreshed with a bag of clean clothes we headed off.

Back on the road again and we saw the black clouds rolling in. At first small drops, then more and more. As it slowed we stopped for lunch but then it started again so we moved on. We eventually found shelter in a bus stop and sat watching the clay fields turn to lakes and the potholes turn into very full bathtubs.

Setting off riding again we where then riding on roads that looked like lakes – so we crossed our fingers at rode slowly – hopeful we wouldn’t end up in any invisible bathtub. If you were looking on at a distance you would have seen to very bedraggled cyclists occasionally having big brown muddy showers as cars sped by through the lake.

As always whenever we stop we have people of all ages and sizes come to say hello

Looking for a place to put our tents was challenging- it was a choice between setting up on clay/mud or setting up on water. So no choice really. We then started looking for a garage or shed or something. Unlike every other day, the streets didn’t feel as welcoming. There were only men on the streets for the first time. The air was full of testosterone- just like some places at home. So we didn’t feel like stopping. When we did we were again blessed. Enter Feruza.

Ferusa making breakfast- fried bread with a chilli tomato sauce

In addition to being a teacher, she also runs a small breakfast bar. One of the regulars is Doctor Oktom who runs a medical clinic around the corner. (And they just happen to have rooms and beds!!!) so we not only found somewhere dry, but a room, beds , shower and toilet!)

The medical clinic
With Doctor Oktom at the clinic

The cost of being rescued was being kidnapped agAin. Despite our plan – We did not go anywhere – Feruza wanted to have us come to stay, show us her village, make us vegetarian plov and then bring us back tomorrow. So we’re going with the flow – though it took me a while to just relax into that 😊 We did initially politely decline, several times (though considering the offer who knows why) though it seemed no was not going to be an acceptable answer not matter how politely we declined.

It was a very slow day, which yes despite being on holidays was still a little challenging for us both, lots of sitting and drinking tea, chatting via a translation app and more tea and more tea.

Tea with Dr Oktom and his brother

The morning rolled into the afternoon which rolled us into a stroll to see the sites of Ishtyxon (pronounced Ishtickhon – we are slowly getting our head around the Russian alphabet :)). Wandering the bazaar, assaulted by colour and the smells of spices, it was a treat for many senses. Then the park – which was more like a sad fairground.

Sugar and bees at the bazaar
Women of the bazaar
Seeds for sale – lots of different types – the blue seeds are watermelon
Women of the market 2
Women of the market 3
Women of the market 4
Women of the bazaar 5

As the day wore on, we were both just a little bit concerned that our kind host didn’t seem to have any sense of urgency at all – about going home or about bringing us back for an early morning departure. Lesson number 103 – just relax, be in the moment.

It was of course all worth it. A warm welcoming family, an opportunity to try a home cooked vegetarian version of the national dish plov, and time with Bobochon – a gorgeous 6 year old that stole my 💔.

Looking at Feruza’s embroidery
So many beautiful blankets
So many we had to dress up in them 🙂
Bobochon – who chatted with me for hours despite us having so shared language
Making plov
The finished product – rice, potato, egg and carrot
Another fabulous garden to eat from
The baby’s room

The babies room was an amazing thing – from 0-3 they eat and sleep here. They are lain down strapped in and then have either of two wooden pipes pressed on their genitals pending gender. You can see Bobochon holding them in the photo! We were given a demonstration which Bobochon thought hilarious.

The pipe then went through a hole in bed to a potty

So no Disposable nappies at least. It did seem strange but also amazing and clearly it was a place Bobochon had very happy memories of, of being rocked to sleep with a full belly.

Once inside, arms and legs strapped in and then the curtains are deawn and then the baby is rocked to sleep

It was a very late night and an early morning but the wander through the village to the local taxi was a great way to end a very special stay.

One of the woman of the village
Heading back into town to collect our bikes and gear

Back on the road again, we committed to getting a good few kilometres in before we think about another stop. That means saying no quite a few times but finally a car pulls up next to us and a very polite well spoken young man asks us to stop and chat. We do so in the shade, standing alongside a large group of women who are trimming the grass.

They are buoyant happy and chatting

And so yes we say yes to visiting his home – his English is good he’s about to go to the UK on a three year scholarship to study law. He and his family are delightful – and we do not undervalue the chance to chat and ask questions

Two boys and two girls in the family – all delightful

It’s another hot day but we cover good ground then take a long afternoon break laying down in a tea house.

Upright before crashing for an hour or two
Another lovely warm Uzbek – interested in our photo of Aus and NZ and then gave us a thermos of tea for the road .

Yet another day or being overwhelmed with hospitality and kindness. We often need to stop and buy more water and sometimes even milk if that’s available. I went into a shop and was greeted by an old man – long white beard, long tunic. He looked much like the Muslim clerics so often negatively portrayed in the Australian media. When I went to pay – he wouldn’t accept – he motioned that It was hot and I was riding so to please just take them. Despite my initial protestations I went on my way with the gifts.

Finding a campsite in the regions we’ve been in is pretty challenging – 30 million people and they all seem to be right where we are. It didn’t help we had been on the expressway so very built up areas. We took a stony side road full of pot holes, and bounced our way along. Tried a few smaller roads and eventually thought we’ve found somewhere but the local farmer suggested somewhere else a little further away.

We eventually settled in a paddock with a few cows and plenty of grass.

10.30 at night we are woken by another farmer – perhaps this is his field. He seems upset by something but thankfully we are not moved on!

Everything liked a little brighter in the morning

At last we are off the expressway on the back roads again. With early starts we need breakfast at least twice😎 then sometimes lunch twice too!

Another gift of freshly baked bread
Unfortunately all the comca’s were meat based
As always we had lots of visitors come along to say hello

Up into more beautiful country, some much like Australia though browner rather than red hues.

The elephants in the distance are actuate tractor

As the afternoon wore on we choose our destination – Qizilitepa

Another cyclist albeit going the other way

It was hot and dry and absolutely spectacular.

As the afternoon wore on we chose our destination Qizilitepa – though we needed a second lunch stop be then.

The feast developed slowly – at first there was nothing but mat available
Our kind host – who thankfully had an English speaking wife in the phone

More overwhelming generosity- this time we were give. an explanation – “because it is Ramadan – Allah is pleased when we feed others and help them” “it is good for us”. So I’m not sure if it’s all been about that – I don’t think so but it has probably contributed to it.

We hit Qizilitepa late afternoon – looking for a Hotel given the challenge of finding camp spots in built up areas. Even finding a hotel was challenging- though as always we landed on our feet. Our dusty dirty gritty selves were shown the presidential suite. Too hot and tired to ask much we said yes straight away!

After a glass or ice cold sparkling mineral water (I dont think there’s a better drink after a hot ride) I was bursting and very keen to use the bathroom.

I went up and was just about to go when I head a knock at the door. A young woman came in – asked me for a photo, took a selfie with me and left. It didn’t end there… After a shower and a meal we were ready for bed – it’s now 9.30pm. Another knock at the door – enter two young women (who work here). They take turns checking themselves in the mirror, take selfies with me then leave. Such is life in Uzbekistan 🇺🇿! Next stop Bukhara!