Once again I was deeply surprised after having crossed the border: in just a few hundred meters, people behave themselves differently, landscapes changed drastically. Bye Tadjikistan, welcome in Uzbekistan!
|Uzbek road after Denau.|
|Registan, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.|
After the friendly but highly chaotic crossing of the Uzbek Border, I found myself cycling in a totally new country. The outside temperature seemed to have raised drastically when crossing the border. The density of people increased even more. Cotton growing became dominant. People were friendly like never before, showing an incredible hospitality, but showed also less respect in regard to our western education: they constantly whistled and yelled at me, tried (and often succeeded) to stop me while cycling to shake hands, take a picture or ask the typical question 'atkuda?' (where are you from / where are you heading to?)... A brutal change after the respectful Tadjiks.
|Uzbek women selling living poultry on the road. They stopped me by blocking the road, asking if I wanted to buy a turkey, or marry one of her!|
And I was rich like never before, or at least I had the feeling when I changed 50 dollars and ended with nearly 140.000 som. The money is changed at the black market, and, sign of a degenerating economy, moneychangers offer 2750 som for 1$, when official banks gives less than 2100 som: 30% difference! You need to change your wallet to a plastic bag, as the biggest bill is only 1000 som.
|50$, or 137500 Som...|
The first night in Uzbekistan was spent in Boris's garden, because I couldn't find a place to put the tent the last twenty kilometers, and the night was coming. I asked the middle-aged man if I could put the tent between trees in his orchard behind the house, and he immediately accepted. He was disassembling a truck's motor with his two hands but only seven fingers: he lost his right thumb-index-middle finger in a motor five years ago! I helped him to finish the job, sometimes using hands and feet, to loosen nuts and rusted pieces. He explained me that the motor was really dead (which is an exception in those countries, where every motor have more lifes than a cat), and that he wanted to collect all the pieces to make a bit of money by selling them. I was enjoying the concept of recycling, until he started to light a big fire, where he threw all the cables, intending to burn the plastic sheaths, to recover metals... I was watching sadly the rainbow-coloured flames, when he brought the first vodka bottle. I was in the mood to drink that evening, so we sat next to the tent and I cooked spaghetti with peperoni for us two, while drinking vodka in bowl. Nice guy and nice evening!
|Herder and his donkey in the desert.|
|Hot climb after Shahrisabz.|
The ride was really hot, and surprisingly not flat at all! East of Uzbekistan is quite hilly and I ended climbing more than 1000 meters a day under a bright sun. Mountainous landscapes are beautiful in this arid country, and the colour-palette really impressive. It was just sad to have a living example of an ecological disaster who started under the soviet era: they once decided to make an intensive irrigation in the country to produce cotton and other crops. They wanted to be the biggest producer of cotton in the world, and you know one result of this politic: Aral sea is now nearly empty, leaving a devastated dusty region! So from one valley to another, I cycled between orgy of cotton and watermelons fields, or in a dry desert, with no plants at all, depending whether or not they irrigate it. Nothing have really changed with cotton policy since 1991, Independence of Uzbekistan, and election of Islam Karimov (he became president in 1990, and he is in 2013 still there - before letting soon the power to his daughter Gulnara, maybe?). During cotton harvest ('Pahta') in fall, students, soldiers and villagers are forced to go working in the fields. It was not rare to see children working. I saw 3 convoys of buses, sometimes full of students or peasants, sometimes empty, with at least 50 buses per convoy: impressive! Only way to escape this forced-labor: pay a peasant to do it at your place if you're rich, or try to claim medical problem, but you may be unlucky, like one of the pop star of Uzbekistan a few days ago (http://tinyurl.com/qgfll7q for more information).
|Cotton picking in Uzbekistan.|
|Bus convoy bringing students, soldiers or villagers to cotton fields.|
One positive point of the irrigation policy is that fruits and vegetables are incredibly tasteful, due to the big amount of sun and water. I had to come to Uzbekistan to really know how taste tomatoes and watermelons. It will be hard to eat them in Europe, where they taste like nothing.
|The best watermelons ever...|
Uzbekistan may in some point be irritant for travellers. Everybody tells a different story, but as far as I understood, tourist have to register in hotel at night. So you end collecting registration papers, which you should present at policemen whenever they ask for them. You're allowed to have maximum three gaps during your whole stay. If you are backpacking, everything is OK, because you're moving from city to city, where you find hotels and guesthouses. But if you're cycling, it's an other story. I soon learned that they are more easy-going than I was told, maybe because I was cycling, and ended quite often sleeping in my tent. Other stupidity: you declare all the currencies in cash that you have when you enter the country, and you have to leave the country with less, or you may be fined!
|Night spot in the desert.|
I decided to end this bicycle trip here in Uzbekistan, and let Iran for another time, backpacking instead of cycling. I never saw Alina during all the trip. Not easy! Incertitude with the Turkmen visa; the hurry that it would have meant to be at the Turkmen border, a few days after entering Uzbekistan; the idea of having to cross the 500 kms of Turkmenistan in less than five days; my demotivation to cycle in deserts again or simply cycle under the heat: all of this helped me to make the decision of riding to Tashkent and find a flight from there.
I then enjoyed the ride in Uzbekistan as it deserves: taking time to go off-road to the mountains, taking time to visit main touristic cities, taking time to read during the midday heat in tea-houses, taking time to find best places ever to camp and watch the sun go down... If I chose to travel like this, it was of course to discover new countries and cultures, but it was also to have time! This precious time, that tends to slip through our fingers in our western life!
|Reading, resting and eating at Lutfi's home.|
|It was still really hot at the end of September|
|The headless herder?|
|Canyons formation near Boysun.|
|Dry fruits at the bazaar.|
|Mountainous formation near Boysun.|