We tidied up the camp and were on our way again by 8.30am. This isn’t a group that mucks about, and Neil, our leader is very good at keeping the pace cracking along. Apparently he’s ex-military and had several tours of duty in Afghanistan and Eritrea before joining Dragoman. He’s a very amiable, shrewd and capable guy who manages to remain unflustered through the various vicissitudes of guiding our group.
After a short visit to another historic shrine we headed up the road to Dashguz where we had lunch in the bazaar. Cavan and I got a meal at one of the tea rooms where we shared a table with other shoppers. There was only one item on the menu – a sandwich of juicy spiced meat, sandwiched between a wedge of fresh flatbread. All this washed down with bottomless cups of green tea. I’m feeling much better and my appetite has returned.
It’s always a strange experience to be a tourist, particularly in a place which is still relatively free of the pesky breed. I was alone, waiting for Cavan, when a woman rushed up to me, wrapped her arm around my waist and pulled me to her. I immediately feared I was being robbed, but no, she wanted a selfie, clicked away and left me with a warm smile and her thanks.
One of our group had stuffed up their visa application for Uzbekistan and had to stay on the Turkmenistan side of the border for twenty four hours until it becomes valid tomorrow. We watched her go off to her plush looking hotel with some envy. We are all grubby, incredibly dusty and longing for a nice shower.
The actual process of crossing the border from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan was a tedious and prolonged business. We had to take all our belongings off the truck, lug them through the checkpoint where they were x-rayed, and then reload them the other side. Fortunately we still had Slava with us to ease the process, but it still took the group two hours to be cleared through the check point.
The sad thing is that we were in fact ‘fast tracked’ because we were tourists. The poor locals were left queuing for hours in the hot sun. They were carting large bolts of calico and packs of woven sacks, the kind used for grain and horse-feed. I assume there’s a market for this in Uzbekistan, but it’s hard to fathom.
Unfortunately, when we reached the Uzbekistan border, some 100 metres up the road, we discovered that another of our group had stuffed up their visa as well and also wasn’t entitled to enter the country for twenty four hours. It only took half an hour for us to be cleared through into Uzbekistan, but we had to wait another hour while Neil sorted out the problem.
Fortunately our companion was escorted back to Turkmenistan to join Fiona at her hotel for the night, and they’ll cross together tomorrow.
It was a great relief to arrive at our hotel in Khiva. It had taken a two hour drive from the border, and no, the roads are no better this side of the border than they were in Turkmenistan.
That said, there is obvious and immediate evidence that things are a lot more prosperous in Uzbekistan. The houses are of good quality – some of them extensive and attractive places you’d be happy to see in New Zealand. The land too is in better condition; the paddocks larger and well maintained, stock healthier and there is a general air of prosperity.
Our hotel is set close to the fortress of Khiva itself, and after a quick shower and woefully inadequate scrub-up we went to dinner in a local restaurant. The restaurant was within the fort, so our first sight of Khiva was by night. The food was great and for the first time this trip I managed to find some decent wine.
Musicians started playing and women were dancing. I approached to get a photograph and was promptly pulled into the ring of dancers. There didn’t seem to be too many rules to the dance, but a lot of arm gestures and booty shaking was involved. I had a great time.
Cavan joined me and ended up dancing with the men – some sort of Greek kicking thing.
We got back to the hotel and collapsed into bed.
First night in Khiva
Dancing the night away