A day walking around Bukhara – done in a couple of hours really, including the inside of the Ark (the old fort). Spent most of remainder of the day trying to figure out alternatives to sitting down and drinking beer. While sitting down and drinking beer.
Uzbekistan – not much petrol to be had. Nearly all cars are running on one of several derivations of natural gas, with lots of “Metan” or “Propan” stations available. “Benzine” or “Petrol” – not so much… and where there are some, they’re often selling only 80-grade petrol. Not sure how the bike will handle that, but need to ask the owners of the bike if it would be acceptable in an emergency. But today – made the journey, with the petrol sign flashing a warning for several dozen miles… but made it.
Rode from Khiva to Bukhara – the second of the “Big Three” Silk Road cities in Uzbekistan… many miles of boring highway on fresh concrete roads, and quite a few miles on “in-progress” motorway… at best, pot-hole trap-filled sections (feeling good about dodging a few potholes, then see a six-foot wide 1-foot deep trench I’m about to hit)… and some simply “this isn’t road, this is just base rock with remnants of road gravel with pits”.
A late afternoon recon of Bukhara – suggests it’s a slightly bigger version of Khiva. Full day tomorrow to wander about a bit more, but I’m figuring the day is going to go similarly to Khiva. Although I might need to re-stock on local currency… I don’t know how, but 1 million Som didn’t seem to stretch that far.
Probably the first “proper” Silk Road town on the trip. And pretty cool. Had no idea what to expect, wandered into the “Old City” yesterday evening – and discovered a massive wall around it made of mud. Went back in again today, had a bit of a meander… a fairly small place once you get your bearings – the north end of the Old City being actual locals/houses/kids-on-street, and the southern end – tourist-central. I believe it hit 36 today as I was walking around… but luckily I realised how small the actual number/distribution of central sights was… and punctuated the day with beers, lunch, beers, a “haircut”, beers… until I ran out of money. It turns out to be rather difficult to correctly budget how much cash one should carry, when one’s normal “wallet supply” is about the size of a brick. So – came back to the hotel, and found internet connection good enough to connect to my own website, and even post photos… albeit extremely slowly.
Local food is turning out to be rather tasty, but it’s getting a little difficult to eat sensibly when a soup, salad, main, and a couple of beers – is costing around £8. One just wants to try a little of everything… considering I think I’ve only got 4 more days here.
A very short day today (riding-wise)… last day’s stop at Dashoguz wasn’t on the schedule, but a relatively ad-hoc stop to bring us back on schedule (after the unexpected early sailing over the Caspian)… allowing for a shorter “border-day”. Just 10 miles or so to the Turkmenistan Border-Control… arriving bang-on 9am, when they open the gates. 3.5 hours later – we’d been processed through the entire border (including a reasonably serious looking “DMZ”… plenty of barbed wire, closed cast-iron gates, and the such).
Uzbekistan is looking good thus far, really friendly people (including the army guy meeting us outside first gate), and actual tourism… not sure I missed that, but Turkmenistan was weird in it’s total absence. Oh – and I’m a millionaire. Changed a bit of money into the local “Som”… and now have a little over 1.1 million Som burning a hole in my pocket. Or rather – spread all throughout my luggage, as 1.1 million Som (in 5,000 Som notes) is actually a sizable chunk of paper. Internet here is unmonitored and unrestricted – I believe, but quality is still rubbish… so probably still unable to upload photos. And it took me 24 hours until I could upload this post. Staying two nights in Khiva/Xiva – one of the principal cities on the original Silk Road, or some rubbish like that. Have had only a cursory look around this afternoon – looks like it’s going to be a long decent wander around the “Old City” tomorrow, in 35°C heat.
Nearly 400 miles of boring straight roads. Well – boring, except for the atrocious potholes at random intervals… some easily big enough to stop a bike (and rider) in its tracks. But – managed to navigate them all no problem, to get to…
Darvaza – the Door To Hell. This was my first highly-anticipated sight/site… once it was confirmed we were bypassing Iran. And yeah – didn’t disappoint. I don’t know how many people know about this place… but look it up. In a short, bastardized, probably inaccurate version… there was a gas well, one day a sinkhole opened up and it disappeared into the earth; there was a bit of methane in the air; so some guys decided to burn off any excess gas, ie: light a match, throw it in, run away, and then come back to recover the rig; good plan; nearly 50 years later… the fire’s still going. That’s enough of a back-story and general concept to have had me wanting to visit this place for many, many years.
So.. left Ashgabat very late – after noon – riding for a couple hundred miles around those goddamn potholes, and visiting a couple of “lesser” gas craters. The first one – just a sinkhole with some water in the bottom – no gas flame. Boo. Second – another sinkhole with a small bonfire down the bottom, some boiling mud, and a heap of rubbish people had obviously thrown in to burn… but missed the wee actual gas vent/bonfire. Then – got to our campsite – a few miles away from the “Gates of Hell” proper. Settled in, had beers and snacks, waiting for dinner… when some vague thunder sounds come from over the hills. Then, some very black clouds start rolling over same hills, and some very frequent lightning. The clouds becoming more and more menacing… very impressively so. It takes quite a bit to get me to talk about the weather… but this was very impressive… nearly scary. Eventually – we realised the storm wasn’t going to just skirt us, allowing some pretty sunset-vs-storm photos… but was actually going to hit us… so 10 minutes of quickly packing stuff up, turning tables upside down, and then running to tents… I got to my tent just as the rain started, and then allowed several litres of water in while trying to figure out how to close the fly-door. (After the storm I discovered… impossible, broken). 10 minutes later… storm passed, we all emerge from tents very impressed by the whole storm – and drink whisky while watching the storm sail off to hit other unsuspecting victims. I’ve seen bigger storms in the past – but only once or twice. Enough about the boring weather. Dinner, whisky, wine, beers… then finally off to the actual Darvaza Crater. Nothing at all like I expected… much smaller, and rather than one big burning “lake”… rather a crater of hundreds, thousands, of flames from crevasses. Still – rather impressive. And very difficult to get a decent photo of… but the wider internet will have plenty.
Today – a quick ride up to Dashoguz… (very quick… I left the campsite last – was first into the hotel)… for a leisurely afternoon/evening before tomorrow’s border crossing into Uzbekistan, which can apparently be a lengthy and frustrating process.
A rather, ah…, intriguing city. I’m not going to upload any photos, or any (too) controversial opinions/comments (as if I had any) – as internet access is very limited, and monitored. Just generally – bizarre. Much, MUCH, white marble everywhere… 4.5 million square metres of it, I believe – with 543 buildings covered in it? And if a building isn’t covered in marble… it’s faux-marble. 95% of the cars, buses, taxis, vans, trucks – all white. The other 5%… experimenting with silver, light shades of brown… and I believe I counted two taxis gone full-rebellious yellow. I went for a very very long walk to check out a couple of the larger monuments alone… discovering a few random things on the way. But in my full 6 hours of walking, including visiting at least 4 sites which would be considered major “tourist attractions” anywhere else… could not find a single place to buy food or water. I get the impression that everything about this city is designed to look good .. and it seems just for the locals… foreign opinion be damned (and local living standards be damned). Really hard to describe… I’d heard about a lot of this before I got here, but never really believed the scope of it would be so… utter fucking crazy.
Anyway – tomorrow evening we’re going to be “camping”, so at least one day of not being able to update… and at least another 3 days of not being allowed access to facebook or “The Fern” (strangely – NZ sports forum TheSilverFern is blocked here, along with the other ‘social media’ giants). So – next update is likely to be from either just before, or just after, crossing into Uzbekistan.