The Bishkek bubble, blizzards and balls.

Thursday 28 January

Ahhhh January you little devil you.  Colder than a witches tit, and getting colder.  But the first few weeks fly by because you’re coming down from the parties good ol’ December was throwing you, and you’re still in a daze of booze blankets, mistletoe mishaps and regret.  And then just around the corner sneaks in that absolute bastard.  February.  February can fuck off.

Winter.  It's a bitch

Winter. It’s a bitch

And so I’ve been holed up between hostel and bar, watching the white come down, trying not to break my neck on the icy streets of Bishkek.  I’ve been crossing paths with a host of wholesome and insalubrious characters, and for the most part they’ve been making it hard for me to leave.  There’s one of the funnest, friendliest Aussie girls I’ve met on the road who has pretty much been my guide to the city.  There’s the ex Marine in his 60’s turned WW2 aircraft archaeologist, who I have been affectionately calling ‘dad’.  There’s a trio of unobtainable Russian goddesses owning and rocking my home-from-home bar and helping me break my Bloody Mary record.  There’s an Indian guy from the US who has been my partner in crime on many a night and day, seeing eye to eye and putting the world to rights.  The dulcet bass tones of a shaggy-haired American, a splice of Slash and Howard Stern who drinks whisky like water.  There’s a chess playing porn film director who offered me a starring role, and an artist who wanted me to pose nude for a life drawing class for 40 bucks.  A Texan hunter and serious Jameson fan, not to mention a beautiful Kyrgyz woman whose interest I can somehow hold.  And then many an expat and local far too numerous to list here, each extending the warm hand of friendship to battle the winter cold.  Consequently I am now either in the Bishkek Bubble, or I’ve stumbled into a Coen Brothers movie.

The deserted fairground.  Crying out for blood on the snow and a suitcase full of money

The deserted fairground. Crying out for blood on the snow and a suitcase full of money

The city itself isn’t that remarkable, but it garners a certain run-down ex-soviet charm.  It’s built on a grid system which I really like (reminding me of Glasgow and making it impossible to get lost regardless of the state I find myself in).  And for all of its size (just shy of 950,000), it has a remarkable diversity of bars, restaurants, clubs and karaoke.  Many of which – much to my delight – are open 24 hours.

Pre snow.  The Osh Bazaar

Pre snow. The Osh Bazaar

And on one such occasion I go on something of an adventure, following a bender with some of the aforementioned folk.  Leaving a watering hole at 8am, I decide to frequent a karaoke.  Now I’d imagine a lot of guys at that time would either go home or to a brothel, but I demand to sing a pissed up version of “Chasing Cars” before calling it a night.  Karaoke is extremely popular here, but by the time I arrive to one regular establishment they’re closing it off.  Thus I sit and drink vodka with a load of Kyrgyz dudes who can’t speak English.  After a while I decide it’s time to brave the sunshine.

Upon exiting, I hear music and shouting coming from over the road, and at that time I naturally believed it to be a club.  So over I cross and in I go, only to discover a large sports facility, with two astroturf pitches.  One of these pitches has a load of kids aged around 7 to 10 kicking balls around.  I don’t need asking twice, even though I was never actually asked in the first place.

So I fall into the cage and start running soccer drills, penalty practice, three on three games, and Wembley singles.  Yours truly is in goal and I must have looked a strange sight.  At 10 am in the bright, blazing sunshine, a drunk foreign man diving around between the posts wearing a shirt and tie.  It’s honestly a wonder I wasn’t arrested.  When I just can’t breathe anymore and I’ve embarrassed the hell out of myself, I give all the kids a high-five and return to the safety of the bar.  I’m in bed by 1 pm, but when I wake, my arse, thighs and sides feel like they’ve been beaten with a crow bar.  Hey it was well worth it though.  I still got it.

Ala-Too Square

Ala-Too Square

Beyond the drab concrete housing blocks and bar debauchery, there’s Kyrgyzstan.  A country whose name I still can’t spell in spite of a month here, so I’ve basically resorted to hitting the letter ‘K’ and then mashing the middle of the keyboard until Chrome offers me a way out with the spell check.  But it’s beautiful here, sitting in a mountainous grandeur I’ve not seen since the Carpathians, nestled inside a block of Wall’s Viennetta.   Alas I’ve not been able to see what I really want to see or do what I want to do on account of the weather, but it’s definitely a country I would like to return to.  Most of you dearest readers will know I adore riding horses, and horses are “the wings of the Kyrgyz.” Lo! What a place to get on the back of the beast!  But alas, the treks are expensive in the off-season and the ground hard for the hoof.  Climbing back into the saddle is a country and month or two off yet.

Ala Archa Gorge

Ala Archa Gorge

But they have a fascinating national sport here called “Buzkashi”, which literally means “goat dragging.”  It’s effectively goat polo, whereby teams on horseback have to heave a goat carcass towards a goal.  I’ve been told that this carcass is gutted and filled with rocks, so you’re basically trying to lift a dead animal off the ground weighing maybe 20KG.  Trying to lift anything from the ground on horseback at speed is a challenge, and all the while you’re being beaten, kicked and punched by opposing players.  It’s incredibly violent and the “world championship” is typically (obviously) won by Kyrgyzstan every year.  However I have heard that Germany are interested in entering a team, and as with anything the Germans do, never write them off.  Alas once again however, for it is a summer sport, and I have no opportunity to either watch or play.  And yet if I could participate, I feel I’d need metal rods inserted into my hands at the final whistle.  What a shame I’m here in winter eh…?  But yet one more reason to return in warmer climes.

A hand-made goat horn horse bow and arrows.  WANT.  I've never seen such a diverse range of souvenirs for such a small country

A hand-made goat horn horse bow and arrows. WANT. I’ve never seen such a diverse range of souvenirs for such a small country

The Chinese new year is fast approaching, and as much as I would love to be across the border for the festivities, I’m just not sure it’s feasible.  I’m sitting in a cafe nursing a coffee, watching the snow come down heavily and there are worse places to be.  Shivering on the side of a freezing cold road trying to hitch a lift is one of them.  Beijing was a staggering minus 28 degrees a few nights ago, and I’m happy I’m not running the risk of a polar bear mauling.  Although the temperature is dropping rapidly and I’ve not yet got my visa, there’s still ten days before the border closes.  I’ll see how I go.  But with the hospitality and friendship I’ve experienced here, the warmth of the characters of Bishkek, and the fact that my hostel bed is right by a heating pipe, I think China is just going to have to wait.

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A nightmare in Tashkent

Sunday 20 December

As ever during the festive period I’m a little behind, so maybe it’s time (as I know many bloggers do) to employ a skivvy.  Honestly some of these entries takes hours and at the end of it I’m expected to try and promote the damn thing?  You’re all just going to have to wait.  Anyway this is a crap experience I had a few weeks back.

I wasn’t enjoying Tashkent for a number of reasons.  I was sick as a dog (which may or may not have been as a direct result of discovering and frequenting an Irish bar in town, living off communal free eggs in the hostel or just being in Uzbekistan) but nonetheless I had one of the worst nights on record with cold sweats, soaking sheets, hallucinogenic dreams and frequently sneaking into the (western) lady’s toilet do horrific things to Armitage Shanks because there was no way I was standing up for that.  It was like the recent flooding of northern England.

Great hostel, horrible bowels

Great hostel, horrible bowels

I’d also been having a shocker when it came to lifting money.  Visa machines in Tashkent are few and far between – most located in hotel foyers.  But they don’t work.  In the cold and rain, I traipsed all across the city to discover each ATM had broken down.  It was only after the 5th hotel that a manager said they were going to be out of action for days.  You can imagine my discontent.  I managed to make it to the one bank that could provide me with the ability to feed myself, only to discover that I needed to also provide my accommodation registration slip.  Couchsurfing is illegal in Uzbekistan, and everywhere you stay you have to be “registered.”  If you can’t prove where you’ve been living when you exit the country you could be in for a rough ride and a hefty fine.  You can play it fast and loose but I decided not to risk it.  Anyway apparently I needed this slip when lifting money too, but my hostel doesn’t provide it because I’ve not paid for the full stay.  I was ready to go postal.

So back I went on the underground (which incidentally is the number one sight on tripadvisor – that should tell you all you need to know about Tashkent) all the way across town to force the hostel worker to give me the slip so I could lift money.  He got a bit uppity about it, but eventually relented when I started losing the plot a little.  With time running out, the only way I could make the bank would be to take a cab.  Flagging a shared taxi down I thrust the (very clear) map into the hands of the driver, he nods agreement and off we scoot.  The clock is ticking.

But of COURSE he doesn’t know where the fuck he’s going.  Nobody does.  Nobody anywhere in this part of the world can read a map or knows where anything is.  This is no exaggeration for comic effect – they simply can’t understand maps.  You’ll get into a car with them, show them a perfectly clear, professionally produced tourist map, and they will stare at the fucking thing for an eon.  They will stare it is as if they’ve been handed their own death sentence, and if there’s someone else in the vehicle, a discussion will take place for the length of a bible.  Then the driver will nod his head, which you assume means either he or fellow passengers have come to some agreement as to where this mystery location is.  And then, after all of this, he will still stop and ask every Tom, Dick and Harry he drives past for directions, and none of THEM will know where the fucking place is either.  This includes other taxi drivers, street sign makers, people who built the town, urban explorers, the army, the fire service, the paramedics, and the police.

And then comes the real kicker.  I’m jabbing my finger at the location and repeating the place-name “Amir Temur!  Amir Temur!”  Which is a famous square in the city, and within distance of the only bank I can use.  My driver looks like I’ve asked him the square root of infinity.  “Amir Temur! Amir Temur!  Amir Temur!” I repeat in earnest and with increasing urgency, with the bank closing in 5 minutes.  Suddenly the penny drops:

“AAAhhhhh!  Da! Da! Da!  Amir Temur!”

Words, dearest readers, failed me.

I throw the money I’ve borrowed from a former Russian sniper into the driver’s hand and don’t wait for the change, making the bank with moments to spare.  Handing over my documents, I can only lift $300, and its going to cost me a further $10 for the privilege.  In total thanks to the downed visa machines, inept transport and utter stupidity, it’s cost me a full day of running all over a city in shit weather, and 25 bucks expenses.  I’m not a happy bunny.

The final straw comes after I recover from my man flu and (as ever) when I meet a beautiful American girl.  She’s working in one of the embassies here and long story short, we hit it off but I lose her the first night only to find her again randomly another night.  Things are looking up.  She offers to take me home in a taxi, and after a few drinks we depart the club together.  Not a few miles from home, I turn to ask a question, raising my hand to hers.

“DON’T FUCKING TOUCH ME!!”

Such was my astounded incredulity at her scream that when the cab stopped at the next lights without a word I simply got out and walked away.  I think it’s time to leave.

Tashkent you might be better when the sun is shining, your visa machines are working, and women I meet aren’t psychotic, but for now my experience of you leaves a lot to be desired – perceptions echoed – you will notice – by the distinct lack of photos.  I originally planned on spending Christmas and New Year here, but based on recent events, the fact that I can get 15 days visa free in Kazakhstan, and here in the hostel streaming porn is restricted, I’m going to Almaty instead.  Not to end as dull as the weather, I have met some nice English lads driving around central Asia, so a couple of easy hitches could be on the cards.  Perhaps my luck is about to change.

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Hitchhike to India leg 50: Samarkand to Tashkent and other stuff

Friday 11 December

It’s cold.  The skies are drab and grey, and the wind is whipping through empty streets.  Streets that are thrust into darkness come half past four, presumably to save money on the leccy bill.  Uzbekistan feels like someone forgot to turn on the lights.  I’m sure in summer the sweeping silk road sunsets capture the imagination of Arabian nights and caravansaries, but in December in a country that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, it’s one long duvet month.  And for the most part, that is where you’ll find me.

Silk road sun.  It was the last time I saw it

Silk road sun. It was the last time I saw it

I force myself through the motions to do the tourist thing, but for all its hype, Samarkand doesn’t grab me like Bukhara did.  Yes it’s beautiful and it has its charm, and maybe it’s the aforementioned dullness that’s taking the shine off, but I just don’t see it.  Entrance to all the Mosques and sights require a tourist tax, and I decide to save my money and take some hurried shots, before attempting to get warm, alone in my freezing orphanage dorm room.  I resolve to move on post, post-haste.

Even the buildings are cold

Even the buildings are cold

Traveling for four years you’re always going to spend winter somewhere, and I don’t think the season does anywhere any favours – except for maybe Vienna.  Vienna was the only city I’ve visited that suits winter.  It wears it like a crisp, regal gown of frost white, warming you with mulled wine and charming you into bed even though you promised you wouldn’t cheat on Budapest.  It isn’t Uzbekistan’s fault I’m here under cloudy skies, and the icy wind takes my bones with it as I hike to find a hitching spot to get to the capital.

Taxi dodging

Taxi dodging

And yet if there’s one thing the climate can’t change, it’s the warmth of the people.  Fending off the usual local taxi chancers with “besplatno? Besplatno?!” (for free?!), I eventually hit the jack-pot, and the soul reason this leg of the hitch was so easy.  An English-speaking dentist and his companion agree to take me all the way to Tashkent, stopping only to feed me delicious food in a roadside cafe.  One ride, five hours 305 km.  Simples.

And so as Christmas fast approaches I’m in a comfortable hostel planning my next move.  As it stands I’m going to ride out the festive period and hit up Tajikistan early in the new year.  My plan?  To attempt to hitchhike the Pamir highway.  The 2nd highest road in the world.  Altitude sickness, earthquakes, avalanches, five cars a day if you’re lucky, wolves, opium runners, freezing temperatures and the Taliban.  Difficult in summer, suicidal in winter – and that’s exactly the reason I want to attempt it.

But right now I’m going to brew a pot of tea, fire up a game of online chess, sneak into the ladies so I can finally sit down on a western toilet, and warm my bare feet on the heated bathroom floors.

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Hitchhike to India leg 49: Bukhara to Samarkand

Wednesday 09 December

I had been living in a palace compared to my crack den in Ashgabat, and all for $15 a night.  Private room, brand new en suite bathroom with an amazing shower, and the bed was one of the most comfortable in a hostel I’ve ever had since traveling.  Seriously I graded it in the top three with Envoy in Armenia and Pariwana in Peru.  But alas, I had to tear myself away from a guaranteed good nights sleep.  In advance, apologies for the quality of photographs in this post.  My pocket camera is shit.

It’s pretty much a straight run down the road to my next destination of Samarkand.  Only three odd hours, with pretty much all the traffic heading in that direction.  For that reason I lazily exit the hostel around midday, and saunter along the road to find a hitch location.  This being much further than anticipated, I casually stop for a bite to eat in a roadside diner.  It’s near two when I’m actually on my way for real.  What could possibly go wrong?

Outside the cafe, a strange half-a-mosque

Outside the cafe, a strange half-a-mosque

Well, nothing actually.  I mean it’s not that nothing happens (hitches are rarely – if ever – uneventful), but as far as anything dodgy happening I’ve got little to tell you.  Ride one is actually a free taxi, who pulls over and ushers me in with a little English.  He can drop me for nothing at the edge of the city, which I always feel out of sorts with when other passengers are paying.  A concept unheard of in the UK, shared taxis have pretty much been commonplace post Germany, and you’ll regularly be joined and wedged in by a load of other punters.  This can feel a little alien at first, especially when you think some bastard is trying to hi-jack your ride, but you get used to it.  What I’m not used to, is being comfortable with everyone else forking out for the ride and I’m getting it for a song.  Nobody seems bothered, and I’m assured it’s just their hospitality.  Imagine getting a free cab ride in London?  The only time I’ve seen that is on the Fake Taxi porn site.

Cheerio Bukhara

Cheerio Bukhara

So there I am smiling and waving at the cheerfully beeping Bukhara cabbie as he u-turns back into town.  He’s dropped me in a perfect spot, and within a few minutes I’m in the passenger seat of a guy who enthusiastically nods he can take me all the way to Samarkand.  Except he can’t.  A few kilometres down the road and I’ve managed to establish he’s not actually going anywhere near where I need to go.  He’s also taking at me non-stop in Russian, and he’s turned off the main highway and into a gas-station.  I’m requested to get out.

Gas for the journey or covered in petrol and set alight in a ditch

Admittedly I’m somewhat apprehensive of this, but it soon comes to pass that all passengers must disembark when filling up the tank on propane.  It makes sense.  But where have I been?  When did we start filling cars up on gas and not petrol?  I might have mentioned this before?  Anyway before I know it we’re back on the highway and he’s dropped me a little further along the road.  Progress is being made.

Hardly a moment goes by when a horn is honked and I’m in a tiny car to continue the journey, but he can only take me so far.  As a result, this exceedingly helpful madman behind the wheel is blazing along with other traffic, violently destroying his horn in an attempt to get their attention.  When he does so, a conversation is had side by side down the highway at speed, trying to figure out who can take me the remaining distance.  At one point we find success, and for a moment I think we’re going to attempt a moving transfer, and I’m going to zip-line across into the other vehicle through the window.  As it stands they can’t take me that far either, but to be honest I’m thankful to be out of their cramped cabin, fit for two but containing three and all my stuff.  My right foot has fallen off.

Friendly fuzz

Friendly fuzz

They drop me at a police check point, which I’ve usually had a lot of success at and this case is no different.  I’ve been told they might not get so friendly further east and the odd bribe will be solicited, but for now they seem more than happy to let me stand with a thumb out.  Most of the time police have only bothered me with a good-humoured mild curiosity, and have even helped me get my next lift.  Once again I’m back on the road in the blink of an eye, and it’s a good job too, because it’s getting cold, and I’m not yet halfway.

I’m dropped in the centre of some town right at a bus station, which I duly march past and head in the direction which I hope is the way out.  So far places of population along this route consist of the highway going right through it, which is a godsend to the hitcher.  Here is no different, but I’m hiking a long way to clear myself of local traffic, while not to mention dying for a wee.  The problem here is I can’t seem to find any side-ally or bush to tuck in behind, and I’m not exactly a wallflower with all my gear.  I still make a token attempt at respectfulness by not pissing in someones doorway.

It’s getting dark.  I’ve been walking for an eternity, turning occasionally to flash my sign at an oncoming motorist, and I’ve still not found a suitable location to evacuate.  My one saving grace is that it appears I’ve finally made it to the outskirts, which means good arable farmland that requires watering, and nobody around to witness it.  However I finally spot an inviting restaurant, and at the same time as asking a waiter outside if he has a rest-room, a vehicle carrying two large guys has pulled to the roadside and is blasting on the horn.  To my dismay they’re still there when I return refreshed, and I gingerly approach.

Considering I’ve still a long way to go, that I’ve only come a relatively short distance in spite of the number of rides, and the fact that there’s maybe an hour of light left, I know my next hitch must be the full distance, otherwise I’m hitching in the dark.  And I never doubted for a second…not one second I tell you.  Not…one…

The two guys can take me the full way, but once I’m in their car, they tell me they need to go to a friend’s house for a birthday party and I must join them.  Assuring me it’ll only be for an hour, I bluster some kind of excuse about having to call my sister on skype, and needing to arrive at the hostel at a certain time.  My driver is having none of it, insists I go and he’s not taking no for an answer.  I settle back and contemplate my fate.

Hospitality at its best.  But in the dark

Hospitality at its best. In the dark

An hour or so later and we’re pulling into the drive-way of what I can make out is a village house.  Urged out of the vehicle, it reminds me of the time I found myself in a pitch-black vineyard in which I believed I was going to die in Moldova.  Large men of varying degrees of age and weathering make their way over and embrace me warmly, with a standard three cheek kiss, hug and more massive handshakes.  I’m going to have no bones in my right hand by the time I reach China.

Urgh

Urgh

And so in a dimly lit room I go through the traditions of being a guest in a Muslim family household.  I join in observing their religious rituals of prayer and washing the face with the hands, and then  I’m basically treated like a king.  I sit on the floor with maybe twenty large men in near-darkness.  Other visitors come and go wishing the host a happy birthday, some in a more inebriated state than others.  And I can see how and why they’re in such condition, as I’m consistently poured ENORMOUS shots of vodka.  I’m not kidding here people, they took me three gulps each to get down.  And they kept pouring five of these bad boys for me, watching me like hawks to see if I’d crack.  I’d drunk half a bottle of vodka when I next try to stand.

More vodka.  And food.  Delicious food too

More vodka. And food. Delicious food too

Not a word in English was spoken, but there was laughter, handshakes, delicious food and a lot of booze.  At one point I’m guided to the outdoor toilet, and then guided back in.  By the time we’re ready to leave for Samarkand, I’m being hugged by everyone like a long-lost brother, and a minor celebratory with all the photographs snapped as I leave.  And to think I was reluctant to go.

Famous at last

Famous at last

 And it doesn’t end there.  My companions drive me to the very door of my hostel in Samarkand, whereupon I warmly thank them, dump my bags and head straight into town.  There I stumble upon another birthday party where I’m offered a load of drinks, food, “forced” to sing karaoke and then driven home at the end of the night.  It’s taken me ten hours, around six rides and a lot of vodka to travel 271 km, and I’m going to wake up with one hell of a hangover.  But it astounds me that the western world predominantly believes Islam to be a violent religion, when I have been consistently witness to hospitality such as this.  Ask yourself; would you get this as a traveler  in a “Christian” country?!  For the most part, I think not.

It’s just a pity about my new bed.

A hostel or an orphanage?  You can't win em all...

A hostel or an orphanage? You can’t win em all…

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Bukhara, Uzbek opticians and new glasses

Saturday 05 December

I can relax a little.  I’ve made it into Uzbekistan, and with that comes a thirty-day visa, clean(er), cheap hostels, friendly people and less suspicion.  I’ve been told I still need to be wary of the authorities as police can be pretty corrupt across all the ‘stans’, but for now I’m just ecstatic to be able to change down a gear.  You know me by now – it’s taken me three years to get here (I don’t like to be rushed), so Turkmenistan was always going to be a thorn in my side.  But I had a fascinating experience there, met a friend for life, and ticked one off the bucket list, so I can’t really complain.

Beautiful Bukhara and the tower of death

Beautiful Bukhara and the tower of death

I’m in Bukhara, which is one of the oldest cities in the world, and a significantly important trade post on the famous silk road.  The entire city centre is an open air museum and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.  The Kaylan Minaret is perhaps its most famous landmark, built in 1127 for decoration, however apparently as late as the 1920’s it was also in service as a place of execution.  Those unfortunate to be on the wrong side of the law were marched up its spiral staircase and cast down to the flagstones below, thus earning its nickname “the tower of death”.  Indeed I’m convinced I spy bloodstains on the well trod stones.  No stranger to claret, one Genghis Khan was so impressed with the structure that he ordered it spared when he sacked the city back in eleven/twelve dum-di-dum.

My first port of call though is to attempt to repair my specs, which if you remember I slept in and subsequently snapped back in Ashgabat.  I’ve been wandering around with designer prescription glasses stuck together with sellotape, and the dog-chewed ends wrapped in duct-tape.  I pick up some super glue at the local bazaar, but it doesn’t even stick your fingers together.  It is with great regret therefore that I must consign them to the annuls of history and I chuck them in the bin.  I believe them to be the nicest pair I’ve ever owned too.  As ever its just another experience though, and one which I quite enjoy, as I basically discover that I’ve been getting ripped off for lenses and frames for my entire life.

Uzbekistan sight test.  "That's a 'W', that's a backwards 'E'..."

Uzbekistan sight test. “That’s a ‘W’, that’s a backwards ‘E’…”

I’ve got a choice of paying twenty quid for brand new frames and lenses, or paying four quid to have my current lenses machine fitted to these bendy frame things.  Either way a man on a galloping horse isn’t going to notice I’ve actually got new glasses.  I opt to keep my current lenses – they’ve got something special in them for my shitty eyes – and I’ve got new frames all fitted in an hour.  For four pounds.  Sure they don’t say Tommy Hilfiger down the side, and maybe it’s because I’m getting old that I don’t give a rats ass, but when I look back on how much I’ve spent over the years in rip-off Britain…

At least I can get back to looking for Stu.

The bazaar.  Not easy to photograph people

The bazaar. Not easy to photograph people

Traveling isn’t always about doing the tourist thing.  I’d have been dead three years ago if I just crammed my days with sightseeing and then left for the next town.  When you’ve been going a long time, it’s nice to feel like a local and attempt to merge with the way of life.  Interacting with nationals, buying food at the market, learning the transport system, going to an opticians, getting a liver test, going to an STD clinic…it all helps with the experience, and is in my opinion, how to travel properly.  I get a kick out of leaving the camera at home and strolling casually through unfamiliar streets as if I live there.  Kicking about like you own the place is also good for fending off unwanted attention and aggressive taxi drivers.

Winter has arrived

Winter has arrived

Bukhara is beautiful but cold.  I’m lucky to catch a bit of sun and a higher temperature, but for the most part it’s going to be dropping as we get further into December.  As a result, I’m devastated I cannot visit the infamous shrinking Aral Sea region and the ships graveyard.  That was another big one on the bucket list.  When am I going to be here again?  Gutted.  But the weather to the north has turned bad, and drivers are just not risking the ice and snow.  I’m advised to wait a few days, but there’s no guarantees, and with a round trip coming close to 200 bucks, I’m forced to keep south and leave for Samarkand.  From here on across the roof of the world, the weather is against me.

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