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  • Jamie Shannon

Nurkus to Khiva. Hmm, I guess he’s sleeping here with me then leaving his wife inside...

Nurkus, Uzbekistan
Leaving the hotel in Nurkus

It would have been nice to cycle together with the three guys I had met but alas we all had different plans. Jess and Tim wanted to make it to Dushanbe, 1000 km’s away, before the 20th October when the climate in the mountains would be more favourable whereas both Dave and I wanted to cycle as much as possible. With this is mind, they were going to try to hitch it with trucks all the way to Dushanbe whereas myself and Dave would try to cycle hard and fast for the remainder of Uzbekistan in order to try to reach Dushanbe by the start of October.

Is it really possible to cycle 180 km's in a day through the desert?

Thus it was that we departed late the next morning and vowed to meet up once again in Khiva, 180 kms’ to the east. Dave and myself had set ourselves the unenviable task of riding 180 km’s in one day but I knew in my heart of hearts that, at least for me, it would not be possible. After only a few km’s Dave resembled a tiny dot in the distance and, well I just couldn’t keep up with him. To be fair to me, I told myself, I had just cycled 1000 km's from Aktau whereas these guys had caught the train and so I resigned myself to my slow pace and actually began to enjoy myself again.

I found myself surrounded by an immense wasteland of desert stretching off in every direction and the wind, oh my dear lord, it was like cycling through marmite. I was down to 5 km’/h and using all the energy I could muster to just achieve this. It was horrible and I again became frustrated by my lack of progress. It was mental torture and I was once again in a bad way, mentally at least. I couldn’t even muster the energy to wave to everyone who beeped now. I was angry with this angry wind and annoyed that I would not be in Khiva this night with the rest of them.

I found a tea house after 30 km’s and bought a coke before plonking myself down outside to feel sorry for myself. I had to play some more charades with some soldiers whom had arrived and I was just in no mood to do so.

Cycle touring through Uzbekistan
Long and windy roads through the desert

I pushed on however but after another 40 km’s or so I despaired at the conditions I was being forced to tackle. At this rate It would take me three days to reach Khiva. It was simply intolerable. I wanted to be back in a town, with people and fruit and noise and showers and internet and all the rest of it and so I made the decision. I was going to hitch a lift myself. Don’t do it Jamie. This is a cycle tour not a bloody car tour. Oh shut up brain, my legs say it’s a good idea so just be quiet.

A 4 x 4 stopped and took me a little of the way down the highway to Beruni and from here, I crossed the Amu Darya river and began my south east journey towards the city of Khiva.

I cycled on and on over roads that, had they been in England would no doubt create an uproar. I just bounced along for the next couple of hours, my

bicycle taking a complete hammering in the process. Really If she makes it over to Tajikistan in one piece, I will be very surprised. The roads are that bad.

I found my way out of Urgench with the help of some locals but it was beginning to get pretty dark and so decided to take a small country lane off the highway in order to find somewhere to camp. I was in no such luck however as there were people just everywhere and I received a firm Nyet from the people I asked in the cotton fields, presumably because it was not their land.

One of the strangest experiences of the trip thus far - friendly locals though

I arrived at a small farmstead where I asked the man in my best sign language if it would be possible to camp there. I received the biggest smile that I have ever seen and saw more gold teeth than I would probably ever see. His daughter immediately set to work brushing the leaves off the raised surface in the garden after which blankets and pillows were laid out. A mat was then placed in the centre and it was then it stated to get very strange. I sat there conversing (or trying to) with the old man in Russian whilst his daughter and wife brought a whole array of foods to the ‘table’. I guess the elder statesman of the house is the one whom dines with the guest. I had even read somewhere that the guest is greater than the host in Uzbekistan and so I duly played by their extravagant rules, eating the bread only with my right hand and breaking it up into smaller pieces to pass around. It was a great introduction into life here and was very happy to have stumbled here through the darkness.

I noticed afterwards two sets of blankets and pillows being laid out side by side and thought to myself that this was very generous. I mean I’m really not that big. It was then that the man pointed to both blankets and then to me and himself. I guess he’s sleeping here then too leaving his wife inside. I had no idea if this was the usual practice here but I guess when in Rome…

Staying with a local family in Uzbekistan
A cozy night indeed

A huge mosquito net was hung around the raised area and we settled in for the night. Very cozy indeed but at least he didn’t snore. In the end I hardly got a wink of sleep anyway because there were about four dogs scurrying around and barking like crazy throughout the night. Yes, after some wonderful and blissful night’s sleeping in the desert, I was back in the land of these canine ba**ards.

Check out another post here where I was to have another quite odd experience in Laos

I arrived in the beautifully preserved walled city of Khiva the next morning and thus could finally savour some of the unique cities along my route.

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