Prior to our visit to Uzbekistan, I used to always sympathize with the police. I’d be churning out cliches such as “they’re just doing their job” and “they’re just upholding the rule of law which we should all cherish” etcetera. I always believed that most police officers felt a certain duty to serve, so who was I to criticize them when they erred here or there? My thoughts of the police after Uzbekistan? Let me sum that up for you in video and audio.
After Turkmenistan we thought we’d be heading for a relatively normal country, though also ruled by a dictator. Oh boy were we wrong. It’s the Uzbekistan Blog Round-up! Launch Day +16 to Launch Day +19!
Let’s start with some road footage shall we?
Just by watching that footage I’m gonna guess that most of you are halfway with your flight bookings on Skyscanner. Not so quick! The video was deceitful, as Uzbekistan was way way way more lame than the video would make you think. Let’s start with the funny, though.
One of the first thing we saw upon entry was this cardboard cop car. When I first saw I thought it had to be a prank, but we actually saw more of these cut-outs as we drove farther east.
While obviously hilarious, we had no clue that this funny scene of us laughing at the police would soon change to us absolutely loathing the police. But more on that later!
Ok I actually have one more funny thing before I start my massive rant about this country. One dollar gets you roughly 3.000 som (the local currency) at an official bank, although you can get 6.000 som or more on the black market. Clearly, we went for the latter. We just asked at one of the first hostels we bumped into, said we’d like to change 100 dollars into som, and 10 minutes later or so they had their cash delivery. The funny part? Well just have a look yourself I guess.
The place where we changed money only had bills of 1.000 som. This entire stack of money is actually worth just 100 dollars, but it felt really good nonetheless #makeitrain
I guess I have to also mention some positives. Shall I proceed with the somewhat good then?
The border. Exiting Turkmenistan and entering Turkmenistan took 4 hours. Though no bribes on the Uzbek side. Somewhat good. The atmosphere was relaxed, it just took a long time. Just after the border we even bumped into quite a lot of other Mongol Rally cars.
The somewhat better than somewhat good? Khiva. About 50km removed from the border with Uzbekistan, Khiva felt less like a theme-park than the other overly renovated Uzbek cities. The old downtown area, which resembled a fort and was probably fought over countless times in the last 1000 years by Arabs, Mongols, and whatever other mighty army roamed those lands. We didn’t buy a guided tour so that’s all the info I have for you really. Though I think I read something about Chinggis Khan and Alexander the Great. There you go. Free history 101 right there.
Mandatory pics of cool buildings!
Breakfast wasn’t too shabby either.
Blog life never sleeps! Making sure you all get your fix of video and blog material. Though I like to stay humble *cough*.
After Khiva, though… the struggle got real. First of all, we had to drive through another desert, and after all the hotness we have really started to despise the desert.
Did I already tell you the roads were terrible?
Oh and they only had gasoline with an octane level of 80. Not higher. Thanks for ruining the environment and our engine.
After 400km of that 40+ degrees desert stuff, we got to Bukhara. The good part about Bukhara? Luca took the car to a very cheap mechanic. For close to two hours of work (checking up one of our brakes, straightening out our front tyres which were turned somewhat inward, as well as switching our tyres from front to back) we paid 10 dollars.
Bukhara also had buildings. Here are some photos of buildings.
The thing with Bukhara, though, is that it all felt totally… fake. It felt like a Six Flags Central Asia. All the supposedly old buildings looked way too new, way too renovated, and way too unauthentic. I wouldn’t be surprised if they built several of these from the ground up in the last decade or two. Though travel guides will likely say something else. The travel guides are probably right. Unrelated, but our restaurant of choice for dinner really had a magnificent marketing department
It’s 4 times as expensive than the other main dishes… but it’s made with a traditional old recipe you say?
Our Bukhara hotel did treat us to some incredibly exciting Uzbek TV. It was like a German Krimi but ten times slower. For those Dutch readers on there, it was basically about as slow as Jiskefet’s Tampert sketches. Have a look!
Basically, in the 20 minutes we watched, one guy, while visiting the house of his friend on the hill, poisoned said friend by putting something in his drink. As he drove off, the poisoned friend dramatically collapsed; faith unknown. When our guy drove his car down the hill however, his brakes had been cut, and so we got this spectacular car crash slow-mo. 10 minutes later of no action, and, guess what? Our poisoned guy is still alive. He then goes to the morgue to see his supposed dead friend who crashed his car, only, the guy isn’t dead at all! The guy from the car sneakily gets behind the poisoned guy, and then, this scene full of action.
No clue what happened after this scene as we left the hostel and we got a commercial break, but it was
TV of such amazing slowness that I felt it worth sharing. I expect that the two men got into a fight in the elevator, which was then spread out over 4 episodes in 2 different seasons. Very unexpected plot as well, we sure have never seen that before.
That day we set out for Toshkent, and stopped in Samarqand on the way over. Samarqand, as did Bukhara, had a handful of beautiful but overly renovated buildings. Pretty impressive but so new that we really didn’t know what to make of it. Oh and beside these 3 buildings there wasn’t much really.
Toshkent, then, ugh.. It looked like and was just as polluted as Teheran, but without the hospitality we had witnessed in Iran. Instead, you got the rudeness/masculinity of the Soviets, mixed with the “nothing allowed” mentality of the stricter muslim states. Such a lose-lose situation. The hostel we stayed in in Toshkent (Gulnara Guesthouse, highly recommend it) was really nice, though, but that was about it. Oh and we got treated to this incredible salad over dinner. So diversified. What a national cuisine they have in Uzbekistan.
It feels like most of these central Asian countries basically serve you meat and bread, and if you’re lucky you’ll get half a tomato on the side to cover your vitamin intake. Or you just get a place serving you a salad of just onion. Whatever.
We initially planned to enter Kazakhstan near Toshkent and to head north towards the Kazakh capital, Astana. We decided to go Kyrgyzstan in the east, however, as we wanted to get up into the mountains instead to cool off after days and days of 40 degree weather. It meant we had to cross through the Fergana valley though, which is the eastern blob of Uzbekistan.
The Fergana valley… Where do I even start? Let’s just say I’d rather hit myself over the head with a brick repeatedly than to have to go back to the Fergana valley, and that’s not even a joke. I seriously would consider hitting myself over the head with a brick rather than having to return to that shithole (or I’d let one of you do it most likely, I’m probably too much of a chicken to actually do it).
All we wanted was to drive east quickly, get out of this hot and lame place, and get into Kyrgyzstan. But the police had other plans.
We were pulled over 8 times in one day. 8 times. Took us a combined 2 hours or so just talking to police and showing our documents. The police set up some road controls in several places, and would “randomly” pull over cars. At some point we were pulled over at 5 police checks straight. When we tried to leave the valley on the northern side – one of only two open borders for foreigners to begin with- we found our border of choice closed. For no real apparent reason. We were there at 3 o’ clock in the afternoon, sooo….
One Italian team we have been driving with since Kyrgyzstan got pulled over 15 times in one day even. I guess 8 isn’t even that bad.
Quite pissed and already semi claustrophobic we had to set of east to cross into Kyrgyzstan near Osh. Obviously, we had to clear another 2 or 3 police checks before we got there, had to stand more of the humid heat in the valley, and did I already tell you the Uzbek food kindof got the better of us with regards to our physical well-being?
When we eventually got to the border, it took 2 hours to clear exit customs. Exit customs. As in, we’re leaving the country and taking all your problems elsewhere, why even bother? What we hoped would be a 5-7 hour trip, drive and border included, turned out to be a 11-12 hour affair. What a horrible horrible place.
At nightfall we finally finally finally got out of that hellhole and entered Kyrgyzstan. Can you already guess what my travel advice is gonna be for this place? Let’s jump right in!
A new recurring feature! Since we’re now coming across countries most of you have never been or may never ever go to, we’re going to hand out travel advice! For free! Lonely Planet we’re coming for that market share! Our travel advice is indexed by 1-5 Shakira’s: 1 being the lowest score, whereas 5 means that you should go Whenever, wherever! (Get it?). We mix in some advice on the when’s (think temperature, tourism seasons etc) as well as the where’s, and we index it all with Shakira’s!
Truly one of the worst places I’ve ever been. The police just all over you at all times, annoying humid heat, bad roads, lame cities with fake/restored buildings, not authentic (except for Khiva I guess), very generic food. If I were you I wouldn’t go, truly. you’d much better go to any of the other countries we have come across. Even today, we met a Tajik man who spoke very lowly of the police intimidation and autocratic rule by the Uzbek President. So yea, just 1.5 Shakira’s.
Other than “don’t go,” I’d guess my advice would be to stay out of this place in summer. But then again, also stay out of it in touristy seasons as Bukhara was already lame enough this time around without many tourists. Imagine if you get all your standard German tourists in there and it turns into a whole other mess.
The Fergana Valley is probably worse than Afghanistan. I would rather travel through Afghanistan with the risk to get talibombed than to go through that place again. Really, if you can, avoid it all possible costs. Did I already tell you they have landmines there as well? The only positive that keeps the grade above the minimum was Khiva. I liked Khiva, it was small and you can see it in a couple of hours really, but it was cute. Other than that, all other cities felt very generic. We didn’t visit the drying-up Aral Sea, but that could be worth considering. Oh and Toshkent? Really not worth it.
For those of you keeping track, we are now in Kabanbay, eastern Kazakhstan. Kyrgyzstan video and blog update coming soon hopefully! Although I usually let Shakira finish this thing up, this is more fitting!
Luca & Abel