Chapter VIII: Uzbekistan (Un)limited

Thought the Global Goulets just stopped their blog posts after Turkmenistan? Thought wrong! Come cop a taste of the legendary Uzbeki delicacy, plov. And for a refresher on where we last left off, check out Chapter VII.

 

We woke up with the worst hangovers to date on our adventure. Eric was so massively dehydrated during his night sleep that he had a nightmare in which he crawled helplessly to the sink and it wouldn’t turn on. Heads pounding, bodies listless, memories from the night before slight or altogether nonexistent, we had screwed up in a big way by oversleeping 5 hours. Worse, we hadn’t charged any of our camera equipment that was such a major priority after the car inverter catastrophe. Nonetheless, we had only one choice: push on.

Did last night even happen? Well, considering the friends we'd made would get arrested if we shared pictures of them, maybe not...
Did last night even happen? Well, considering the friends we’d made would get arrested if we shared pictures of them, maybe not…
We arrived at the Turkmen-Uzbek border an hour later, where we ran into a couple of the teams with which we ferried from Baku and took some small sick sadistic pleasure in learning they had mistakenly visited the wrong gas crater in Darvaza, missing the real Gates of Hell. Maybe we had freshly absorbed satanic souls from the Underlord hidden within the crater’s fiery annals, but whatever! After reading some graphic posters warning against the existence of the archaic Bubonic Plague in Uzbekistan by way of hand contact with livestock, we shakily rode into our next nation of transit. We were instantly elated to notice the overwhelming friendliness of the people, rivaling that of what we witnessed in neighboring Turkmenistan. We set our sights on Buchara as our end-of-day destination, the holiest city in all of Central Asia, which we read was renowned for its majestic old city mosques and madrases. Here, due to its status as devoutly Muslim, we knew to heavily lean on our favorite phrase “salaam alakum” as our primary means of communication (thanks Bapu!).

 

Unfortunately, we’d again massively underestimated the time it’d take for our Little Engine that Could to traverse Uzbek’s uncertain and rambunctious roadways. When we got there (late), we hesitantly accepted a teenager on a bike’s offer to lead us to Old Town, so we swerved through dark, empty, unpaved side streets until, around turbulent turn number 12, there appeared a collection of beautiful mosques surrounding a well maintained central garden. The center of ancient Old Town. “How grand!” we gouleted, as we parked the ol’ AG in a primo locale. (Next to other rally cars!)

Here's a giant risk we took - following a non-English speaking teenager through dark alleyways.
Here’s a giant risk we took – following a non-English speaking teenager through dark alleyways.

 

The short night was wasted at our little B&B rotating sleeping and backing up memory cards of our footage to the hard drives. Boring, yet essential work. In the early morning, the sleepless hotel manager whipped us up some excellent omelettes with tasty jam that we enjoyed while sipping delicious chai in a beautiful exclusive courtyard.

This looks tasty, doesn't it? Every so often, between the bread and fatty meat meals, we'd enjoy something sensational
This looks tasty, doesn’t it? Every so often, between the bread and fatty meat meals, we’d enjoy something sensational

 

Tired but well fed and highly motivated, we moved ahead to the next city. We rushed our way 270km from Buchara to Samarkand. The fabled Silk Road’s historic premiere capital and yet another city we’d only heard about a couple of days prior, we aimed to complete a handful of tasks at this final Uzbek stopping point: 1) sit down for a meal of the legendary Central Asian dish plov, whilst making a silly music video; 2) find a bank to withdraw cold hard American cash, akin to gold in this part of the world; 3) tour the mosques of the Registan; and 4) time permitting, get Eric and Brian the buzzcuts they’ve been hoping for since Baku. Proudly, we fulfilled the first three items on our checklist, sadly sacrificing item number 4, leaving our hair wildly uncontrollable and dirty.

The Global Goulets "All You Need is Plav" music video in the making...
The Global Goulets “All You Need is Plov” music video in the making…
This, my friends, is The Registan. But where are all the Tourists? Central Asia needs more love...
This, my friends, is The Registan. But where are all the Tourists? Central Asia needs more love…

 

By 5pm, we were exiting Samarkand with plans to gun it for the border to Tajikistan just 35 clicks east. Just then, good fortune seemed to evaporate in the blink of an eye.

 

In Uzbekistan, gasoline (“benzin” in Uzbeki) is a surprisingly rare commodity, and we were searching long and fast for it. After leaving Turkmenistan, where a liter of state-subsidized, top quality fuel was abundant and cost a quarter, neighboring Uzbekistan was short on gas stations and seemed to only sell driving’s essential component in sketchy, black market backdoor venues (what looked like urine in water bottles on the side of the road). Furthermore, most of it was sold out by midday. So, how do the Uzbek car owners keep their vehicles quenched? A strange alternative ironically called “gaz,” a petrol substitute comprised of propane and butane, serves as a cheap way to keep one’s car moving. But alas, our car could only run on the real stuff.

 

It was brutally difficult to obtain some of that real gasoline, taking us a good hour, while we kept one eye on our quick shrinking fuel gauge. When we finally did, fellow gas patrons took an interest in our car and route, and we learned from them a painful truth: the Panjakent border, so outrageously convenient to our route into Tajikistan that going any other way would be devastating, was closed due to poor relations between the two neighboring Stans. Why, oh, why? Why us? It felt our charmed honey had soured. We had to find a new route and fast. So, we turned back into Samarkand, sat down at an Internet cafe, and researched alternative border crossings. Finally we found one, two hundred kilometers south. Mapping out the distances, we came to a tough realization- the best way to preserve time, considering our Tajikistan visa deadline, was to drive straight through the night on uncertain roads, an idea that would infuriate our mothers.

You see how serious we look? You bet we were - night driving on unknown roads is tough. Don't try this at home, kids!
You see how serious we look? You bet we were – night driving on unknown roads is tough. Don’t try this at home, kids!

 

Screw it! We had to do this. We returned to what must have been the last operating benzine station in the whole country, loaded up our gerry cans, and agreed to take 2-hour driving shifts (back seat sleeps, passenger navigates). The night’s sky came on fast, as the Auto Goulet disappeared into the moonlight.

Can't see much in this pic? Neither could we. Imagine driving with horrible headlights hundreds of miles into unknown terrain
Can’t see much in this pic? Neither could we. Imagine driving with horrible headlights hundreds of miles into unknown terrain.

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