Exiting Turkmenistan was almost just as time consuming as entering the locked down country. What an odd place, I get the feeling that just about everywhere is bugged with the Big Brother listening to all (much worse than US). Seriously, it’s a country with almost no crime rate, overly clean cities and highways and everyone walking around with an almost forced smile. Along the entire stretch of highway from Turkmenbashi to Farop, people (mostly woman and it makes me wonder if they are forced) are out cleaning the highway; from power washing the guardrails, to pulling weeds and trimming grass on the centerline and in the ditches, two sweeping all signs of gravel off the road, the roadways are immaculate. All in all, it’s a very creepy country and you make sure not to disrespect the government here by speaking out against them or breaking one of the laws – including traffic violations. I think this is where the North Korea factor comes into play.
I was quite happy to finally walk out of the customs building and into the world of Uzbekistan, where I could again move freely around the country and see what it has to offer. UZ has all of the problems of any normal country; crime, poverty, disease, social issues, etc. The people seem to be very real and undoubtedly very nice. I’m again welcomed with every interaction. Although bordering a desert landscape country, western UZ is a small time agriculture country; not an exporter of ag, but all apparently for local use. There appears to be very little large machinery, with most fields full of people working the land by hand, all planting, cutting, bailing and transporting by hand. I pass anywhere from 30 – 50 donkey’s per day, pulling carts loaded down with grasses and most commonly being driven by small children. The bicycle is also a major part of each community for both work and transportation. Many people use the bicycle and cart for transporting their goods; from building materials to agriculture products.
Fuel is tough to find in UZ, I’m not sure why they have such a deficiency, but I’ll pass 20 – 30 fuel stations per day all closed down – it’s kinda Mad Max ish. Fuel is always my mind as I obsessively stare at my fuel gauge wondering if I’ll be able to find a station – of course I always do. The currency is in the tank in this very developing country, with the dollar being worth about $2,500 Som, so one literally has to carry a wad of cash around that is too large to fit in your pocket. Fueling the bike takes about 80,000 Som and it takes quite some time to count this out; the locals however are quite good at it, looking like professional bankers as they quickly flip through the pile of cash double checking my thumbs for fingers – I must look a bit a fool, laying each 500 Som bill down on the table, slowly working my way up to 80,000. It’s a funny process that makes me chuckle every time.
I’m staying in the old part of Bukhara, which is really great; from the 8’ wide streets to masonry and timber buildings, I get the feeling as I’ve stepped back in time. The name Bukhara just sounds cool; I’m sipping some tea in Bukhara today. I spend the rest of the day wandering around looking like a typical tourist with a bag of money, sunglasses and sunburn.
Swapping out the tires for the next leg of the journey.