…and the odd self-absorbed self-portrait in the latest round of photos.
So, I was already having a bad day. Francesco and Romina, an adorable Swiss Italian couple were sharing my exasperation at having no escape route from Uzbekistan – they too had come a cropper on the Iran and Turkmonster visa trail, and their path back to Switzerland was equally as uncertain. At this point I felt marginally less hard done by – Francesco and Romina had cycled here from Bangkok ON A TANDEM BICYCLE.
“No tickets next week. Business class only on 9 July” was the only answer we’d managed to extract from largely disinterested travel agents in Bukhara. At times, in Uzbekistan, if you’re not a French tour group, nobody wants to know.
We sat somewhat shell-shocked in a dusty street in the old town outside the old synagogue trying to work out how we’d manage to make it back to Europe before mid-July – and without haemorraging too many hundred dollar bills.
“Helllooooo!!!!” shouted two young boys in our general direction, chasing a large, meaty grasshopper that flew inches away from their threatening clutches. We began to hatch plans about flying to Istanbul and back to Baku, others suggested Baltic Air via Riga, and another suggesting we just call it a day and head to the Med for sea, sand and no visa hassles.
I felt compelled to make it to the Turkmen border, at least. If Turkmonster bureaucracy meant that I wasn’t allowed to trudge on their hallowed sands, I could at least peer over the border from the other side of the Amu Dariya, and take the odd photo of their lifeless hectares of lifeless soil. Leaving my Caucasus guidebook as collateral, I fled to the nearest bazaar to try and find a shared taxi heading north to Urgench, where I aimed to transfer to the next stop, in Khiva.
“40,000 som” the driver said, spying my backpack in the back seat of the mashrutka. “To Urgench only” added his hate-worthy younger brother, who had clearly come along to the bazaar to make life unpleasant for everybody.
They clearly had no idea what kind of a black mood I had fallen into that day. You’ll be lucky to get half that, pal – I countered, in English (now was not the time to test the boundaries of my Uzbek). Some rather sour bargaining and a disproportionate amount of pouting on my part, and I had managed to secure a trip for 25,000 all the way to my hotel. Even more importantly, I had won the FRONT SEAT.