Sunday, October 19, 2008

Heading west from Tashkent

I forgot to mention a few details about the Georgian restaurant: how there were very few guests but a big 'in' crowd (which we snuck into) that dined like kings and never paid, the Russian girlfriends who kept disappearing to the toilets and came back sniffing with strangely elevated moods... then there was Georgian self described 'mountain man' - a well drunk Georgian businessman who wanted to take Julie to the mountains in a stretch limousine for the night and offered me 'any woman I want' in exchange... he really shouldn't have used me as an interpreter, though...
There was something else going on here!

Anyway, we headed west for three days to Samarkand where we camped in the yard of an elderly Russian couple. On two consecutive nights we wandered past and were invited into wedding feasts where we were fed with whatever was available in exchange for our dancing. It's supposed to be good luck to have extra guests at Tajik weddings. Fun. As for the days, we rolled around the markets and monuments of Samarkand, past the Registan to my favourite spot, the row of mausoleums at Shah-i-Zinda.

We also hunted down Volodya, president of the local bike racing club and bike mechanic, who took us back to his typically Soviet flat in the suburbs for the night and down to a lake for a swim. Next morning, full of watermelon and coffee, Volodya escorted us through the back streets to the road heading south towards Shahrisabz.

Past delicious pears and mountain honey over a 1500m pass to Shahrisabz, then another few hundred k's to Bukhara. More melon feasts. Once I stopped and asked and old bloke where I could find a watermelon. He took me back to his place where there was a pile 2 metres high in the back yard. He insisted I took two. We rolled 100m up the road, found a patch of shade, and got stuck into one of them. A granny found us and brought over a blanket. Then she brought over ANOTHER watermelon. As we left we were offered a fourth melon (thanks, but no thanks). Up the road I swapped one melon for two ice creams! It was stinking hot, getting towards 50 degrees in the sun (late August). We took to finding shade and melons for our early afternoon siestas and washed our shirts out a few times a day in irrigation canals.

A little further some teenage local girls approached Julie with more melon offerings as they were on their way home from a day in the fields. Unfortunately a bunch of men found us as well, took over the conversation (typical) and scared them off.
That night we were invited home by a man whose trade turned out to be... traditional circumcisions! He was very happy to explain his trade, got out his tools, and humiliated his 14 year old son by pulling his pants down to demonstrate! Not very useful when the kid's already had the job done! He then ducked off to a wedding feast (we declined to accompany) leaving another local man to be our host and get very sloshed while I poured most of the vodka under the table...

We left our bikes in Bukhara for a few days for a side trip (petrol fuelled) to Urgench and Khiva, 450km northwest.

From Bukhara it was another 100km west to the Turkmen border across either arid or irrigated plains. While checking out a melon stall en route our bus driver to Urgench (who we'd had dinner with) turned up! Back to his place for another feast...

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