After a week spent in Uzbekistan, the obvious subject of focus would be the searing heat, rendering our modest and normally-attainable 100km per day entirely unrealistic. Alternatively, we could discuss the southern province of Surkhandarya; nestled between Tajik, Turkmen, and Afgan- istan, which has proved to be an absolute gem and delivered some spectacular riding. We could even talk about the frustrating currency of Uzbekistan, which although only moderately weak (certainly not absurdly so by global standards), has a completely inadequate maximum denomination equivalent to a mere $0.33. The upshot of this is not only the inconvenience of transporting carrier bags full of worthless paper with us, but more entertainingly, that each hotel or restaurant bill payment can be genuinely acted out like some sort of illegitimate international arms deal.
However, the recurring highlight of Uzbekistan so far has been the Uzbeks themselves. One advantage of travelling by bicycle is that you are forced to visit places that would otherwise go unnoticed. This isn’t always a good thing (in fact frequently it is not), but last week it certainly was.
Firstly, there’s the vodka. The continual offers to join generous locals for a drop (bottle) of the local tipple have been a delight; sometimes in restaurants, sometimes in bus shelters; sometimes at 9pm, sometimes at 9am, but always welcome. We can also concede to have been saved on more than one occasion by voluntary offers of food and drink when we have been (clearly visibly) a little worse for wear after a day in the sun. And in what can only be described as a quite bizarre morning, our arrival into the small town of Boysun somehow resulted in attendance at a garden wedding reception, where our attempts to explain the absence of a gift, or in fact why we hadn’t even bothered to shower, were as fruitless as they were unnecessary. The whole thing was quite humbling and as a couple to have recently married, it certainly made us consider our own attitudes, should those roles have been reversed.
Discarding the early incidents of heatstroke, we have only praise for Uzbekistan so far.