Well, it seems a lifetime away that we were in Astrakan and now we're in Bukhara and seeing the actual hats sold everywhere in the street - thick woolly Russian things - a bit hot for here where it's about 44 in the shade.
Since last blog nine dasy ago we've been through Kazakstan - what an interesting place to see now - clearly being devolped with its oil riches - we've been into what look like shanty towns from the Giold Rush into sophisticated cities. The desert is shrubby and flat and the horizen stretches for miles - camping off the road on three nights, we had trouble getting out of sight without going at least 1km away from the road.
Campning has been compulsory, by the way, in many places, because of the sheer distance between towns and a lack of hotels. The food on offer in cafes was pretty awful - fried eggs are usually the best choice. But the people friendly and helpful . Lots of mongolian features now creeping in amongst the more 'Borat' styles.
Then after 3 nights, we got into Uzbekistan. This is the part of the journey that I have been looking forward to most, but apprehensively, because we were told that Uzbekistan is very difficult to travel through, that getting money is difficult and that the police stop you all the time and try to get bribes out of you if you're foreign.
Well, the money, it has to be said is surprising - mainly because there are 26,000 suma to the pound and it comes in denominations of 1000 notes and under! This results in everyone carrying huge wads of notes and being able to count them amazingly quickly. From our point of view the only hassle is changing travellers cheques (and then wondering how we can possibly haul the cash around). Changing cash, especially dollars is very easy - you can wander into a bazar or go to the hotel desk - pretty much the same exchange rate. Aldo here in Bukhara and yesterday in Khiva, they would take dollars in the shops.
As for the police, save for the first one we encountered on entering the country (who tried it on with Dave and me for $100 and threatened to send me back to England, as which we laughed heartily - he settled for a key ring fro his son) they have all been helpful and charing - even the one who stopped Roger for speeding yesterday (his 2nd speeding offence and thirds overall offence - we're considering taking his international driving licence off him if he does it again - 12 points!) - who fined hin 10,000 suma and then gave it back to him with a laugh. Our border croding was the fastest yet and they didn't even look in the vehicles, though they were making the locals emepy out everything. We met a French guy motor cycling back from Pakistan to France who said he thought they had been told to be nice to tourists, and maybe it's right - we'll see - five more days to go.
Our first day we went to see Muynaq, a town which used to be a fishing port by the Aral sea - it's now 150 km away because the sea has shrunk so - there is a memorial and a row of rusting boats below it to bear witness to what's gone. It's unclear whether the cause is the irrigation needed for the cotton industry imposed by the USSR or global warming or a more natural phenomenon, but it's a very tragic and poignant place to go. And some local men pumped water for us from their well to fill our reserves, because we didn't understand how to use it, and were clearly very happy to help us.
We have had small children waving at us for some days everywhre we go, certainly through Kazakstan and Uzbekistan - they just love seeing the vehicles go by.
Stayed in Nukus, a town on the way towards Khiva which has a fantastic art museum. A local artist fouind and collected dissident soviet art for about 40 years and kept it hidden to preserve it - there are about 70,000 paintings and ceramics and many of the artists ended up in the gulags because of it. The museum itself has been built recently and rotates the exhibition in an attempt to display it. Their numbers more than doubled when we turned up.
Had an intersting meal in a local restaurant the night we got there, where a drunk but very friendly Uzbek called Victor embarrassed his wife and children by insisting we had a photo taken with them and called Sally 'Margaret Thatcher' and another man came up to Dave thinking he was Joe Cocker, so now we all have the image of Joe Cocker being married to Margaret Thatcher.
Got to Khiva very late to a pre-booked hotal of almost morrocan style. The plumbing wasn't up to much but it has AC, unlike the one in Nukus where we all got bitten to death by mossies. But the ladies running it were very sweet and welcoming.
A day in Khiva seeing the most beautiful architecture in the old city. It was fairly quiet and very little hassle - most tourists they get seem to be French and we met some Germans. We had some engine trouble with the Green vehicle which seems mostly to be caused by dust and it was fixed in the next town for about six quid.
And then another drive through more hilly desert yesterday to Bukhara, ending in a luch and verdant plain and fields of cotton as we arrived. This hotel is spanking new and greeted us with local wine and nibbles. The plumbing is fantastic, the breakfast something other than fried eggs and the city is lovely, tho more commercial than Khiva.
We have one more day here and then to Samarkand. Not sure whether to buy a carpet or not....
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