My entry into Uzbekistan, via the Dostyk border, was off to a great start. It was quick and hassle-free. Even getting a taxi for the right price was easy. The scenery was also pretty amazing, although it’s kind of hard to capture after sunset. One thing I noticed on my way to Fergana in the Uzbekistan Fergana Valley, was that the roads were immaculate. The drivers, on the other hand, were not. Many close calls were had. Apparently, red traffic lights are just a suggestion. Or maybe the drivers were distracted by all the pretty Uzbekistan national-coloured lights adorning almost every lamp post on the way.
The ride onto Fergana was fairly quick and uneventful. The other 3 people in the taxi jumped out just before the town so it was just me left. I was guiding the driver to my accommodation when he started to ignore my directions and made a wrong turn. He must’ve decided that it was too much trouble and stopped in front of a hotel and told me to go there. That wasn’t going to work for me, so he stopped 2 young boys walking along the footpath to see if they spoke English. They did.
I showed them the map. All the driver had to do was make a u-turn, but for some reason, he was reluctant. The boys ended up finding the phone number for my accommodation online and gave it to the driver so he could get directions straight from the source. That conversation lasted for a strangely long amount of time, considering that the place was only one main road away from where we were. The boys and I joked that the driver must have smoked something because it shouldn’t have taken that long to explain to him how to get to the next road.
Everything was finally sorted and the young boys went on their merry way, but not before saying, “Welcome to Uzbekistan”. After finally arriving, I met Sardar, the owner of Status House, the place I was staying at. He was an absolutely lovely man, who of course welcomed me to Uzbekistan. He then gave me a heap of useful information about the area. He even offered to ask his wife to patch up a few small holes in my small bag.
Sardar advised me that I was the only guest booked in, so had the whole place to myself. Sweet! If you head to Fergana, I’d definitely recommend that you stay there. When I booked he was the cheapest place in town.
Fargana is a fairly nice town without much too much traffic or noise. It also has a lot of green areas and parks where you can sit down under the shade of large trees to escape the heat.
Uzbekistan is bloody hot! The temperature got up to 38 degrees in the middle of the day, but thankfully the bar that I stopped at for lunch had Uzbek music and misting taps above to keep customers cool.
Onto to Andijon
Someone from Andijon, in northeastern Uzbekistan, contacted me through Couchsurfing and said that they would like to host me. I agreed and started heading back to Andijon, even though I’d already passed through there on the way to Fergana. Sardar organised a taxi to take me to the station where I could get a Mashrutka to Andijon. And that’s where things started getting weird.
The taxi drivers at the station were saying that the Mashrutkas to Andijon stopped running at 6pm. I was very dubious of that claim and kept reiterating that I wanted to take a Mashrutka, not a taxi. The taxi drivers wouldn’t back down on their claim but did eventually agree to take me for only a fraction more than the Mashrutka price.
Strangely, this taxi didn’t leave full. There was only a woman with a baby in the back seat with me and a man in the front seat. We left before 7pm for a drive that should have taken about an hour. It took over 2 hours because we stopped several times. The first stop was only about 10km out of Fergana. There were a lot of fruit sellers set up on the side of the road. The driver and the male passenger went off to buy some fruit. I admired the sunset.
The second stop was only about another 10km down the road, just before we hit Quva. That stop was for the male passenger to pray. While he was praying, the driver suggested I try a strange concoction of horse milk and hot sauce from a roadside seller. He was not taking no for an answer so I had a sip. Somehow the sauce offset the sourness of the milk and made it almost bearable to drink. At the same time, it was pretty gross.
Back in the car, the baby seemed to be fascinated by me and I was able to not only stop him from crying but also make him smile. It was a way to pass the time until we got closer to Andijon. The driver stopped just before we entered the town to give a guy waiting on the side of the road a big wad of cash. That seems completely normal.
Once we had made it to Andijon, the driver put me on the phone to his daughter who spoke a little bit of English. She said that my host had lied to me and wasn’t meeting me, as had been arranged and reconfirmed when I’d spoken to him on the phone just 15 minutes prior. I was a bit taken aback by this and super skeptical of what had been said. What made it even worse was that I was asking them to call to my host and they weren’t letting that happen.
They then decided, without consulting me, that they were going to take me to the station where I could get a shared taxi to Taskent, which was 5 hours away, at 10 o’clock at night. As I was telling them that wasn’t what I wanted, my host called the driver’s phone. He informed me that something had come up and he couldn’t meet me, so he would pay for me to stay in a hotel. Umm, okay.
The driver took me to the hotel that my host and suggested. It turned out to be the most terrible hotel I’d ever come across. No WiFi. Smelly and mouldy bathroom. Rickety looking single bed with stained sheets. But at least the nice lady at reception served me some tea and snacks.
I ended up speaking to one of my host’s friends, Azuz, who said that he would come and meet me at the hotel and sort things out. The driver had been hanging around to make sure that I got checked in okay, but had to go. Azuz met me in the hotel lobby about 10 minutes later and helped me check in. He told me not to worry, that everything was sorted out and that my host would meet me at the hotel at 11am.
When 11am came around, my host was nowhere to be found, but a creepy guy who took pictures of me as I walked towards reception was. I told him to delete my photo from his phone then left to find WiFi so I could plan my escape from that town. With the help of some friendly locals, I found a cafe with decent food, WiFi and airconditioning. The last one was what I need the most after walking in the Uzbek heat for half an hour and witnessing some crazy traffic scenes.
Can, Cannot, Can
With a concerted group effort, involving 2 staff members and 2 diners in the cafe, I was able to place my order, only for the staff member who took the order to come back 5 minutes later and say that it wasn’t available. So I changed my order and the same staff member came back another 5 minutes later and said that my original order was now available.
After bingeing on WiFi for a while, I was ready to pay for my meal and leave. That should’ve been simple enough, right? When I got to the counter, I only had a large note and they said that they didn’t have change for it so. I offered to pay by credit card. They took my card, but a short while later said that they couldn’t take credit card. That created a bit of a dilemma as they wouldn’t take my cash or credit card, I couldn’t think of any other options.
I waited at the counter while the staff spoke amongst themselves. It was quite amusing as different staff would come and join the conversation for a bit, then go off and do some work while others joined in. I suspect every staff member was a part of the conversation at some stage. Eventually, after about 15 minutes of deliberations, the one worker in the place that spoke a small amount of English gave me my card back. He then said they were giving me the meal as a welcome to Uzbekistan. How pleasantly unexpected.
Getting to the Uzbekistan Capital Tashkent
My map was playing up, so I stopped a local walking by and asked him how to get a Mashrutka to Tashkent. He was lovely and spoke to the driver of a passing Mashrutka. That Mashrutka would take me to the station where I could get a Mashrutka to Tashkent. The ladies in the Mashrutka were trying to ask where I was from by making a roof over their head with hands. I didn’t get the reference until one of them pointed to herself and said “Uzbek”. It was an amusing exchange.
At the station, the driver of the Mashrutka I was in, let’s call him driver number 1, took me to the Mashrutka I needed to take. He explained to the driver of that Mashrutka, let’s call him driver number 2, where I needed to go. When I tried to give driver number 1 money for the ride, he refused to take it and wished me a safe journey.
A lady already in the Mashrutka said she was going to Tashkent too. Next thing I know, we’d stopped somewhere and men were crowding around the Mashrutka. One of them grabbed my bag, but I quickly grabbed it back. Then the lady motioned for me to follow her. We ended up in a taxi and she called her neighbour Islam who could speak English. He told me that she was paying for my taxi ride to Tashkent because she thought that taking a Mashrutka all the way was too dangerous. I was starting to wonder why people didn’t want my money that day!
The lady and I got to chatting, as much as you can chat when you don’t speak the same language. I found out her name was Najiya and she was 60 years old. She had to show me her ID for me to believe that last one. She also found out all about my trip and told me that her son lives with her in Chirchiq, a small town about 30 minutes from Tashkent.
Due to several unscheduled stops and a dinner break, we ended up getting to Tashkent much later than expected. Najiya was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find WiFi to contact my host at that hour, so she invited me to stay with her in Chirchiq. It was nearly midnight by the time we got to Nadjiya’s house. I figured we would just go to sleep. Najiya wanted to make sure that I wasn’t hungry or thirsty and placed a whole pile of food and tea in front of me. Uzbeks take hospitality to a whole new level!
I could barely keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to be rude to this wonderful person who had just done so much for me. I tried to stay alert so we could talk for a bit. Shortly after, Najiya’s son, Sheruz came home. He was able to speak a bit of English and said I was welcome to stay with them as long as I was in Tashkent.
In the morning, Najiya had to leave early in the morning to do something, so Sheruz made me breakfast and told me about his studies and his girlfriend that he is keeping a secret from his mother. Hospitality and intrigue; what’s not to love about Uzbekistan?!
When it was time for me to leave, Sheruz gave me his phone number, in case I needed anything while I was in Tashkent. He then walked down the road and waited with me to make sure that I had no problems getting on the Mashrutka to Tashkent. I really don’t have the words to describe how awesome and overwhelming Uzbekistan has been so far.
Stay tuned for my next post where I’ll head into Tajikistan.