Cotton fields on the Silk Road

Annika_Roberto_Samarkand

Country: Uzbekistan
From Samarkand to Tashkent
Days on the bike: 4
Kilometers cycled: 318.41
Average Kilometers per day: 79.60
Total Kilometers cycled till Tashkent: 7414.96
Total days travelled till Tashkent: 381
Lesson learned: Do not take the Uzbek registration bureaucracy too easy
Most wonderful miracle: Meeting a collegue from high school in Uzbekistan
Laughed about: Richard does know where France is
Food we ate: Fresh cow milk, fresh salad and camping noodles
Greatest obstacle: Changing Hostels just before midnight after a 113.22 kilometer’s day

Samarkand, the second biggest town in Uzbekistan, was equally touristic as Bukhara. The pedestrian’s way between the Registan Ensemble and the Bibi-Khanym Mosque was stuffed with restaurants, souvenir shops and travel agencies. We stayed in a new built hostel called Abdurahmon (1/7 Bukhara Str., Tel. +998 662 35 47 27), in the old town. In the neighborhood I spotted only traditional houses. This area had nothing to do with the new touristic alleys full of artificially watered grass, trees and fountains. But it was just a five-minute walk from there.

The Abdurahmon hostel's proud owner Abdurahmon and Roberto right before breakfast

The hostel’s proud owner Abdurahmon and Roberto right before breakfast

“So which language do they speak in France?”

We spent five nights in Samarkand, were invited to eat Plov with the locals and made friends with Christiane from Germany who came to learn the Uzbek language, Kim and Katie from the USA, who travelled around after their Peace Corps time in Moldavia, Filip from Belgium, who came all the way by himself on the motorbike and got lonely and Richard from India, who lived in Australia. Richard liked to confuse people and pretend that he did not know where France is. The truth is that he had traveled half the world and wrote a list rating the countries he liked most and least. France was on Number 19.

The Registan is one of Samarkand's main Attractions

The Registan is one of Samarkand’s main Attractions

Hostels are like a friendship-machine. We just cannot leave one without establishing new friendships. But what I learned in Samarkand was that hostels are also a great place to encounter old friends. We ran into Anne from France for the second time and I could not believe my eyes when I saw my old high school colleague Jonny, sitting on the neighbor table.

Annika, Roberto, Jonny's friend, Richard, Jonny, Christiane and Jonny's girlfriend

Annika, Roberto, Jonny’s friend, Richard, Jonny, Christiane and Jonny’s girlfriend

So many things undone

Samarkand has much to discover but thanks to the Abdurahmon hostel’s good internet connection, its ping pong table, the backgammon, darts and the comfortable bed we had trouble going out for discovery. We spent most days writing and playing in our breaks. Apart we were just five minutes away from the well-known backpacker’s hostel Bahodir.

We are not the only cyclists on the famous pinboard in Bahodir hostel

We are not the only cyclists on the famous pinboard in Bahodir hostel

We had planned to stay no longer than three days. But how could we leave if we had plenty of articles unwritten, hardly any places seen and not even played ping pong once? Day by day passed and we stayed for five nights.

Back to my beloved countryside

We left Samarkand in the late afternoon. We could only cycle for 33 kilometers until the sun set. To our great luck Roberto spotted an apple farm with the perfect camping spot inside. We searched for the owners to ask permission and ran into a lovey-dovey couple in their late 50s. They shared looks like honeymooners and treated us like their own children. The woman brought us fresh picked cucumber and tomatoes, the man milked his cows and offered us from the fresh and warm milk. It was delicious! We still had some bread and boiled eggs left and prepared ourselves the most delicious salad for dinner.

A group af salesmen and -women share Plov with us

A group af salesmen and -women share Plov with us

We cycled on. There was a long way to go and if we wanted to make it to the capital Tashkent in 72 hours we would have to hurry up. The registration-rules in Uzbekistan were not cycling-friendly. Every 72 hours we needed to stay in a hotel or go to the police in order to receive a registration paper. Theoretically locals have to register any foreign guest they host with the police as well.

Melon break on the way. I love late summer for it's fruits!

Melon break on the way. I love late summer for it’s fruits!

Annika the Uzbek cowgirl

Things did not really change since Bukhara. We saw cotton fields, donkey carts, marshrutkas (mini buses) and chubby women in colors with gold teeth. We smelled hay, fresh bread and cow poop. We heard the wind in sunflowers and trees, the squeaking of the local’s bicycles and the donkey’s hoofs on the floor. I could have cycled through the Uzbek countryside forever.

Two women forced their minibus driver to stop so they could ask us where we were from

Two women forced their minibus driver to stop so they could ask us where we were from

I grew up in a small town myself and love the peace that the apparently slow life there makes me feel deep inside. I forgot about the missing Chinese Visa for Roberto, about the coming winter, the far too expensive hostels and the bike’s problems and just enjoyed the ride. I imagined myself sitting on a horse’s back instead of my bicycle saddle, galloping through the fields, visiting the neighbors and having a look for my pregnant cows.

Donkeys and horses everywhere.

Donkeys and horses everywhere.

Farmer’s life

In the afternoon we cycled up a mountain and rolled down towards a small reservoir where I had planned to spend the night. The reservoir was closed for public. We had to search for alternatives and asked with a farmer’s family. They were constructing mud bricks to build themselves a house. Since it was not yet finished the six of them were living in a small hut without walls just next to the cows and chicken. We prepared some noodles with tomato sauce for everybody and the youngest girl brought us a lot of presents. Some flowers for my hair, a piece of freshly baked bread and even more tomatoes. We helped bringing the calves back home and had dinner together.

The little girl was the one who unbderstood my sign language from the first moment on and translated it to her parents and siblings

The little girl was the one who unbderstood my sign language from the first moment on and translated it to her parents and siblings

The village’s main attraction

By the following day the bicycle problems began. The wind blew with a little less intensity and we had decided to cycle hard and only pause every 20-30 kilometers. After 15 kilometers the first flat tire stopped us, 12 kilometers later the second and in the afternoon we fixed the third. Instead of relaxing, chewing snacks and checking the map we spent our short breaks searching for holes to patch up. Our motivation was big, the landscape beautiful, the wind less hard and the registration time short. We cycled nearly 100 kilometers in the end.

Traditional cyclist's and Uzbek headgear

Traditional cyclist’s and Uzbek headgear

At night some teenagers showed us a place to pitch our tent right behind a village. Of course we were the village’s attraction and plenty of visitors of all ages observed us pitching up the tent, preparing dinner and filtering water. I invited some children to explore the inside of our tent, but they stared at the tent with fear in their eyes and ran back to their parents. The men talked their heads off and wanted to get Roberto’s attention. We should have really learned some more Russian or Uzbek. Turkish, English or the picture book did not help us at all this day.

Little locals waved towards us when we left the village

Little locals waved towards us when we left the village

Cycling like the wind

Since we had left the hostel in Samarkand in the late afternoon we still had half a day’s time to arrive to Tashkent with valid registration papers. The wind was calm and the road partly acceptable. I changed into the highest gear and we cycled the first 50 kilometers in less than two hours. After another five kilometers we had our first problem to fix. My front rack lost a screw and blocked the front wheel. Since we ran out of spare screws Roberto came up with the great idea to take one from his back light that had never worked anyway. It was not the perfect solution. We had to slow down our fast pace while cycling on bad asphalt to avoid that the screw fell off again.

CO2 friendly bread delivery

CO2 friendly bread delivery

Cycling like snails

We fixed another two flat tires, were stopped for the first time by the police controls (they just wanted to chat and offer us almonds and cookies) and just 20 kilometers before Tashkent another tire got flat. The hole was tiny and it took me long to find it. Why do those things only happen when we cycle against the watch?

The ride is not yet over

It was late at night that we arrived to the hostel in Tashkent. The city was really big. From the outskirts to the hostel we had to cycle 15 kilometers through the dark and crowded streets. We had some trouble finding the way, but if there is a will there is a way. The hostel appeared cozy, plenty of old friends and future-friends were having dinner or beer or both. I wanted to sit, eat, say hello to all the old friends from Bukhara and Samarkand and sleep, all at the same time. When we were just unpacking our things into the expensive room (double the price compared to Bukhara) the manager asked us to leave. He had just checked our registration papers and found out that the last registration was too old. “But we have just missed it for a few hours!” I defended our delay. “We have cycled 113 kilometers today and there was really no way how we could have made it faster!” The manager had no merci. He kicked us out.

The Belgium motorcyclist Filip showed us the way to another hostel. “They kicked out that French girl here as well. That hostel is said to be easier with the registration thing.”

Confusion on the street. This sign spells Oqqovun.

Confusion on the street. Where please? This sign spells Oqqovun.

Anne again

We were not surprised to meet the French Anne for the third time already in Uzbekistan. Anne tried to sort out her registration problem in Mirzo’s guesthouse (Sagban Street, 95, Tel. +998 97 720 6668.). She had five days without valid papers. The owners could not do anything. “The police check our visitor’s book every day and we are strictly forbidden to give shelter to anybody who does not have a valid registration”, Obed, the owner’s son, told her. He was feeling a lot of pity for Anne, but risking his hotel’s existence was just too much. We preferred to not let them know about our situation and better call a couple of hotels. We were lucky. One of them sold us an illegal registration paper from one night ago and we could stay. Poor Anne had to leave the hostel in the middle

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  1. Hector says:

    How much did you pay for the illegal registration paper?

  2. Just wanted to mention, now it’s more cyclists-friendly. By law you only have to register if you stay in one city for more than three days. So you can travel from one city to another without registering anywhere but you have to have a proof that you didn’t stay more than three days in any city. Train tickets can be a proof, as well as a bicycle! Police understands now that sometimes it’s impossible to register when you’re cycling from one city to another for days.

    Rafael Zinurov
    Topchan Hostel Tashkent
    http://www.topchan-hostel.com/
    https://www.fb.com/topchanhostel

    • Hello Rafael,
      thanks a lot for the update! Hope to be back in beautiful Uzbekistan soon! 🙂
      Cheers,
      Annika

    • Hello Rafael,
      that is so great to know! This will make many things much much easier for other cyclists to ride through beautiful Uzbekistan. I hope that some day we can get back there. We really enjoyed the time very much and wish to return with plenty of time to oxplore and wander 🙂
      Thanks for the tip again, cheers,
      Annika

  3. Rafael says:

    Hello, I’m organizing my bike trip to uzbekistan next summer and your blog is very interesting and useful.
    I’m planning to do a Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva trip in 21 days. Do you have any advice about roads, traffic and winds? did you travel mostly on secondary road or did you use also their main roads (they look like quite big and I’m wondering if I have to consider it as Highways and avoid, or just like good wide roads with normal traffic?)
    Thank you for your inspiring blog!
    Rafael

    • Hi Rafael,
      thanks a lot for writing us! I believe you’ll enjoy your ride a lot! We stuck mostly to the main roads, they were often full of potholes, but in most parts there weren’t really any secondary roads. Much of the traffic was donkeys and car drivers aren’t too bad either. Also due to the potholes the traffic isn’t very fast, what makes a good advantage 🙂
      We had some headwinds (heading West to East) and I believe that Turkmenistan usually has easterly winds, but not sure if this is true for Uzbekistan as well.
      Here’s a map of our bike travel through Uzbekistan showing the nightly stops, even though not the route, but as I said we mostly stuck to the main roads.
      Please don’t hesitate to write us again if you have any other questions!
      Cheers,
      Annika

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