The crazy “-stans”

The governments of Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are really not very interested in having tourists like us come to their countries. While Uzbekistan welcomes tourists that are shuttled from attraction to attraction in big buses, don’t ask any questions, spend a lot of money, and then leave quickly again, Turkmenistan really doesn’t want anybody to come!

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The consulates, where one applies for the visa, are the first place, they make sure that you know you’re not quiet welcome. We applied for the Uzbek visa in Bishkek. Just getting an appointment at the embassy took us four days. While we got the visa quite easily and quickly afterwards, the lady issuing the visa was rather unfriendly. After having the visa in our passports, she found it more fitting to yell “Out!”, than to just say good bye. In circles of travellers and cyclists she is actually better known as the ‘Monster of Bishkek’!
At the Turkmen consulate in Almaty, while being fairly friendly, they told us that once we were in the country we should just get to Iran as quickly as possible: “No left! No right! Just straight!”, as the consul put it.

Unfortunately for the Uzbek government we were not bringing any big money, neither would we sit in big buses, and we had no intention of not talking to the people. Same was true for Turkmenistan, often called the North Korea of Central Asia. Telling us that we should just go straight and not look at anything just made us more curious.

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While these encounters at the embassies, the very restrictive registration rules in Uzbekistan, and the stories which are told among cyclists and other travellers got us to be quiet anxious before entering these two countries, we actually had a really good time there!

We got to enjoy the beautiful Orient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, two of the most historic cities in Uzbekistan. Cities where you cold feel the old spirit of the silk road.

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In both countries we were met with incredible hospitality and curiosity! In Uzbekistan and even more in Turkmenistan, foreigners are a rare sight. While language often proved to be the biggest barrier, we still got around using the few Russian words we knew and finding an English speaking person from time to time.

In Uzbekistan we got to spend one night with a small farmer family. We loved hearing about their lives and were truly humbled by their selfless hospitality. To avoid the biggest heat of the day we told them that we would leave by five o’clock in the morning and asked them not to wake up because of us. When we got up the next morning they had already prepared a wonderful breakfast!

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In Turkmenistan we asked a woman where we could find a store in her little village. Rather than pointing us the way to the store, she invited us into her house right away! She and her daughters prepared an incredible meal and we spent a long time looking at the family photo album and listening to their stories.

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Other than these wonderful encounters Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were the hottest places we’ve been to so far. Temperatures above 40°C were rather the norm than an exception. If it gets so hot the entire rythem of the day changes. We would get up at four or five in the morning, have a quick breakfast and be on the road as the sun was just rising.

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At noon the latest we would find a tree, eat a bit, and then just lay in the shade and wait until it’d get a bit cooler again. We used any chance to cool of, jumping into rivers and irrigation channels. In the evenings we sometimes even cycled into the dark to make use of the cooler temperatures.

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Exiting Turkmenistan we left the last of the Central Asian states behind us. We can honestly say that we had an incredible time in this part of the word. We are quite certain that we’ll be back some day, even though Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan might not have the highest priority 😉

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