The road to Samarkand had little of interest, mainly cotton fields and more broken tarmac, although in fairness the surface was generally a lot better than what had gone before. It was a relatively short leg at just 278 km, which I broke down into three days riding. Although undulating (2,200 m of height overall) it had been much easier than I expected, probably because the headwind had not been as strong and I think the extended rest in Bukhara had helped me regain some strength.
The Bahodir hostel which had been recommended took some locating, even though I knew it was in the center of town and was fairly close. After being given the run-around by various locals and taxi drivers I finally found someone to take me there. Which brings me to an important point, my thoughts about Uzbekistan are constantly changing. I’ve noticed more so than any of the other central Asian countries that there is a real mix of feeling towards ‘cycle tourists’ and the way we are treated. On the road here I was stoned by the young kids, the first time this has happened in Asia. The majority of store keepers charge us well over the odds (or try), sometimes really taking the p**s and some locals have proved a little hostile. Yet it is one of the most hospitable countries I have visited and the kindness I have been shown has been amazing. Two sides to the coin I think.
I waited until 5 p.m. to see if Clive would turn up, as a double room (shared) was cheaper than a single, but when there was no sign of him I figured he’d probably run into some problem en-route. The single room was quite large and freezing cold, as the temperature had dropped during the day. All I wanted was a warm shower, but it just ran cold. Not impressed. Next morning it was still cold, so I decided to go for a walk and hopefully after speaking with the owner I’d have some hot water on my return.
Clive turned up at lunchtime. He’d had the same sickness as me and had been looked after by a local family, another example of Uzbek kindness.
During my walk I located the best supermarket I’ve been in since arriving in Central Asia, because it had just about everything (food wise) I needed for the next leg of the trip. I’d return later to collect my supplies.
Samarkand was much different to both Khiva and Bukhara with wide boulevards, cultivated lawns and huge parks, so much so if it wasn’t for the mosques and other ancient buildings (which have a very similar look) you’d think you were in a different country. The most noticeable feature was the overall tidiness and the feeling I got was that they take great pride in keeping it that way, though I never ventured far due to time constraints. But once again the architecture was simply stunning.
I set out the following morning towards my next destination, Dushanbe. We had reckoned it would take five days, but almost immediately I realised I had stomach problems and the first day was very hard, with a tough pass to climb. By lunch time I was getting stomach cramps and I struggled to finish the days riding, earlier than planned. The pass had been beautiful though, as once more I was back in the mountains I love so much.
Falling into bed later feeling pretty ill, I awoke during the night vomiting violently and was not quite quick enough to get out of the tent. By morning my stomach was empty and I was hungry, but any attempt to eat just saw it come back out. I considered staying put, then thought some exercise might help, so packed up and set off again. It was a short day, the roads were (thankfully) relatively flat but in places pretty awful and the scenery had returned to more tree lined roads and cotton fields – not very inspiring.
I had not eaten much for two days or been able to keep anything down, so used up the last of my energy drink tablets. On the third day it was back to climbing and although I felt very weak, I did manage to keep going. Thinking my main challenge would come from the altitude and all the hard riding, I never thought that food poisoning would play such a major part in this adventure. However speaking to other travelers (and seeing Clive have the same problems) it seems this area is famous for it’s cuisine, obviously not the quality of it either!
It wasn’t until I arrived in Dushanbe, a day later than planned that I was eating again (sadly I’d been offered hospitality by a local farmer the night before, but refused because of my sickness) and although it seems I’m having horrible luck, there are many highlights too. I’d met another British cyclist on the way here called Matt who had stopped with a Warmshowers host and he passed on the details to me, so I had a place to head for when I arrived. As I was wandering around looking for the house I bumped into another cyclist from the UK, Gillian, who was also staying with Veronique, our French host now living and working in Dushanbe. A real stroke of luck as I’m sure I’d never have found it on my own. Gillian shared her experiences with me, having just finished the Pamir Highway herself and her help was much appreciated.
I’ll leave the story of Dushanbe and my departure for the Pamir Highway until my next update, which may be in a while as I’ve no idea if I’ll get WIFI along the way. Hopefully more soon…