Saturday 13 September 2014
See, breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but it’s something I tend to avoid. This becomes a problem when you have a long day travelling, and the only place you can stop for a snack is a roadside market selling nothing but discus-shaped bread, and watermelon.
The other issue is I’ve noticed that Uzbekistan in particular is a country that does lunch. By the time it gets to evening meal time, most of the chaikanas and street stalls have wound down and virtually the only thing you can get is shashlik. I have nothing against shashlik, but you’d have thought in a huge bazaar like Chorsu bazaar in Tashkent, there would be more evening options. Apparently not.
Tashkent is much bigger than Bishkek and seems to have more life. In addition, it seems to have much more of a ‘city’ feel than Almaty which just felt a bit ‘suburban’. On initial viewing, which granted was in the back of a taxi, it felt a bit more like London. I can’t decide if it’s a shame I’m only here for one night or not.
My trip over to the Aral Sea has been confirmed; the lady from the Internet (Marta) who was looking for people is going to be in Khiva on 16th, ready to head out on 17th to Moynaq, and conveniently there’s an overnight train from Tashkent to nearby Urgench tomorrow, so I’m going to meet her in Khiva. In actual fact she should be on the same train as me (I think she’s getting on in Samarkand) so we hopefully will meet up in Urgench station. The train will take around 17 and a half hours, and I get a ‘bunk bed’, like I did on the trains in Eastern Europe – the cheapest tickets were for a normal ‘seat’ but there weren’t any left.
(I didn’t buy the ticket personally; it was done on my behalf by an agency working with the hostel, so it cost me an admin fee, but Tashkent is huge and the railway station is on exactly the other side of town, so sometimes it’s just easier to be lazy.)
The hostel’s quite small, being a one storey building built around a central courtyard. The ‘social area’ is the courtyard itself, where there are benches and a raised dais with rugs and a table that you can sit round. My dorm is a reasonable-sized room with four beds laid side-by-side – no bunks here – and to get there I have to pass through a smaller room with two beds in it. The shower/toilet is in the block on the side next to the dorm.
My journey to Tashkent was also quite long; about four and a half hours slightly cramped in the back of a ‘shared taxi’ – basically a normal taxi with several people in all going to more-or-less the same destination, so it’s cheaper if they all share one taxi rather than everyone getting separate ones. The disadvantage with the system is that it requires enough people to want to go to the same place at the same time. You’d have thought that Fergana to Tashkent would be a popular route, given its distance and that no buses do the journey due to the road going over a winding mountain pass that they’re still building, but apparently not … maybe I got there too late in the day (about 10am) but I to wait some 45 minutes for even two people to turn up.
The pricing structure of a shared taxi is also quite interesting – you negotiate individually with the driver. And if you want to go sooner with the car less full, well then you pay more. Essentially the driver has in his mind a price for the whole car to make the trip, and he tries to obviously get everyone to pay proportionally more than this. Add in the complexity of getting people to turn up, and sometimes you aren’t quite certain of the price you pay until you leave; in my case he wanted 40,000, I got him down to 35,000; when it looked like there’d be only me and one other person (an older lady who kept trying to speak to me in German), she suggested 60,000 each, until finally a third person came and we all paid 50,000.
I can’t even say it was a particularly interesting journey – it got a bit scenic in the mountain passes in the ‘neck’ of Uzbekistan where the country is only a few miles wide, but apart from that it was relatively flat and boring. There was a checkpoint en route that I had to get out the car and be ‘processed’ at – because the Fergana Valley is still policed more zealously than other parts of the country – but I was getting rather bored by the end.
Had some bad news from back home but I’m keeping an eye on that situation.