Wednesday 24 September 2014
The view from the top of the hostel wasn’t as impressive as you’d think – possibly because all you really see are roofs of the houses below you, and none of the really pretty buildings are that tall. Bear in mind that the hostel is down a small side street in the residential area, and maybe 10-15 walk from the main tourist sites – although that of course makes it a nice and quiet area. Or would be is it wasn’t for that bird chirping away constantly. And the 15 or so Australians (average age: about 65. Average subject of conversation: ‘he’s dead you know, yeh heart attack.’) who had already filled up all the tables upon my arrival. It did confuse me at first that breakfast wasn’t downstairs in the courtyard again, so maybe there were only four of us in the hostel yesterday.
Also having breakfast were a couple of Indians, one of whom I overheard was heading to Tashkent Airport to catch an evening flight. As I’d now changed my travel plans, I needed to get back to Tashkent this evening too, and wasn’t sure of the best way of doing it; shared taxi seemed to be no worse than any other and wouldn’t require seeking out the railway station.
“5 friends, 1 road trip, London to Mumbai”. It turns out that these Anglo-Indians (born in India, living and working in Southall for several years) were trying to drive a 4×4 from London to India, for charity – though they were having some difficulty sourcing visas for the next leg of their journey through China. They’d left on 12 September – felt weird to think I’d been in Uzbekistan longer than they’d been on the road. One of them however was feeling a bit ill and was going to fly to India and meet the rest of them when they arrived; I arranged to go to Tashkent with him via shared taxi. Part of their trip had them visiting schools and projects en route – they were in Samarkand to visit one of these, in one of the nearby outlying villages.
Whilst waiting for them to return from their project visit, I stayed in the hostel and chatted to another of the solo female travellers I’ve been meeting on my travels. It’s one of those questions that I often encounter, both online and from my friends back home who wonder how even I, a tall geeky hairy late-30-something bloke, can travel to all these strange places on my own, never mind a solo woman.
I have to say, in my experience, most of the ladies I’ve met travelling have been on their own, so it’s much more common than people in general seem to realise. And none of them ever seem to have encountered any issues relating to their gender – and I’ve come across women who have travelled alone to places as ‘risky’ as Afghanistan and Iran. They’re much more (self)-confident than I am, and I don’t really think it matters whether you’re a woman or a man when you travel; as long as you have the mindset to travel, you are aware of any risks and do the research, you should be safe.
I left the hostel a little after lunch, and we were on the road in the shared taxi around 2pm. That said, the driver piddled around Samarkand for half an hour picking up a couple of other passengers before we finally set off for Tashkent. We got a good deal on the trip – even paying less per person than the two locals sharing the car; our negotiations were handled by the other Anglo-Indians who seemed very confident and able.
The road there was very long and boring; more semi-desert. I did finally learn however why everyone has to get out of the car/bus when it goes through a petrol station – it’s not petrol they use in general, but pressurised gas. Literally ‘gas’ stations, they’re pretty dangerous places.
My companion was getting a bit angsty about getting to the airport on time, partly because he was planning on it taking a good hour and a half to get through customs/emigration. When we arrived at the outer edge of Tashkent, the driver tried to get another car to take me to my hostel while he went to the airport; after failing for about 10 minutes and to help out my companion, I just said to drop me off at a metro station or decent bus stop. We were only about half an hour behind schedule …
Despite being dropped close to a metro stop, it was a nice enough evening and my foot wasn’t hurting so I decided to take a walk up to the hostel rather than ride. It was only about 7km and I thought it wouldn’t be too bad – it did feel much longer by the time I got there in complete darkness though.
I’d not been in that long when my dorm-mates arrived – and behold it was the German I’d previously met in the second hostel in Almaty. Weird how everyone’s paths always seem to cross. This time he was travelling with a friend, and after settling in, all three of us headed out into the Tashkent night to source some food.
It took a while to find something to eat – we ended up going to a small mini-market for cheese/bread and eating it on the wall of Khast Imom, as no restaurants were open. Nearby we’d had a conversation with five or six local youths who told us there was somewhere a couple of km away and they’d drive us there, but we declined – partly because we suspected we’d end up having to go clubbing with them or something.