The Turkmen/Uzbek border is out in the middle of fucking nowhere. Even our driver and guide missed the turn off from one of the so-called “main” roads and had to back track about 30 mintues. How the hell anyone knows where it is is a goddamn miracle. Being shoved a plethora of paperwork in the form of declarations and travel documents, because it is supposedly chaos and difficult (not even our guide was allowed to accompany us into customs) to clear the border crossing, is absolute horseshit. They didn’t even scan our bags. We could have smuggled cocaine in a clear plastic bag and it still wouldn’t have crossed their minds what we were bring out of their country. I’m beginning to think all the “be careful’s” and “don’t get into trouble” was just a pack of lies. Uzbekistan’s border is a 1km walk in the desert from the Turkmen border crossing.
We knew things would be getting better when we saw our Georgian friend’s “BATPHARM’ (some Batumi pharmacutical company) semi waiting at the same border crossing. We asked the guy sitting in the front seat where he was. We entered into a small room and start filling out our declaration paperwork for Uzbekistan and he appears – the same guy who offered us chacha several days earlier aboard the cargo freighter. He then says we’ll meet up in either Bukhara and/or Tashkent and keep drinking. Shocker. Sadly, we had to keep moving as he clearly would be there longer than us. We proceeded to the second building where they did scan our bags and the friendly middle-aged Uzbek woman offered us grapes, bread and some candy while they looked over our documents. Second good sign.
Leaving the building unscathed, not two seconds went by before bill-toting Uzbeks run at us asking us to exchange dollars for local currency ($1 to 2,000 SOM in the form of thousand increments always). I exchanged $50 at a decent rate, and got a wad that resmebles something I would imagine morely likely seen at the Colombia/Panama border. Then, like always, we sat at a café and ordered coffee to figured out who would take us to Bukhara. At this point, there were noticeable differences in the demeanor and reception from the Uzbeks, compared with the Turkmens. More open, load, excited – maybe it has to do with not having the president’s photo up everwhere staring at its citizens. (see Syria, Jordan, Turkey and most recently Turkmenistan) After figuring out who the driver is we lug our shit into the smallest marshutki on the fucking planet; the country is full of them and they are fun as hell to drive. Two minutes after leaving the border I kindly asked the driver if it would be possible for me to drive to Bukhara. He said ‘of course’ and I drove the marshutki halfway to Bukhara before switching to a different car who got us there in no time, do the lower cost of gas compared to benzine.
Bukhara was also noticeably different as well compared to its Central Asian counterpart to the west. Many more of its mosques and architecture were in tact, colorful and centrally located in the city. Food and booze were cheaper. Adding to the overall positivity of our short stint in town was the lady running the hostel we stayed at, Medina who just happened to be at the stop we got off at. The driver wanted more money then we agreed on and she ripped him a new one. You would be fucking dumb not to stay at her hostel: cheap, clean, good food and she will gladly drag your asses to the bus station to make sure you get on the bus or train with the least amount of hassle – which is a shit ton – and bargain for you. (enter contact info) Someone at Lonely Planet should be fired for leaving her info off their website and guide books.
After the world’s biggest shit-show at the Bukhara bus station we were sitting in the “steam room on wheels” all the way to Samarkand – the site of my 31st birthday.