May 6, 2013
It has been decided that today would regretfully be my last day in Samarkand. There was one primary reason for this. May 9th. May 9th is Victory Day (over the Nazi’s) and while it’s really a Soviet holiday, it’s still technically a national holiday in just about every former Soviet republic. It’s something that I had lost sight of because, before all of the visa hassles, I would have had plenty of time in Uzbekistan before crossing to Tajikistan. Well, my cushion of time for the rest of the trip was gone, and I had to hustle it to Tajikistan before the holiday for fear that the border would be closed May 9th.
I got out the door by 8:30 and started a long day of walking amongst old, dusty neighbourhoods finding the little gems hidden in them. When walking to the synagogue in the Old Jewish Quarter, and old man on bicycle rode up behind me and asked me if I was looking for it. I said yes, and followed him the rest of the way there. He was a caretaker and took me inside for a tour, including the synagogue, showed me old Torah (covered, of course) and prayer books they possessed, and shared a sprig of mint from the garden to put in my next tea. I then continued through the narrow streets observing adults going through their business and children playing and fighting in the streets. I, not surprisingly, put all of that on hold as I walk by, creating a diversion for all- usually with the children getting the most enjoyment by having a chance to come up to me and practice the two or three English phrases they know.
I came to the end of the neighborhood to find the most spectacular vantage to the Valley of Mausoleums which I would use later that day. While on my way to the ancient site of the city (Afrosiob), which was no longer used after Genghis Khan leveled it, I ran into my old friend, Max. To be honest, I was in my own world, as usual, when I heard someone shouting my name.
He never made it to the Aral Sea, in the end, but was still going to Tajikistan roughly the same time as I. We both had things to see, but we agreed to meet later on that evening at his hostel to sort out the details.
Since it was my last night, I figured how much local currency I needed to cross the border and went out to spend the rest. I decided that I would get a badly needed haircut. For about 3 dollars, I can’t complain about the results. Able to feel air on my neck and ears again, I went to meet Max.
I walked into the hostel and made my way to the back where the guest had congregated around a courtyard. I went to the first person I saw and asked if he knew Max. He did and informed me that he had just left for dinner, but he would be meeting him in about an hour to see the lights on the Registon. Alex is a Russian that doesn’t have a home. He works with telecom companies on contract in various countries helping them set up networks and is currently between contracts. The conversation led to travel plans and his were similar, but my plans had a flaw. The border crossing near Samarkand is closed. This means that I had to figure out a new itinerary to one of the two other border crossings, neither of which were close, and exchange more money.
We met with Max, as planned, and came to a consensus on the border crossing. I would go to the city where Tamerlane was born and continue to the border town of Denau and cross to Tajikistan Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.