The road less traveled

May 7, 2013

Since the guidebook was published in 2010 and unaware of the future border closure near Samarkand, it wasn’t clear how much it would cost to get to the next closest border crossing or how long the journey would be. Based on what I could figure, $20 would be enough, so I changed that amount at my guesthouse and set off to get a cab to Shakhrisabz, the birthplace of Tamerlane. Knowing that I was cutting it close on cash, I negotiated long and hard to get a price that would insure enough money to get to the border.

To be honest, the trip there wasn’t really worth the journey, when compared to Samarkand and Bukhara, so I was looking for a cab about 2 hours after arriving. While finishing the sightseeing, I ran into a tourist I had seen about in Samarkand. Alexander is a Russian engineer living outside of Moscow and he was headed the same direction as I, so we shared a cab to Guzor.

On the map, Guzor looks like a good place to switch cabs to get to your final destination. Alexander was headed to Termez and I to Denau, so we had to split. The reality, however, was that Guzor was the dustiest town I can remember and had few options for continuing further east. Initially, the forceful grandmother that ran the ad hoc taxi stand wanted to combine us in a cab to a town halfway to our destinations. My gut told me to hold off since I figured that getting a cab there would be hard, and therefore, expensive on my $20 budget. Alexander was then placed in a mashrutka to some place near Termez and I was left to wait indefinitely. Finally, after 1.5 hours, the woman received confirmation that a taxi heading to Denau had space for me. Of course, it would take another hour before he arrived, but a 4PM departure likely meant that we would beat sundown. Despite not getting an agreement on the price for the journey, he hurried me into the taxi. Inside were a husband and wife, the husband was obviously better off than most with the pressed button down and slacks he wore. We conversed as well as one can without a grasp of either Uzbek or Russian and had fun enjoying the local music with hands in the air accompanied with clapping and finger snapping. I was entertaining enough that the wife took out the cell phone to record myself and her husband having fun.

The ride, however, was anything but fun. The road was in terrible condition, forcing us to drive quite slow to avoid pot holes and other hazards. To further lengthen the journey, the husband had the cab driver stop several more times to buy food of various sorts (sunflower seeds, ayran, spring water, and the very hard and salty cheese ball, kurut). So, this meant that we missed sundown by about 45 minutes. For me, this meant that I would not be able to cross the border and refill my wallet with local currency in Tajikistan and would have to burn my limited number of small change dollar bills to pay for a room that night. Annoyed by this and the painfully long journey, considering the distance covered, I didn’t have any guilt in paying the man the fair price I had offered back in Guzor. He fussed a bit, but eventually accepted the fare knowing he had charged me a tourist price.

The hotel he dropped me in front of was full, so I was on my way to find the only other hotel I was aware of in this town. I wasn’t getting far asking the locals if I was walking the right direction when a drunk man approached me asking if he could be of help. I ignored him and darted into the street when he tried to grab my arm. On the other side, he found me again. This time I had forced him into open space to make sure it wasn’t a pickpocket scheme and realized that he spoke English reasonably well. Given my desperate situation, I decided that I needed to hear him out.

He told me that the other hotel was far and flagged down a cab to go there. That hotel was also full, so he offered his apartment for a price. We came to agreement and walked to his apartment. Inside, he offered a spot on the living room floor after placing a couple of cushions down for comfort. Turns out that he’s married with one child and has an elderly woman living there, though it wasn’t clear whose it was. What was clear was why he was drunk. The elderly woman (who I never saw) stays in another room and makes horrible noises out of pain from some terminal condition where she no longer speaks in sentences. I figured that once she was asleep that I would get some rest, but after two hour long naps, it was clear that she doesn’t sleep through the night and I needed earplugs.

Inside one of Sharisabz's Mausoleums.

Inside one of Sharisabz’s Mausoleums.

In Shakhrisabz

In Shakhrisabz

Soooo.... Timur the Great (Tamerlane was supposed to be here, but he's in Samarkand.

Soooo…. Timur the Great (Tamerlane was supposed to be here, but he’s in Samarkand.

The dustiest town I can remember, Guzor.

The dustiest town I can remember, Guzor.

The curious landscape of Uzbekistan as we approach Tajikistan.

The curious landscape of Uzbekistan as we approach Tajikistan.

Guilt. The cab driver slowed so I could speak with this cyclist. SHE is from England and older than me. I was humbled as she climbed the pass.

Guilt. The cab driver slowed so I could speak with this cyclist. SHE is from England and older than me. I was humbled as she climbed the pass.

A tilted mesa. New to me.

A tilted mesa. New to me.

The cab driver and his passengers bought dairy products from this Tajik road side vendor. She's single, lads! That's why she's covered up.... that and the ubiquitous dust.

The cab driver and his passengers bought dairy products from this Tajik road side vendor. She’s single, lads! That’s why she’s covered up…. that and the ubiquitous dust.

My cab driver

My cab driver

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