As we are getting behind with things, not having any internet for 3 days, Dennis suggested I start on yesterday’s blog while we were driving. Not an easy matter. A bit like being in a tiny boat in a force 10 gale. pitching out all over the place as we bump through the potholes. This road is a worse “K-A-T-A-S-T-R-O-P-H than any so far. Once we left Bejneu in Kazakhstan yesterday morning and we are told for the next 100kms, it is bad. Dennis does a brilliant job though, getting us safely through at a reasonable rate of knots.
Yesterday morning we were up at the crack of dawn. I wanted to sleep as it was cool, but Dennis bullied me into getting up and on the road before it got too hot. Good job we were up early as a storm was brewing, but we managed to get packed up before it arrived. Just caught the edge of it, so a few claps of thunder and a quick shower, but it would have been enough to have soaked the tent.
The road into Bejneu was good and driving through town, we passed some stalls selling fruit and pulled over to buy melons.
The girl who sold them spoke a few words of English and insisted on carrying the melons back to the Land Rover for me. Then the search for diesel began. We needed to top up before we get into Uzbekistan as diesel is apparently difficult to get there. On finding a gas station, it didn’t take credit cards or US$, nothing but Tenge, the local currency. We only had enough Tenge to buy 8 litres of diesel! So, back to the fruit stall to ask the English speaking girl, where we could change money. She laughed and pointed out it was Sunday, we didn’t have a clue, and the bank wasn’t open. However, a guy had overheard the conversation, and communicated without a word of English, that he could take us to a money changer. He jumped in my seat and I scrambled into the back of the Land Rover and off we went to a back street apartment. The guy knocked on the door, had a quick conversation with the lady who emerged, and hey presto, she returned with a handful of notes. A quick transaction and back to the gas station. While we were filling up the guy came back with his van and wanted us to follow him to his home for “chai”.
Thinking it rude to refuse, it proved to be a lovely experience. Passing through a large gate into a compound. On one side was the house where we were warmly welcomed by the wife and what seems like dozens of children running everywhere. 4 were the guys and an indeterminate number were his sister’s, who appeared to also live there. After a huge mug of camels milk – I thought it was delicious. A bit like natural yogurt. Dennis took one sip and that was enough for him! Not his favourite tipple. Then came bread, plates of cherry and apricot preserve, dates, pumpkin seeds, cucumber and all sorts. Tea too, of course. They were so hospitable. Kept insisting we use their shower – perhaps that was a hint! The eldest child was learning English and with Google Translate on her phone, we managed to have some sort of conversation. It was very hot in the house and we were told it was going to be 50 degrees!!!! Next we were taken on a tour of the compound and to see his pride and joy, his camel.
With which he insisted we have our picture taken. Then we were shown his underground and beautifully cool, store of onions, potatoes etc. and another huge store room for melons. We presumed he must have land somewhere to grow them.
Then he kindly showed us the right road to Uzbekistan. There were no signposts in Bejneu and without any internet we are not getting much help from any online maps. Wow, what a road. Off into nothingness. Just dust and desert. We had to stop if 2 or more trucks came passed together. The dust was so thick, it was impossible to see the road ahead. We were told is was 80kms to the border. It was a very long 80kms. Once we reached the border a queue of trucks stretched as far as the eye could see.
Dennis doesn’t like long lines, so we just drove down beside them. Once we reached as far as we could go, it was a chaotic scene of people and cars parked everywhere. We started chatting to a couple of truck drivers who stuck their heads through our window. They told us to just go and see the soldier on the gate. “You’re tourists, he’ll let you through”. Unbelievably this is what happened. However, this is just stage one. The next stage is getting out of the vehicle, taking our passports to an office an waiting for a customs inspection. I felt very sorry for the local people who must have to queue for hours. We were treated like VIP’s and taken to the front of the queue.
Then it was the Land Rover’s turn. As usual because she was very hot, she was not wanting to start. Reluctantly she did and Dennis had to drive her through a trough of water – presumably disinfectant, but who knows! Then a quick check and we were out of Kazakhstan The wait on the Uzbek side was longer, though. The cars ahead of us were really being put through the third degree. They were laden with electrical good, bicycles, push chairs, everything you could think of. The boots stuffed full, the interiors, too and huge amounts on the roof as well. The guy who was processing the car documents was rather officious. He wanted two copies and I didn’t have another. He wanted me to go to the banks kiosk next door and get photocopies done. However, there was no one there. Another guy came along and took the documents from me and told me to go and sit in the machine. Eventually, the paperwork was sorted, a quick customs search done and we were through. 2 hours to get across the borders. Money changing and insurance followed, but these were quite quick and relatively easy. The men don’t like dealing with me here. Women are second class citizens.
The differing currencies are a bit of a nightmare. The Uzbek Som is pretty worthless. For US$200 we received over 1 million 2 hundred thousand Som, and the insurance cost us US$8!
We pressed on into the desert. The road continued to be horrendous. After three or four hours of driving there is still nothing but flat desert. Where to stop for the night???? We see a communications tower in the distance with some trees surrounding it. The only shelter we have seen, so pull off on a track towards it. It looks uninhabited, but of course it was and dogs came out to greet us. Dennis asked the guy who emerged from the building if we could camp there. Of course, he said and even asked if we like to come in to the house to sleep. We very gratefully made camp beside the fence. Later in the evening the son came over for a chat. We learned we are still 350kms from Nukus and the next 100kms is still a bad road!