So, as I mentioned before because of visa blullshit I had to break my no fly rule. After seven hours in the air from Seoul (one and a half hours on valium) I landed in Tashkent the capital of Uzbekistan. Tashkent was my first stop in “real” central Asia and also the first place I had to write a travel article from. As a result I’ve been writing and editing about Tashkent for the last week and am not too juiced to do so here. Put simply I loved Tashkent. I loved it way more than I expected to. It’s really a very pretty city with tree lined boulevards, beautiful public parks and a lively outdoor café culture. Also inflation is wild here so you literally have to carry a backpack in order to accommodate like $20 worth of Uzbek money. To pay for a Kebob and a cup of tea you have to count out like one hundred bills in fat rubber banded stack so that made me feel pretty baller. On top of that, I was waiting for my second passport to arrive via FedEx so I thought it best to stay in a reputable western hotel that would be sure to receive my mail for a few days which meant a nice four day long break from hostels spent at the Intercontinental (heated pool, chocolate cake, $35 dollar massages hooty hooty). I decided to get all my research done n the first two days so I could spend the rest of my time writing and enjoying myself. The first diay I hired a car (not what you’re thinking, I just waved down a teenager in a yugo and he drove me around for like nine bucks an hour) and saw every monument, bazaar and museum in the entire city. The chorsu bazaar was deffinatly the high point. It was the biggest outdoor market I’ve ever been to all situated under huge gleaming tiled domes, and radiating out for miles in little alleyways. They had incredible meat sandwiches and vanilla milk shakes and BANGIN peaches. Anyway, the next day I did the same car-hire thing but this time went to every hotel in Tashkent getting prices and phone numbers and looking at like 500 rooms. If you want to know where to stay in Tashkent I am your man.
It was around this time that two things happened that would change the character of my stay. First, at lunch at the Plov center (plov is rice with mutton, veggies and fruit and is the national dish of the Uzbeks) I was introduced to horse sausage which was unspeakably amazing, and second I was invited out to dinner by a group of Indians staying at the hotel.
The Indians were two middle aged women who came from big engineering families in South India whose families had “been doing business together for hundreds of years”. With them was their family doctor, a spine and brain surgeon in Tashkent for a conference who also happens to be a professional golfer. Now, let me say that they were incredibly warm and nice to me and invited me out every night. This woman, though, was out of control. She constantly feared for her safety and was convinced everyone was trying to mug or poison her. She would clap and snap at waiters telling them she didn’t like Uzbek food. Upon entering a cab she would pound on the driver’s seat and say “Can you please turn on some music” then if it was Uzbek music “We don’t like this kind of music please change it”. She would criticize the driving of every driver and accuse everyone of trying to cheat us. If she ordered bottled water she would insist the bottle be brought to her for careful inspection first. She didn’t like Uzbekistan saying it was too dangerous (it is not), dirty (not) and the traffic too unwieldy (not at all). I can understand if this was her first time out of Wisconsin but she was from India and the driving (as well as the safety, and water) I’m sure paled in comparison to her own home city. She was a writer composing a book on driving the coast of India for Penguin but was given to saying things like “I can’t write about Muslim countries. They’re soulless.” She would comment constantly on woman having to wear Burkhas although I did not see a single, not one, covered face in all of Uzbekistan. Her friend on the other hand was kind of endearing. She was a successful painter and had a great off beat wackiness. Although a bit clueless, she leaned in once to tell me that Muslim countries were famous for their pork dishes, we had great fun together. She won me over when she confided that she had spent the day looking for Russian porno for her friends at home in India. “We can’t get stuff like that in India and I like to see the sleazy side of places”, then she regaled me with tales of finding sex shops everywhere from Istanbul to Mykonos. Her favorite game was to play “Are they a prostitute?” at random passing Russian girls. One night we all went out to check out the night life of Tashkent and her and I stayed out hours past when her companions went home to check out the late night club scene. The club scene was bumpin and packed until we left well past three in the morning filled with the hippest youngsters I’ve seen on this whole trip.
Anyway, they invited me out to a strip club the next night and I would have gone if it weren’t for the horse sausage. You see, that afternoon I went back to the Plov center and ordered a shit load of horse meat. The cook warned me not to eat too much but I figured I was misunderstanding him. Fast-forward two hours and I am laid up with the worst stomach ache of this trip.
After Tashkent I boarded the overnight train (spent hours eating cured cow stomach and drinking tea with strange but sweet men in tracksuits) to Orgench and from their took a 40 minute taxi to the famous old silk road town and slave market of Khiva. The cab driver was a nice man with a mouthful of gold teeth. He was a bit of an eccentric who pulled over to the side of the road to pee while leaving the car moving down the shoulder with me inside then ran to catch up to us. He had been chatty but at a gas station we got in little squabble about money based on a miscommunication and after we got gas he drove on in silence. Then he started rummaging in the glove box and eventually pulled out a huge knife. Uh Oh. Luckily after the knife he pulled out a walnut sliced it open with the knife and offered me half. Then we were back to being fast friends. One of his most endearing qualities was his Malcom X air freshener. I noticed another car had the same air freshener and I asked him about it. He started mumbling in Russian, looked embarassed, then ripped it off the mirrior tore it to peices and threw it out the window. I suppose that whole thing will have to remain a mystery. Anyway...
Khiva’s amazing. The whole town was completely restored by the soviets in the 70’s and 80’s. It has more tourists than I’ve seen anywhere else but who cares its fuckin sick. At night, two little girls asked me to take their picture. Then the father came out with a baby for his picture. Then the little girls dragged me back to their house to meet their grandmother and mother where I was served melon, and meat pies and bread. Eventually they offered tea and when I accepted they all cackled maniacally and proceeded to pour a long spout of vodka from the tea pot into my tea cup. I thought I was being polite and only ate what I was offered but the mother kept asking why I was so hungry and the grandmother kept gesturing that I was getting fat. Finally the father gathered my food into a napkin and hurried me out the door saying the police were coming. I’m pretty sure he was lying and I’m not sure what I did to offend them but I doubt I’ll ever bump into them again so I’m not tripping.
Anyway this is rambling tomorrow an eleven hour car ride to Bukhara
Kiss Kiss Hug Hug