We went down for breakfast and were shooed from one table like a couple of flies and told to sit in another breakfast room. They put out a decent breakfast of rice pudding and breads of several sorts. They also gave us a very attractive plate of fresh, local fruits. Sadly, we are trying to avoid raw fruits and veggies now since we are in the middle of the desert and have no way of knowing how they are washed or even if you can tolerate the water they are washed in here.
After breakfast we went and took care of the bus a little putting in gasoline from the jerry cans since we were a little low. The very nice English speaking front desk person told us that this part of Uzbekistan has only one delivery of “benzin” per week and the delivery day was yesterday. Thus, there was not much benzin left in the area at all. After sprucing up and feeding the BBB, we asked around about a tire fixing shop and how best to get from Nukus to Bukhara. On the map it showed only really one route to Bukhara, which is a more or less straight shot through the desert on a main road. However, we had heard that there was between 60 and 100km of bad roads/road work on this route. As you can imagine, we were a little leery of taking the bus all the way out into the desert only to have to deal with 100 km of bad Uzbek roads…
Now mind you, bad Uzbek roads are not your average bad roads. These roads are not roads at all. They are usually half dug up, half scraped strips of asphalt with jagged edges and HUGE car eating potholes. But it doesn’t end there, since there is only one lane or less of “Road” you have cars darting on and off the single strip of pavement trying not to utterly destroy their cars on whatever passes for a throughway on either side—all the while trying not to smash head first into traffic doing the same thing but coming the other way. We had experienced what we had though were bad roads the day before, so we didn’t really want bad roads again today.
There was another route on less main roads but it took you way out into the northern desert and then cut back down to Bukhara. No one knew the conditions of these roads and it would have almost doubled the mileage to Bukhara. So we asked as many of the taxi and bus drivers outside of the hotel as we could which route to take. We were hesitantly told to take the more main route with the construction. On top of this, we were low on fuel and needed to get out of this benzin-drought region. Trusting local advice and consensus, we changed some US dollars into a brick of Uzbek Som and set off in the direction of the tire fixer and then on to Bukhara.
The tire shop went smoothly. The nice man removed the exhaust pipe for us, which had rusted through completely and had shaken loose form the muffler with all the bumpy driving we had had the day before. It was hanging on by a single hook on the underside of the Bus. From now on a piece of the bus will forever be in Nukus, Uzbekistan.
Everything else looked good, so we set off for Bukhara.
In the beginning, the roads were fine. We passed through a few small towns and finally stopped in a little town called Beruni to pick up some black market Benzin.
We were told by the bus and taxi drivers back at the hotel that you could find benzin sold by the side of the road on small bottles by the liter. We weren’t totally sure what they meant but we needed gas to keep us going so we were on the look-out for bottles of gasoline sitting by the side of the road.
We pulled into several places that looked like they might have benzin but we were shooed on to this next place each time. Finally, we pulled into what looked like an ABTO MONKA (Cyrillic for Auto Shop, although the N is supposed to be backwards) with several other cars parked out front who were getting filled up with gas by young boys with bottles of gasoline and funnels. Andrea hopped out of the Bus and chatted (and by now you should realize that no one speaks English) with the first guy on the scene. He appeared to be in charge of the gaggle of boys, so we settled on a price 2500 Som/Liter. A little steep but better than the 5000 som/liter we had heard it might cost. So the boys set out to fill up the BBB’s gas tank and both jerry can with as much benzin as they could pour.
It was really hot and there was a MAGASIN (shop) to the side of where we were getting the gas, so while Bruce listened and chatted with the hoard of older men who had gathered to check out the bus, Andrea went in to get some cold water and something to eat. They sold these little pastries filled with onions that were delicious (which we found out later to be called Somsas and are a staple food in all of the Stans). I didn’t know that they were filled with onion and had to play Pictionary with the shop keepers and his daughter to figure out what the filling was made out of. (This is really getting kind-of fun.)
Soon after our first excursion into the black market, the roads started to take a turn for the worse.
Never ending awfulness beyond description…
The new main road, which will be a beautiful super highway, is being built right on top of old road. At that, there is not much of the old road left to drive on and of that not much of it was fully paved. Remember my description of Bad Uzbek roads… this surpassed even that description.
Bruce heroically dodged more potholes on this one road than there are in the whole United States including Texas.
About 20 miles in, we stopped for cold water at a little cement block building. At first they offered us water from a trough of water in the back. We had to refuse and ask for bottled water. They passed us down to the next run down tiny cement block building. We did get some bottled water there and as I walked out there was an eagle squawking and sitting on the ground in the shade. I was completely shocked and ran for the camera. What I hadn’t realized was that the eagle was tethered to the ground by the leg.
As I went to take a picture, the owner of the shop pulled the bird out and pulled up its wings so that I could take a photo. Even though I was protesting, he kept pulling at the huge bird by its leash and holding up its wings. I was almost in tears seeing this beautiful creature unable to fly. We drove away stunned back onto the terrible road that awaited us.
Miles of awful roads stretched out before us. They were practically disabling and made worse by seeing beautiful flat, freshly poured cement of the new road, only feet from where we were driving but not yet ready to be driven on.
After many slow and hot hours, we passed the 60km mark and came to the crest of a hill. We hoped to see some respite. But we only saw more and more of that awful road stretching before us surrounded by endless desert and paralleled by that damned half built new super highway.
Also realize that the BBB is a big wallowy bus with soft suspension and a lot of extra weight from the wheelchair lift. The lift is made out of many metal parts that no matter how hard we try to wrap up every piece with foam, dirty laundry and duct tape it just rattles and shakes over every bump. This makes driving over rough terrain that much harder because you are constantly hearing metal scraping and clanging.
We passed 100 km mark with still no respite in sight. We did see some trucks pulled over to the side of the road. We had to pull into their shade and re-group. We were both haggard with the 4 to 5 hours of 10 mph washboard, cheese grater, overwhelmingly awful roads. When we stopped the whole world seemed to keep moving and rattling for a few seconds. It was like when you first step off a boat for a few seconds your legs expect the ground to move under you and it doesn’t. This was really hard. Bruce was exhausted from trying to drive, if you can even call it that.
We saw the truck drivers ahead of us and asked the them how much longer the road construction went on. They signed and hand gestured 10 more kilometers or so.
We were both spent and I think the truck drivers knew it so one of them gave us a bottle of water … and it was cold! Very Very nice of him. After the cold water and some deep breaths we got back in the bus and went to head out for 10 more kilometers.
Tried to start the car and the car wouldn’t start. In the middle of the Uzbek desert MILES from anywhere in the middle of a terrible road that no tow truck would dare try to traverse. The Bus wouldn’t start.
At first we thought it was battery, like at the Kazakh border. We asked truck drivers for a jump tried and tried and tried… no good. The BBB was definitely pissed off at us for taking it on that awful road and was punishing us for it. Andrea got out the camera and started taking pictures. This might be the last time the bus ever moved or the end of our Rally at this point. Might as well document the end, right?
The two manuals that we have for this Bus are NOT HELPFUL!!!! We (Bruce, Andrea, and the Truck Drivers Three) thought that maybe it was the fuel pump. The only way to get to the fuel pump is to drop the gas tank… not going to happen. The truck drivers (who didn’t speak English, later we found out that they were Greek) offered to tow us since none of us could figure out what to do, and there really wasn’t anything else to do. One of the drivers pulled his truck up to be able to hitch us on to the back. We started putting the tow strap on and were all hitched and about ready to go. Realize that if we had to be towed over that awful road that it would be the end of the Bus. There would be no way to avoid potholes or sharp rocks. We would get someplace safe and call it quits if the bus couldn’t start.
One of the truck drivers signaled to try one more time to start the bus…. And…. Voila! The bus actually started! OMG!!!! The truck driver hand signaled that the problem was that when we pulled in the shade the gas cooled enough to pull it out of the fuel injector hose. It was way over 100 degrees F in the desert so that little bit of cooling that the shade provided could have made the gas contract creating a vacuum in the fuel injector. This would keep gas from actually getting into the engine. When the truck pulled out of the way then the BBB was in direct sun and it warmed up the gas expanded and thankfully the bus started again.
We thanked the incredibly nice Truck Drivers Three and gave them Salem Police Patches as thank you gifts and kisses on the cheeks which I think they appreciated. I hope they did and I hope that they know that their support made that awful situation much more bearable. Again, the kindness of strangers is overwhelming.
We were off again on what we thought was another 10km of bad roads. It ended up being more like 50-70km of construction/no construction but still awful roads. At some points the desert was reclaiming the roads and the sand dunes were stretching right over the asphalt. Eventually when we made it to slightly better roads but now it was getting dark.
In Uzbekistan, there are tons of little check points along the road where sometimes we get pulled over for curiosity stops, usually we just get waved right through them and sometimes we ask for directions. At the one right after the desert road, we stopped and asked where exactly we where. We were not as far along as we had planned nor where we thought we were. We were exhausted from the heat and the roads and the stress of the bus so we asked if you could stay somewhere for the night. We were directed right down the road 100 meters to a little roadside restaurant. We met the very nice owner who saw our haggard faces and ushered us right over to a platform with sitting mats on it and a low table that was straddling a small make-shift mote with running water. We had an authentic Uzbek dinner of Lag’man, which is a type of soup, as well as bread, beer and chai. It cost 10,000 som total, which is less than $5. We stretched out on the sitting mats and talked about the day. We watched the sun set over the desert that night.
We were anticipating on sleeping in the BBB, however Muselman (English speaking waiter) said that we could sleep on one of the outdoor beds. It was excellent, and we slept really well. Basically it was a metal bed frame with a board of plywood and fabric covered sleeping pads on top of that. There was water in a kind of moat around the bed and there were no bugs. However there was a cow and what we think were bats flying around eating all the bugs, so they were good. It was really interesting because the restaurant actually didn’t close until 4am for two reasons. The first was that it is Ramadan which is the Muslim holy month where they fast from sunrise to sunset. So after sunset people come out to eat and socialize. Also there is a law in Uzbekestan that forbids bus traffic from 10pm until 4am. This law was created after some terrible fatal accidents involving buses late at night. So at about 10pm while we were just setting down to sleep, several full buses of people came flooding into the main area of the restaurant washing their faces and feet at a little spigot and sitting around chatting and eating. We were far enough away, set back in a corner that we weren’t disturbed too much by the traffic of people. We were also so exhausted from the stressors of the day that we had another beer and a bottle of water (which also cost 10,000som….very confused!) and went to sleep under the stars.
It’s always an adventure here.