Desert Daze

I awoke in Samarkand in a bad state. Some sort of stomach bug came at an inopportune time and made leaving the hostel impossible for the morning. This was an issue as I was due in Khiva that night, several hundred kilometers away.

 

To Bukhara

Throughout the morning, I took laps to and from the bathroom, becoming increasingly dehydrated with each trip. Standing (without my backpack) took effort and food made me want to vomit. But despite my misfortune, I had to check out and soldier on; my Turkmen visa would not wait for me. I stood and steadied myself against the wall, shouldered my pack, and staggered off into the midday Samarkand heat.

It took only a few minutes to hail a taxi to the avtowokzal — bus station — for just a few thousand cym. Uzbek taxi drivers are shifty and he wanted 10 USD, which is about 10 times the actual rate. My sickness was my bargaining power, and I got my rate lest I throw up in the passenger seat. However, I got out of the taxi and soon realized that there was no way to get to Khiva from this station. Not only that, but my taxi knew it. He took my money and left despite knowing the location was wrong. I stood in the sun a moment, regretting not puking on his dashboard before I went to the woman at the desk for help.

She was a total gem and helped me flag down a taxi, negotiated a fair rate, and sent me on my way to the correct bus station. Apparently I had gone to the station that ran the line between Samarkand and Tashkent, but I needed the one that sent buses to Bukhara in the west. My new driver brought me to the correct place without issue. In the lot, I bought a liter of water and went up into the hot, cramped bus to prepare for the four hour ride to Bukhara.

After another hour waiting for the bus to fill up, we lumbered off, straight for a service station where we sat for another hour while the bus had its oil changed. Then we were off. I tried sipping on water as we bounced down the street, but every bump in the road brought stomach pain and a real urge to vomit. Adding that to the 100-degree heat in the bus made for quite the unpleasant ride. At one point I managed to fall asleep, and was promptly awoken by the toddler in the seat behind me who yanked on my hair painfully.

The bus bounced on, down desert highways and through decrepit rural towns. It never stopped, thankfully. But it also never made it to Bukhara like it was supposed to. An hour before we were set to arrive, the bus stopped in a small town and we were informed that we’d have to find or own ways to Bukhara.

Thankfully, there were marshutkas, or shared van taxis, out waiting for us. I got the front seat of one with my backpack on my lap. Our driver drove in hostile silence, breaking it only to shit-talk the other drivers through the open window as they raced each other. At one point, another drove up next to us and I was instructed to hand a phone charger to its driver before we lurched away. By the time we arrived in Bukhara, I was thoroughly sweaty and exhausted, though my job didn’t end there.

 

To Khiva

I arrived in Bukhara at 5:00 PM. Normally, that’s too late to continue but I was feeling lucky. I passed on the taxis that came to prey on us unsuspecting passengers and hiked a few kilometers to the backside of the nearby bazaar where marshutkas gathered. I found one who was going to Khiva, bought a seat for 70,000 cym (about 8 USD), and settled in for the next leg. It turned out to be an 8 hour drive to Khiva, which I was not expecting.

The moment we got out of the Bukhara city limits, the driver took off, setting a breakneck pace through the vast desert. Any slow-moving truck was merely an obstacle around which to swerve and continue. Sometimes a faster car would pass with a honk, and other times a lone cyclist on their way across Asia would wave from their camp. We continued on into the sunset, watching the sun streak the sky over the vast shrub-studded sand. For hundreds of kilometers, nothing changed. Once the sun was mostly down, we stopped at a roadside restaurant along with most of the truckers.

After the sun went down, the driver sped on. Another hour and he pulled into a small town to drop off a couple passengers. He did the same a few towns later, and again and again until I was the only one remaining. The drive lasted another hour and a half through the night. When my driver’s water became depleted, I gave him my own; half in appreciation for driving my lonesome self to Khiva, half so he’d stay awake.

I gave him a hostel address I hoped might have a bed, and by midnight I was standing before the ancient walls of the old city of Khiva, 12 hours after I had left in the morning and mostly recovered. I knocked on the hostel door and found a spare bed, and fell in for the night in my final destination in Uzbekistan.

 

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