Central Asia – feeling challenged in Uzbekistan


Turkmenistan visas are notoriously difficult and right now refusals are common. The worst thing is that they don’t give you a reason for the refusal so it is very hard to figure out what to say and not to say. In any case, I  would have been given only 5 days transit visa for Turkmenistan and I know that I would not have been able to cycle the over 500 Km to the Uzbek border but it was sad to break my overland journey and arrive in Tashkent by plane.

I was really worried about entering the country having read how strict they at customs; things like medications containing codeine are strictly forbidden and I was told they check your electronic devices for religious books and your photos for anything they consider contentious – what is contentious is not clear – and impose heavy fines if you fall foul of the law. With that in mind I had left my codeine painkillers in Iran and uploaded in Dropbox any of the eBooks I thought could be considered problematic. As it happened, I sailed through customs which was a relief.

After the noise and chaos of Tehran, Tashkent was orderly and calm, cars stopped at traffic lights, they followed road rules and they didn’t use their horns all the time AND people crossed the road at pedestrian crossings. It was a real culture shock!

Tashkent was the place where I was getting my Tajikistan visa. That went really smoothly although I came across the first instance of official corruption when the man at the embassy tried to charge me 100 USD telling me it was an express visa.  I pretended to be shocked and requested to speak to the consul and in an instant the fee was reduced to 50 USD for the same express visa!

Because of my knee problem I had been off the bike since Shiraz in Iran and I  couldn’t wait to experience the wonderful sense of freedom I always get when I am riding. I need Uzbekistan I cycled longer daily distances mainly because you need to register in a hotel at least every three days and outside the tourist circuit, not all towns have hotels.

Rhubarb seller
Rhubarb seller

Getting out of Tashkent was easy and I relished being amongst green cultivated fields: strawberries, wheat, fruit trees,  rhubarb. A real rest to the eyes after my last cycling days in the Iranian desert. I got to the town where I planned to stay the night in good time, cycled to the town motel and a disheveled woman with an untidy mop of hair opened the door. The place looked dirty and insalubrious and the woman asked me for an astronomical amount for the night. I didn’t get a good feel for the place and by now I have learnt to follow my instincts so I left for the next town knowing that I was cutting my options: by the time I got to there it would be very late and I would have to take whatever I got offered. I was lucky and although late I was able to find a clean, comfortable place to spend the night.

Young sheperd
Young sheperd

The cultivated land gave way to pastureland, flocks of sheep everywhere being looked after by very young shepherds, some of them children still. Then the old mono crops ‘soviet’ farms with names like State Farm 3A appeared. Small groups of men and women worked the fields closely supervised by men in shirts. Every now and again I saw them resting by the water canals, under trees escaping from the unforgiving sun.  I didn’t see many tractors working the land.


From then on I really started to feel the heat, rivulets of sweat trickled down my back and dripped from the tip of my nose to my thighs. I tried to cool down by dipping my shirt in the canals regularly. It was bliss to put on a soaked shirt and feel cooler, even if it was just for a few minutes. To add to the heat the road surface was atrocious, at times, the broken tarmac disappeared altogether to give way to a stony track. It was really hard going and soon it became clear that I would not be able to get to the nearest big town with a hotel but with so many people around in the fields finding a discreet place to camp seemed near impossible and I decided to ask some local people for a place to camp. Soon I was surrounded by a small crowd and everyone had a different opinion of what I should do and eventually I accepted the offer to stay at the house of a young man from the village and his wife.

rps20160528_222731When I walked into their house I realized that they were very poor, as was the whole village, a collection of small mud houses without running water and a common latrine.

Abbas and his wife had a sweet little baby girl. I was surprised to see how the traditional cribs have some straps to help swaddle the baby.  Each time the baby whimpered her mother breastfed her by leaning over the wooden frame of the crib with the baby still tightly strapped in inside.

After a while, Abbas’ father showed me an old photo album from the time when he was in the army.  Black and white photos of young men from all corners of the Soviet Union filled the album which was decorated with stickers of colorful flowers. He was clearly reminiscing and his smile told me that the photos brought fond memories for him.


The heat continued until I got to Samarkand as did the bad roads and by the time I got there I had to admit to myself that I hit a low, the first one of my trip. My knee was still complaining, I was covered in flea bites from my night in the village, I got the first burst blisters in my bum, I didn’t feel like eating and to make things even worse it downpour for two days solid. My worries about my ability to do the Pamir Highway surfaced. Will I be able to do it? Do I have too much weight? Is it more than I can chew?

Char Minar - Buchara
Char Minar – Buchara

All I wanted to do was to stay in the hostel and not move but I made myself admire the beauty of Samarkand and with Tineke and Marcel, some other cyclists I met at the hostel organized a visit to Bukhara and Khiva, two of the main tourist Uzbekistan destinations, a decision I didn’t regret as both were truly magical places. By the time I got back to Samarkand my spirit was in a much better place and felt physically better and was ready to face the nearly 500 Km left until I reached Tajikistan.

Hazardous road?
Hazardous road?

Big climbs followed by steep down hills, switchback after switch back with wonderful views of snowy peaks. I had to stop frequently to be able to admire what was around me because the conditions of the road surface were just appalling. That night, once again, I didn’t make it to a town where I could find a hotel to register in and I camped in what seemed to be an old workers holiday camp. It transpired that the offer of the locals to camp in the place came with a price. After some haggling a price was agreed and I knew it was too much when the keepers of the place seemed to be embarrassed to take the money and when that night I ended up having my own personal body guard: one of them planted his mattresses not too far away from my tent to look after me and my belongings. That night I went to sleep to the sound of his prayers.


The green fields changed to bare sun baked mountains and with the changing landscape the flocks of animals changed too, the cows and sheep disappeared and gave way to goats. The constant heat soaked up my energy and the relentless haggling made me feel I had to be constantly on guard. It got to its climax when changing money in the black market as everyone does in Uzbekistan. The man I was having dealings with tried to give me half the amount that I was due.  He used the old trick of sandwiching notes of a lesser value in the middle of a wad of money and then getting angry with me when I challenged him and throwing the dollars back in my face.


And so amongst haggling, welcoming headwind because it cool me down and getting off my bike when the road surface got too rough I got to the border with Tajikistan. The parting gift from Uzbekistan was a thorough check of all my belongings. It took me over two hours to get through the Uzbek customs. They checked every medication I had on me and asked me questions about the books I carried. They checked every photo in my camera, tablet and i Phone and after an intense discussion between five custom officials, they asked me to delete a photo which had a fire engine in it.

I have found Uzbekistan challenging.  I found it harder to relate to its people and I found the cycling hard. Maybe it is the contrast with Iranian people, maybe it is the heat and the harsh landscape, may be it is the time I’ve been in the road, I don’t know.

I am pleased to say that now after a few days in Dushanbe with other cyclists in the most amazing Warmshowers host I am really looking forward to the Pamir Highway.

21 thoughts on “Central Asia – feeling challenged in Uzbekistan”

  1. Hi Blanca.

    So much admiration and love for you. Here’s hoping the Pamir Highway is less challenging than Uzbekistan!

    Julie x

  2. Cuidate mucho Blanca y que la experiencia en Pamir sea mejor en todos los sentidos. Un abrazo muy fuerte Eres admirable Te quiero mucho xxx

  3. Way to go friend. Always a pleasure reading your blog. My ancesters actually hailed from Bukhara.
    Please be careful with your knees. Love, hugs and prayers

  4. Shame you didn’t manage to sneak that fire engine through, but seems those border guards were earning their keep!
    It sounds like your bargaining skills and scam detectors are getting well honed. May the Goddesses of Knees, Weather and Warm Showers take good care of you through the Pamir mountains, and sending a huge hug and love from me. xxxx c

  5. Oh Blanca, it sounds like you’ve encountered lovely people eager to help, and others wanting to make a quick dollar out of you. The countryside looks sparse and arid, and the heat must be difficult to cope with. Uzbekistan does sound challenging, and the Pamir Highway may be even more so. Enjoy those spectacular mountain passes and take good care my lovely friend.
    Kath xxx

  6. Dear Blanca, Your blog continues to be riveting, informative and thought provoking. What a tough time you’ve had physically and emotionally- but you got through it with your skill and determination. I hope you get some tlc soon – sounds like you need it to soothe your body. Glad you’ve regained the joy of cycling- not easy with boils on your bum! I look forward to reading more of your adventures- stay strong and know you’re in our hearts. Love Fin xxx

  7. How brave you are – I couldn’t have cycled past Calais! I love reading your adventures and marvel at your resourcefulness and determination. Lots of people are thinking about you here. Don’t forget that as you continue on your travels. Shân xxx

  8. Blanca

    Amazing blog, I love your attention to detail. I feel your pain when you are having liw moments, or being over charged or swindled – I am experiencing similar. I too have a bad knee….and some elbow problems occasionally, and had a small crash three weeks ago that left me with damaged ribs. Im only just back on the bike and now its raining continuously on the Black Sea! You have to laugh don’t you?

    After reading this I’m considering flying over this section – what do you think? Are you pleased you did it? Also, I wanted to ask about money. I’m not carrying any dollars, I take money out of ATMs as and when. Ive heard there are some countries you cant do these, is this why youve been using dollars?

    I hope you enjoy the Pamir Highway! Such a shame I’m so far behind you. I’m sure we will meet somewhere one day.

    Take good care

    Claire 🙂

  9. Hi Blanca. Love reading your blogs and cant wait for the next one. I think what you are doing is amazing, and I am sure we all wish we could do the same!

  10. Estás hecha una escritora de primera, Blanca. Un placer leerte y esperando que pronto tengamos un libro (con su correspondiente traducción a poder ser 😉 y todas las fotos que seguro que tendrás.

    Abrazos y ánimos a esa rodilla!!!

  11. Blanca. I love your posts. I can feel the heat and pain. Good job you knew abouts photos and books etc. Do they check facebook? Sounded scary. Take the challenge one metre at a time. Of course you can do it. L xx

  12. I am from Uzbekistan and I love living here)) maybe you had lived in better situation that is why you had such kind of opinion about us

  13. Oh wow, Bianca – makes my time here in Europe feel cosy. Haggling is my bete noir and to have dollars thrown back in your face because you checked, ACH! – well done you. Love your posts – Looking forward to hearing about the Pamir Highway.

  14. Hi my dear friend, you are so brave! The check points really sound scary, I’m so pleased you knew enough to keep yourself save. I hope the next bit will be easier, more rewarding and more enjoyable, again. Loads of love!

  15. Hi Blanca

    What a different world! It sounds like you’ve been having a tough time. I am so impressed by your mental and physical stamina – you draw nourishment from the good times which helps you through the bad. Good luck with the Pamir Highway – can’t wait to read the next installment. Jackie xx

  16. Hi Blanca, you probably won’t remember me, but we met through Dorothy at her house a couple of times.
    I have been following you’r journey and can say that I admire you so much. What a challenge you have set yourself. And you are facing it so well. It’s good to know that most of the time the folks you meet are kind. So good luck with the rest of you’r journey. I am enjoying reading you’r blog. I am very much an armchair cyclist. Good on you girl . Love Margaret.

  17. Dear Blanca

    So far away, such nice stories, take care, especially with your knees. Enjoy your trip, because this is ones in a lifetime. We know it can be hard sometimes, but believe in yourself. We know from experience, that nothing is betting then being on the road, cycling, camping, meeting new people, having great experiences, and learning that people all over the world and kind, nice, and having big hearts. We know, you know, enjoy.

    Love Blanca and stay safe.
    Karin and Marten, your first warmshower hosts, Netherlands, Ottoland

  18. Uzbekistan sounds as though it was a challenge on many levels.
    People make and break journies and seems like you had some angelic cyclists to pick you up when your spirit and energy wained.
    By the time you read this you will be well underway with The Pamir Highway – I’m sure it will have its challenges and I’m sure it will (literally) have its high points. Sending angels to watch over you. Keep going special lady xxx

  19. Hi Blanca! Amazing,and fabulous to be able to hear of your progress through Uzbekistan and how brave and strong you are in the face of both human and environmental challenges. Sending you lots of love Carine and Dinks x

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