I spent a year living and working in Uzbekistan. And, like most people, I didn’t know much about the country before moving there. I quickly learned that Uzbekistan is unlike any other place I’ve lived in or travelled to. As I bumbled around the country from one mishap to another, I quickly fell in love with its beautiful strangeness.
We’ve only driven 20 minutes outside of Tashkent and it already feels like a different world. The soviet style apartment buildings and lush parks dissipate into dusty villages and farm land. When I first moved to Tashkent, I felt like I had stepped as far away from the familiar as possible. Now when I return to Tashkent from other regions of Uzbekistan, I feel like I’ve stepped back into the modern world. This time we were off to spend the day in the unfamiliar of Zaamin National Park.
On our way to Khiva, we visited Chilpik or the “tower of silence”. Dakhams are circular walled structures built on the top of hills. The dead were left inside the walls to be exposed to birds which eat the flesh. The bones are then dried in the sun and put in a central well. In an arid climate like Uzbekistan, they disintegrate into a powder. This Zorastrian burial practice pre-dates Islam which arrived in the region in the eighth century.
From Nukus we were able to find a shared taxi to the former fishing village of Moynaq. The 220 km drive took 4 hours and was far less bumpy than one would expect for being so remote. As the 6 of us snuggled close in the tiny car, the clouds hung low threatening us with rain. Passing through the small villages we could see first hand how shaped the land had become from irrigation canals siphoning water from the Aral Sea to the cotton fields.
Spring break draws to mind images of toned bodies, fruity drinks with pretty straws, and an endless escape of soft sand and blue water. I’ve never had this idealized spring break, and this year was certainly no exception.
Sitting in an old propeller plane I gripped tightly to my seats’ armrests as we set off across Uzbekistan and its vast desert to the small city of Nukus, in the western portion of the country. “Will the propellers still work if we run out of fuel?”, I stupidly spat out. My mind was filled with irrational thoughts of hurdling towards the earth in something called a plane, but looked more like a small rusty tin can. “WHY is there black stuff on the wing!?” Breath. The older I get, the more terrified I get of flying. The best part, I’ve been skydiving 4 times. Let’s figure that one out.
I should start this off by saying: I’m a horrible cook and I have no interest in becoming a better one. I wish that cooking interested me, and it slightly does in the company of friends, but mostly I just like to eat good food…..prepared by other people. It’s a shame, and I’m sure hugely disappointing for my mother. I should also say, that while I have somehow managed to work my way through some challenging situations, I often don’t have common sense in the most obvious of situations.
My favorite part about staying in hotels/hostels is the free breakfast. I always make sure to stay at one that offers it. At the City Hotel in Samarkand there was quiche, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, fresh jam, coffee, and tea. It all looked like it had been specially cooked just for me. Warm, welcoming and homemade. It was a far cry from the cereal dispensers and individual waffle cookers of most American chain hotels. I sat alone, filling my cheeks like a chipmunk. I’ve learned that the trick to cheap travel is making the most of your free hotel/hostel breakfast. I certainly have mastered the art of food hoarding. My mother would be proud. Next to me a group of French couples sat, if not criticizing my barbaric eating, most likely discussing their itinerary for the day. They looked planned, and I wondered what all I wanted to do. I finally settled on calling Sherry and asking him to drive me around again. In Uzbekistan, it’s relatively cheap to hire a driver and a lot of people have them. The sites around Samarkand are spread out, and I enjoyed his company, so for around 60,000 so’m ($20) he agreed to drive me around the city.
After the dusty brown country side of Urgut, Samarkand was a colorful relief. I have become obsessed with the blue and green tiles of Uzbekistan. Actually, I’ve really just become obsessed with all the handicrafts this country has to offer. I’m sorry if I continue to talk about them until I move back home, they will never get old. Samarkand, “The Mirror of the World” “Rome of the East”, was almost too much to handle in terms of beautiful tile. Am I right!?: