Two Americans and a Kazakh walk into a bar
“What’ll it be folks?” asks the horse serving behind the bar
“We’ll have 3 beers and a bowl of fries” answers the American
“I’m afraid we’re all out of snacks” retorts the barkeep
To which the Kazakh looks up and says, “That’s ok. I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!”
Our trip to Samarkand and its surrounds came from a somewhat off-beat source originally. I was reading a motorcycle forum about another Stein and saw a link to someone’s blog, so I dived in to this highly amusing traveller’s tale. Brian from Queensland had ridden his banana-yellow BMW from Kathmandu to Ireland about 6 years ago. One of his highlights had been Uzbekistan and its amazing history and architecture. So when we departed from Osh in Kyrgyzstan, Samarkand was in our sights.
Nowhere, somewhere and nothing.
Nickiy’s daily responsibilities usually include crowd control, waving and socialising, but in the ‘Stans she discovered a new talent. She was an American Whisperer. After a chance meeting at the Uzbek embassy, we kept bumping in to Kyle from the big NY. He was our advance scout on the route from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan so we kept in touch. He seemed to have a vast knowledge of areas of the world that many Americans would never have heard of, let alone have visited.
Heading west, we slid beneath the capital city and across Uzbekistan to Samarkand. We knew nothing of this city, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in central Asia. Alexander the Great owned it, Timur ruled from it then Ghengis smashed it. A prosperous and important crossing on the silk road, it still is a centre for Islamic studies. Samarkand was also a leader in scientific and astronomical knowledge before Europeans could rub sticks together to make fire (or something like that). Not only does it have an important history, it is stacked to the gills with glistening turquoise mosques and beautiful mausoleums. Its jewel, the Registan, is as impressive as the Taj Mahal (in fact the builders were related). But who’s heard of it?
So we found ourselves in a hostel Brian recommended and this was a busy hub of overland travellers. Cyclists and motorcyclists from Georgia, France, Switzerland, Ukraine, Bavaria, Britain, to name only a selection. These people were different and conversations weren’t (always) about where to get laid and buy the cheapest beer! This was no Thai beach resort. The guests had either come specifically to see the city, or were in transit. Somehow common graft under the brutal central Asian sun cemented relationships without question.
It was in this environment that Nickiy went again to work during our first breakfast. Whispering once more stateside, we got chatting to Chris from Florida. Surprising us both with his Russian and global knowledge, he had encyclopaedic recall of architectural and historical sites all around the world. So he became our de facto guide and translator as we criss-crossed the city’s amazing sites.
Gradually lightening to all this non-superficial socialising, it wasn’t long before it was my turn and I got chatting to someone who wasn’t travelling at all. A Kazakh studying archaeology, Dyzzie was spending 3 weeks of her summer break doing research in the libraries and museums of Samarkand. Where could be better?
It wasn’t long before Dyzzie, Chris, Nickiy and myself were trooping around town. Chris would give us architectural near-history and Dyzzie would give us more ancient information and background. We didn’t need Google anymore, which was lucky because the internet is truly crap in Uzbekistan. Additionally, eating, shopping and transport was taken care of by these two Russian speakers. It was ideal. Personal tour guides with personalities!
Alas all good things must come to an end, and we had other cities to see. But Chris wanted to visit these as well. So we headed to the also-beautiful Bukhara and found Kyle. Once again Kyle had scouted out the best places to visit and eat for us. Chris and Kyle immediately got down to some heavy conversations about American politics. Usually this would bore our legs off, but I think we learned more about the US democratic system in a few days than we had in the previous 40 years.
Pulling off a magic switcheroo, Dyzzie also visited Bukhara for one night and missed Kyle completely. Then, to their mutual surprise, she met him as a complete stranger back in Samarkand one day later. The wolf pack was complete!
Eventually we had to say goodbye to Chris and then Kyle as they both departed for Kazakhstan. We had yet to see the Uzbek capital city, Tashkent, so we headed there. Avoiding more studies I expect, Dyzzie followed us up there so she could catch up with her distant cousins. This was another great score for us, as cousin Diyora invited us along and showed us around town. Her family then stuffed us full of delicious home made plov and other local treats. This was Uzbek hospitality at its best!
We’d had so many great conversations with all our new friends, it was now a daunting future to head back on the road to our simple functional interactions again. It was with heavy hearts that we left Uzbekistan, not because of what it contained, but for what we had shared and experienced whilst we were there. Thank you Samarkand.