Saturday, December 27, 2014

Remaining days in Khiva and then flying home (15.09.2014 - 20.09.2014)

After our visit to the former shoreline of the Aral Sea we drove back south to Khiva. Another city with a rich heritage on the Silk Road.

Here our main goal was to get rid of our car. So far it has been totally reliable and with no problems what so ever. Except the fact that I bumped the exhaust while reversing out of the Aral seabed and it now sounded like a racing car ^^.
Asking around we soon found different people interested in our vehicle. Especially its low price (free!) but also its low mileage on the odometer made it attractive. But alas, after a couple of days we still had no fix offer. The problem it seemed was the muddled and unknown laws regarding import of a car. Besides pushing natural gas over gasoline the government also tries to protect its local car factories. We heard all kind of stories, percentages of taxes and so forth. Arguing that 100% import tax on a car which costs 1$ would be no problem didn't count ;)
The locals told us that they don't have access to the laws, especially out here so far from the capital. Travellers told us to drive it to Kirgistan and sell it there for profit. But besides having no time for that we also had only a single entry visa for Uzbekistan and didn't wanted to risk loosing our flights home.
In the end a "businessman" with the right connections took it. All we had to do was go to the lawyer which set up a contract. It took them quite a while but we ended up with a fancy contract (in Uzbek and cyrillic letters ^^) in the end. We had to pay the lawyer but didn't made a fuss for the 4$ ;)

After the official business was done we snapped some pictures of the Iwans and so forth ;) Of course there where again the groups of elderly people and we even saw an overland bus tour. But wheres the fun in going in a gigantic truck all the way to China?!
I insisted we took a ride in the rusty ferris wheel outside of the old town. It looked exactly the same as the one you see in pictures of Chernobyl. There was probably only one model during soviet times ;). The owner didn't let us ride in the same cabin, makes the whole thing even more trusting, lol.

Late in the evening we headed to the local airport and boarded our Russian built propeller plane to the capital. It had seats which would fold forward, awesome feature to stretch your legs (as long there is nobody in front of you ^^).

In Tashkent we had to fill out a piece of paper like the one during entry. Genti decided to go along that he never got one as well. The security guard was friendly and didn't made a fuss. He said we had to fill up a new one for the entry as he couldn't let us leave with any money otherwise. This was it! Nobody asked for our car =/ And we had spent so much time getting rid of it legally... Almost a bit disappointing.

After the paperwork was done a police men approached me and I had to open up my big bag. The police had found something suspicious (keeping in mind that the airport security had already scanned my bag on entry into the building). It turned out to be my gasoline stove and all was fine.
Later when we headed to the departure gate there was another passport inspection and a military dude told me to follow him. They had scanned my bag and found something suspicious! Really!?! So I had to open my bag again and show them my camping gear for which they went nuts. They wanted to see how my gasoline stove works... I tried to explain them that isn't possible at the moment o_O But everything was fine and I could pack may stuff again.

That was it! A bit later we boarded our plane, had a stop over in Riga and arrived at home with no delay!

Genti is already talking about buying an old Mercedes and driving to South Africa, lol.

Monday, December 22, 2014

At the Aral lake or where it was 20 years ago (14.09.2014 - 15.09.2014)

Ever since hearing about the drying up of the Aral Sea I've been kind of fascinated with its fate. I don't know why but probably because it is kind of unbelievable that human kind could do such a thing to nature and therefore itself.

Back in the glorious days of the soviet republic it was decided that modern day Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan should be the cotton house of the union. With gigantic effort the Karakum canal was built to bring water into the desert with the same name. At the same time similar canals where built in what is now Kazakhstan. The result was a short period of world leadership in cotton production followed by a destroyed fishing and shipbuilding industry around what used to be the Aral Sea.

Once one of the four largest lakes in the world (almost twice the size of Switzerland) it is now at around a tenth of its former size. With the shrinking of the lake its previous harbours where left behind in the middle of nowhere. Muynak used to be a major fishing port but now lies more than 200km from the shoreline.
With the massive cotton production tremendous amounts of pesticides and defoliation substances (makes the cotton easier to pick, although not healthier...) end up in the tiny trickle which used to be the mighty Amur Darya.
All this mixed with the dust left behind from the receding lake gave way to the now infamous Aral Sea Dust Storms®. It gets credit for the high rate of respiratory illnesses and cancer in the region...

On the north side Kazakhstan has built a dam to at least save the northern part of the lake. This together with improving the irrigation system and water proofing the canals (sic!) has helped to stabilise it. Further improvements are under way and maybe in a couple of years the former port of Aralsk may open again.

In the south however no such actions have been taken. =/

You should see the satellite pictures...
It was already getting dark when we arrived in Muynak, the former fishing village. We drove out into what used to be water and made camp amid a ground scattered in sea shells.
A cold night later we visited the ship graveyard and its memorial. Driving around town we found an old abandoned canning factory.
Now everything is in ruins but still people endure, makes you think what keeps them here...

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

To Samarkand and up north (12.09.2014 - 14.09.2014)

After Bukhara we continued on eastwards to the next Silk Road™city of Samarkand.

The cultural program was more or less the same: Iwans, madras, mosques and minarets ;) We ended up entering the big Registan square from some back street and didn't realise it was closed and costs a fee during the day ;)
Besides this we visited the big graveyard (again by accident entering on some side alley and bypassing the booth at the entrance ^^) with its many impressive tombs. But there where definitely too many tourist groups around to stay longer.

In the evening we entered a restaurant for dinner and got invited to join some locals. A lot of hand signs, beer, local specialities and vodka while Modern Talking was playing on TV in the background, weird meal ;).
Later we stumbled upon an internet cafe (without internet connection) where the kids go to play computer games. Lacking any other form of recreation activity we joined in and got totally destroyed, lol. The cliché-fat-gamer-kid total owned us.

After this we had to backtrack a bit and then headed up north. On the way we spotted an old sky burial ground and of course had to spend it a visit. Racing with our tiny car over unpaved streets and
carving in donuts into the soil ^^

After a hellish ride we finally made it to Munyak, the former fishing port at lake Aral. More on this natural disaster in the next post.

Transport ;)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Entering Uzbekistan (10.09.2014 - 12.09.2014)

Sorry for the delay, here more of the last country we visited with our Corsa.

After the border post had finished it's lunchtime we were finally admitted inside. A short medical check (infrared temperature check, when it is almost 40°C outside...) and we were allowed to start with the usual procedure.
I didn't declare anything, which made them suspicious, hehe. They asked repeatedly for a phone, camera or cash which I denied to have :) In the end only Genti got a paper which had our car, his phone and some dollars declared on it. We pretended not having received any papers when we tried to leave the country, but more on this later.

Back in Turkmenistan we were running out of Manat so postponed to fill up on gasoline once across the border. Bad decision! As Uzbekistan has mostly natural gas, the government is pushing the people to cars which run on it. In the meantime the reduce the amount of gasoline on the market, especially outside of the capital (I guess the big political bosses still want to drive their shiny cars). So it came that all the gas stations selling gasoline where closed and locked down! By word of mouth me managed to find some black market dealer and bought a couple of water gallons full of gas, at 3423849 times we would have paid in Turkmenistan :(
This whole gasoline business tended to be quite time consuming and expensive. In the two weeks we only managed to find one open gas station, the rest of the time we had to buy fuel on the street. The last time they charged us more than 2$ the litre, the most expensive fuel in our entire trip...

The first stop in Uzbekistan was the old Silk Road™ city of Bukhara. After the last couple of countries it came to us as quite a shock to see so many tourists! Bus loads of elderly people with huge cameras where all over the place. On the upside this resulted in accommodations which deserve the term Hotel again, although pricy.

We strolled through the old town, took many pictures of the many Iwans and looked at the special style of minarets.
In the evening we stumbled upon a "biker bar" ;) Some beers later we knew everybody, including the two German dudes which were on their way home from China on cheap Chinese motorbikes, passing the time till their spare parts would catch up with them, lol.
Fun fact: Uzbekistan is halfway from Shanghai to Germany o_O

The following evening we ended up in the same bar and well after the official opening hours a whole bunch of police men showed up. They invited us to drink with them and insisted we take pictures. Most of them didn't speak any english which didn't hinder them starting multiple conversations at once ;)