I suppose I should write something about Uzbekistan. About how strange and foreign this country was, how far from home we felt and how bedazzled we were by its customs and how out of touch we were due to the language barrier.
Fact is, I had come down with a severe cold and spend a full day in bed. The rest of the time I was trying to solve a problem for a client at home. Other than having to search for two days to find a decent enough internet connection to do the needed work, it actually felt very normal, as I realised after I dragged myself from my bed to the bathroom for the 5th time that feverish day. We could even speak French with the manager of the wonderful Marokand hotel in Samarkand, where they even let us park the bikes in the hallway.
But, of course Uzbekistan is far from just being normal. It’s beautiful ancient architecture- well maintained but sadly all filled with ‘authentic’ tourist crap -is stunning.
Another thing you never see in Europe is their checkpoint system, every so many kilometres checkpoints straddle the roads. Cars slowly pass while officials peer inside and pick out random vehicles to check. Of course, we are always randomly chosen. The official on duty will come and shake our hands, will want to see our passports and motorcycle registration and then wave us on with a broad smile, if we are lucky. If we are not we are waved on to some desk or office where all our details are meticulously recorded in thick ledgers, to what end nobody knows. This would happen to us several times per day, the closer we got to the borders, the more frequent. At some point, there was a checkpoint within line of sight of the previous one…
The high point of our stay in Uzbekistan, both in altitude and experience came in the mountains in the east. The region around Angren clearly shows the influence the Russians had there. They must have invested deeply in the steel industry in the area, the result a depressing soviet style city, stinking factories and harsh people. We pass through the city on our way to the Eagle Rock Mountain Resort, up at 1880m. The small mountain road leading here splits in a tiny village, we’ve stopped to look at the map when a man with his young son approach us to see if he can help. We share no language but with some pictures on the phone and some pointing we get directions to the resort. Then he points to a small house on the hill and then to himself, ‘home’ he says. ‘Chai?’ pointing at us. Pepijn and I look at each other, the day is already getting on and we still have to make it up the mountain to the hotel, but tea with this very friendly man sounds too good to pass up.
The humble house where this friendly man lives, seems to have only three small rooms. We sit on mats on the floor in what is their main living space and also seems to be where his son sleeps. There is no running water, but we can wash our hand in a pail while he pours some water from a small kettle. The tea comes with bread, butter, some chocolate and raisins. Communication is difficult but we somehow manage, mainly looking for words the other will understand and with a lot of smiling. As we are getting ready to go, his wife comes home, a very well dressed woman, accompanied by their other two children. I try to comprehend, the house already felt small knowing it was the couple and a single child. It serves to remind us how much we have, how rich we really are and how all this richness is perhaps not making us anywhere near as happy as this simple life is making this family.
We take some pictures express our gratitude, say goodbye and head further up the mountain. The road that were less than perfect to start with, deteriorates until calling it a road is an act of kindness beyond even Mother Teressa’s ability. I start to worry how other guest make it up to the resort, or employees for that matter. Half an hour later we find the closed gate. So far for our mountain retreat, spa, resort and fresh air. We head back to stinking Angren, where there should be a hotel of sorts.