Oh dear. Things are all getting a bit bad when you get genuinely excited at seeing a supermarket. I didn’t really need much, but I wanted to go in and push a trolley around gleaming white air-conditioned aisles, marvelling at the ridiculous levels of choice available. I ended up spending $20 (i.e. quite a lot), on some things I didn’t even really need. But it was just a bit too much for me, seeing all those varieties of shower gel. It was more or less a Western supermarket, and most of my readers would not even blink at it, but when you haven’t seen one since Erzurum, quite a few weeks ago, it’s quite a novelty. It’s quite close to where I’m staying, and I think I shall visit again.
I am now in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, a city of two million people, with wide tree-lined streets, all feeling very modern, even with a metro system. After being down in Samarkand, I was back to feeling very good on the bike – I was going to take 3 days to here, but in spite of a headwind I made 145km on the first day out, and then the wind was gone yesterday, so I set a new personal best, racking up 195km to get to Tashkent. 25-30km longer than I’ve ever covered in one day. I considered riding around for another 5km, to make 200km, but I’m not that much of a dork. A 200km day can wait until China.
For those cyclists coming this way, and wondering about the road from Samarkand to Tashkent, where it crosses through Kazakhstan, just follow the M39. Shortly before the border is a police checkpoint, and some blocks across the M39. The police will tell you to turn down the road towards Gulistan, then go north from there. My map shows that road as very small, but it’s a brand new 35km dual carriageway to Gulistan. From there the road is a bit rough for the next 50km or so, before improving for the last part to Tashkent. The detour adds around 50km to the trip. Damn Stalin and his gerrymandering.
So I was struggling with a headwind, when I saw two cyclists sitting by the road. Two nice Swiss guys, who I stopped at chatted to for a couple of hours. They had given up after 10km, and were sitting under the trees, smoking, drinking vodka, and reading. A pleasant couple of hours, and a nice diversion from what could have been a tough day. Could have been tough, but then later that day I grabbed the back of the truck for a haul up the hill, then as I rolled down the other side, “Wherever I May Roam” came on the MP3 player, the scenery was fantastic, and all was good with the world. Thought of all my friends, probably sitting at work staring at the clock, waiting for 5:00 so they could go to the pub – and I knew I was right where I wanted to be.
But it is not without challenges – I was waiting for a kebab last night, when there was a delay as the guy making the kebabs had to stop to wrap a fresh strip of bandage around his colleague’s thumb, which was spurting blood. Even more blood started coming through the bandage, as he went back to work making kebabs. No washing of hands or anything. I looked around, thought about it a bit (this is a sign of how far I’ve come, I needed to think about it), and walked away. Found an amazingly clean Turkish fast food restaurant, two dinners for around $5. And didn’t get sick, so that’s good – the stomach seems settled right now.
I’ll be here for a few days, sorting out Chinese, Kyrgyz and Kazakh visas. I may also get some bicycle spares delivered to here, which might take a few more days. But it seems a nice enough place to kill some time, wandering around those aisles with my trolley…what? You have a choice of toothpaste? And more than two sorts of noodles?…all this decision-making will tax my brain a bit.