Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Of Uzbekistan: The Sticks
Uzbekistan is all kind of remote, as the world goes. But when your correspondent happened upon a chance to get off the tourist trail, it got seriously middle-of-nowhere remote. As unusual a destination as Uzbekistan is for American travelers, there are actually a fair number of relatively adventurous types there to see the sights. The standard trip would take you to the ancient Silk Road cities of Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva. Your correspondent decided to cut off Khiva from the end of his trip and spend a couple days heading out to the Nurata Mountains. The trip out there involved three or four hours' journey by car, including a side-trip to see Lake Aydarkul. The side trip took our little taxi out over gravel roads, turning into bumpy dirt roads, turning into double-track path through the grassland, with nothing in sight except the (very) occasional goatherd. Pictured above is a makeshift tent, I think only a sun shelter, but maybe actually a home, seen in said middle of nowhere. Below, an ancient Soviet bus, of the kind that still plies some of the less popular routes in the country.
Other than the desolate landscape, the driver was particularly nice. He spoke Tajik, Uzbek, Russian, and one or two other languages, but not English or Spanish or Latvian(!?). So our conversations were limited by my 25-word Russian vocabulary. Nevertheless, he invited me over for a delicious home-cooked meal at his house, since we were passing by anyway, either because he was hungry or friendly or both. I pulled out my Russian phrasebook and we managed to have a halting conversation about his home and his family.
He also had an assistant who rode along in the backseat, although it was never clear why. The only thing I can tell that he did on the trip was this: At one point some sort of big flying insect -- vaguely cicada-like -- flew into one of the windows of the car. The assistant captured it, and then held it by the wings so that the driver and I could watch it struggle and wriggle its legs. After some discussion in Uzbek (or Tajik), they agreed to dump out a bar of soap that was still in its little cardboard box (I'm not sure why it was in the car at all), put the insect in the box, and shake it around a bit. I thought maybe they were trying to keep it as a pet or a totem or something. But a few moments later, the assistant rolled down his window and dumped the bug out of the box back into the wild. Why? Unfortunately, my 25 words of Russian did not allow me to ask, and the Russian phrasebook didn't have an entry for "Why are you using a soapbox to torture that grasshopper?", so I returned to enjoying the scenery speed by.