- Border — Bukhara
- Bukhara — Samarkand
- Samarkand — Tashkent
- Tashkent — Fergana
- Fergana — Border
We were at the border for over two and a half hours as it was inredibly strict and thorough, I’m just glad we knew that beforehand and were mentally prepared! When going through custums you must declare all the currencies you had and the amounts, you had to keep one slip for when you departed the country for the guards to look over
Our medication, first aid kit and toiletry bags were looked through and we were questioned on everything from dehydration tablets to suncream, we were fully kitted out thanks to our sponsors Sam McCauley Chemists and Procare Pharmacy UCD for everything! The guards asked to look through our phone and laptop galleries to ensure there were no prohibited images. We were very lucky to not have rucksacks ransacked like both teams ahead of us, the guards must have gotten a little tired of searching as four teams went in ahead of us!
Steve and Alec were now behind us in the queue and Steve took out his guitar and sat down to play, apparently he’s done it at every border and the guards seem to enjoy it. After our most thorough border crossing yet we were on the road to Bukhara in convoy with the Sussex Rum Runners.
Because of visa regulations we were required to stay in hotels booked by a tour guide for the duration of our stay in Uzbekistan, but because the original border north of the gates of hell was closed we had to change our hotel bookings to match. Somehow we had managed to gain a day but unfortunately it didn’t make up for not getting to see the Doorway to Hell.
By the time we reached Bukhara we had not heard from Kamila, our tour guide, so we decided to book into the first hotel we found which ended up being right in the middle of the city. The Danes staying in the hotel had gone across the Caspian Sea on the cargo boat and by the sounds of it, it wasn’t very enjoyable at all! It took them roughly twelve hours in customs both entering and leaving, not to mention the length of the boat trip which took place in the middle of the night and lasted hours as well.
We were still on the look out for dollars as we had been advised that it may be easier to get them here. It wasn’t, word of advise for teams in the future, please bring enough dollars with you, it took the lads a trip to five different banks to get money out! We found the only hotel in the city that took Visa card to get dinner and we met some more ralliers there too, we were all in similar situations! Stephen and I ordered a lamb dish which seemed to be in a vegetable sauce which we liked the sound of, but when Nelly tried to order it as well he was informed there was no lamb or fish dishes left for the day, queue the confusion. We ordered something else off the menu but it turned out that it really didn’t matter what we ordered because it all came out in omelette form regardless which was surprisingly tasty!
Bukhara was an ancient city and was very picturesque. We luckily had a chance to check out some of it with the lads before we left - the arc, the madrasas, the big mosque and the Great Minaret Tower of the Kalon.
After sightseeing we left for Samarkand at about 2pm as we knew our journey would be shorter. Got to Hotel Malika at about 7pm and ordered take away as the restaurant was closed. It wasn’t the most glamorous meal but the courtyard at of this boutique hotel was well maniquered and had what I gathered were called chaikhana beds which we could relax and lounge on. In the morning we headed for the Tashkent road as I had noted many tourist attractions in the area. We ended up not finding anywhere I had originally wanted to see but Eoghan had a look into another mosque, we checked out the bazaar and by the time we got back to the car a man looked to be half waiting by it. He asked us to call him Back, he had studied business in TCD and then moved home to Uzbekistan nearly six years ago. He said he had to wait for the owners of the car to get back to say hello as he noticed the registration plates!
The road to Tashkent was long and the heat was scorching. When I wasn’t driving I spent my time sleeping whilst Feargal spent it trying to take artsy photos out the front window of people we passed on the side of the road. When I was driving I somehow managed to get suncream in my eye and had to pull over as it too distracting because it was watering so much, it put me in bad form for the remainder of the drive when Nelly took over but I got over it when I saw the hotel, Hotel Uzbekistan, in the heart of the ‘new’ Tashkent.
We met with Kamila in the lobby and she advised us to eat in a chicken restaurant across the street, she said it was very popular as well as cheap and she went once a week with her family! It was almost like sitting in a more child friendly version of Big Red’s kitchen from Orange is the New Black. There was only one dish on the menu, fried chicken which came with chunky bread and a tomato and basil sauce to dip it in. It was tasty but wasn’t what I was expecting at all.
When we got back to the hotel we decided that an early night was in order as we were all starting to get cranky from the wear and tear of the trip. We didn’t particularly want to see anything else in Tashkent so got on the road early after a quick breakfast. The roads steadily worsened for a while as did the fuel quality. We had to refill the car with A-80 fuel as there was nothing else and we still had a lot of driving to do, we didn’t really know what this would mean for the car but we had to go for it. The hills came and they didn’t stop coming, the car sounded like it was going to take off the engine was so loud which after research we can conclude was the fault of the poor fuel.
There were steep hills and windy turns which meant that I was stuck in 2nd gear for around 40mins as anything above that would overheat the engine too quickly. It was a slow and tedius process but if it meant we’d save the car we had to go with it. Once we got to Fergana we found Hotel 777 pretty quick. It was laid out like a beach resort with a pool in the centre of hotel rooms and the boys went for a quick dip before dinner in the shack. The next day we hit the border and got stopped quite a few times by the police as they were looking for our documents. They were probably looking for bribes too but we hadn’t a notion what they were saying to us so didn’t offer them anything!
The border was quiet and we seemed to be providing the only entertainment for an overwhelming amount of guards, it was all about keeping calm and collected. Similar searches took place in our bags, roofrack and phone galleries. It took a while to process our car documents and we were waiting by the car when a guard out of uniform approched us. He acknowledged that we were Irish and spoke to us about the troubles between the north and south, he had studied it in great detail and found it very interesting. As soon as we had our paperwork back it was onto Kyrgyzstan, the first country since Europe with which we did not require a visa for.