When I told people I was travelling to Uzbekistan five years ago, the standard response was some variation of “huh?” Perhaps because of the distance involved, Central Asia seems to be a relatively obscure travel destination for Canadians. For me, though, that only added to the appeal.
My plan was to spend a month backpacking mostly in Uzbekistan, with a stop in Kazakhstan and a horseback trekking trip in Kyrgyzstan. Staying in a yurt was definitely up there on my bucket list, and this seemed like a great way to experience that.
I had planned to start off with a few nights in Tashkent, the Uzbek city where my flight landed. My mind hadn’t really caught up to the dominance of the internet yet, and I still thought it was reasonable to show up in a city without a hostel booked. I’d done that many times before, and it didn’t even cross my mind that it would be an issue in Uzbekistan.
It turns out, though, that I was very wrong. There was some major athletic tournament going on and everyone and their goat seemed to have descended on Tashkent, because there was not a bed to be had anywhere. I was willing to be flexible, and figured I might as well cross the border into Kazakhstan, which my next planned stop, and catch a bus there. My taxi dropped me off at the border and gave me easy-sounding instructions on how to walk to the bus stop.
It took a while to get across the border, because the fact that I had a bag of medications with me attracted all kinds of attention. The medications were for my mental illness, and I wasn’t sure if there was a good way of saying that I’m a crazy person. Eventually they let me go through, with no public demonstration of crazy person-ness required, and I found myself on a dark road with no one around and no bus stop in site. Being optimistic, I kept on walking, thinking the bus stop would magically appear out of nowhere. Eventually, some people pulled over and took pity on me. Sure, it was sketchy getting into a van with two men, but they seemed nice and I seemed desperate. They found some random lady’s house for me to stay at (which may or may not have been an unmarked guesthouse), and they told me a bus would come by the little adjacent cluster of buildings the next day.
The next morning, I thanked the lady with the prayer gesture that seems to universally convey gratitude, and held out some American cash for her to take what she needed. I then plunked myself down on a bench outside, and waited for a bus with no idea when/if it might be coming.
After a while, a family showed up and took over the other bench. Their three kids decided to adopt me. They did’t speak a word of English and I didn’t speak a word of Kazakh, but we had a great deal of fun together, including the kids wanting to carry my backpack that was as tall as they were. In a culture where children are prized, the parents were happy that I was taking an interest in their kids.
From there, the bus took me to Kyrgyzstan, where I took a shared taxi to the town my trekking tour was based out of. Prior to this trip, I had ridden on horseback a whopping total of once, while I was a teenager. I had no clue what I was getting myself in for; I was just excited about being able to spend the night in a yurt.
I was doing the trek with a small group of other tourists, none of whom I knew. We had a Kyrgyz guide, who appeared to be about 10 years younger than I was.
I suppose I expected the horse setup to be something along the lines of what I rode on in hospital. I was very wrong. The picture below shows an only slightly less padded version of what I ended up spending the majority of two days on. My initial reaction was “what the hell is this?” However, it was my passport to yurtdom, so I had no other choice.
When we stopped by a stream for lunch, I was so stiff I could barely move. I did a mildly controlled fall to dismount off the horse, with the tour guide standing by to catch me. I thought he seemed a bit grope-y, but then again, it was a pretty haphazard fall off the horse.
When we got to the yurt camp that afternoon, I again half fell off the horse but with even less grace than before, and again I was caught by the guide. This time, though, his hand seemed to be going for a full-on grab between my legs. It was like grab ’em by the pussy, trekking style.
The next morning, the tour guide started getting really intrusive, telling me I was beautiful and he loved me, etc., etc. Ignoring him only seemed to fan the flames, so I had to tell him in no uncertain terms to back the f*** off. There’s something about the tone of voice while saying those words that seems to translate universally regardless of language. As for dismounting from the horse, I decided just plain falling off in the opposite direction was a better option than half-falling into his grope-y arms.
After the tour was done, I headed back to Uzbekistan. A few days later, I needed to convert some U.S. dollars to local currency. According to my guidebook, the rate offered by local banks was exorbitant, so almost all money changing happens on the black market. I scoped out a dude in the area where my guidebook suggested going to change money. I wanted to be smooth and play it cool, which probably worked against me because I was given a pretty crappy exchange rate. The currency was only available in small denominations, so I handed over my $200 U.S. and got a plastic bag full of Uzbek Som. Classy all the way.
After the adventures of Central Asia, I decided I was done with that I’d been there and done that, and I would go elsewhere for my next dose of yurt-ing. Mongolia, you’re up next!