Waiting to enter Uzbekistan was made more pleasant by watching a drug-sniffing Springer Spaniel joyfully scour a truck’s chassis, egged on and directed by his handler. Between searches there was time for fetch with a tennis ball or tug-of-war; I think the dog was the happiest person at the border. Within two hours I was through, and the Uzbek guard gave me the go-ahead to wail on the throttle on the way out of the customs station. I obliged him! Further down the road I somehow missed the turnoff for the main highway, and an oncoming local driver flashed his lights and pointed at the correct turn. Uzbek helpfulness was starting early! I entered Tashkent just at dusk, with the name of my hotel and a crude map I’d drawn by hand based on the hotel’s website. After a half-hour of slicing and dicing through urban traffic, I flagged down a taxi driver and slipped him $10 to guide me to the hotel. (Yes, that’s a lot of dough, but [a] It was the smallest US bill I had, and [b] I had zero chance of finding the hotel otherwise!)

At hotel I was met by a towering, serious-looking security guard and asked about rooms. “Nyet, no rooms.” Crap. I’d made the hotel reservation through another website that required payment in advance and in person at their office in Tashkent, and with my late arrival in the city I hadn’t had a chance to do that. I asked if there was another hotel nearby…the guard paused and said, “Wait” and made a call. A few moments later they opened the huge steel doors to the Oazis-Asaka hotel/conference center/sauna/pool/fitness center/restaurant compound, and $40 later I was ensconced in a large, clean room with attached toilet & shower.

Over the next few days I obtained a visa for Azerbaijan, and applied for the Turkmenistan transit visa, visited the local bazaar (where one could exchange dollars for Uzbek sum on the black market, yielding a 30% better rate than at the banks, but it’s not exactly legal), and spent quite a bit of time chatting with Boris the surly security guard. As it turns out, he’s a very friendly guy with a good grasp of English at the conversational level, and we talked at length about Uzbekistan, the US, life in Tashkent, money, women, guns, family, motorcycles, politics…the lot. (After a few days he said, “Sean, you live in a bus, no family, no house, no car, no TV, no womens [sic], just motorcycles…that is no life!” Later on he took my bike for a short ride, and came back with a huge stupid perma-grin, and said, “Now I understand you! A little.”)

I had a week to kill while waiting for the Turkmenistan visa, so I asked Boris if he would like to make some extra money by being my tourguide for a trip south to Termiz. After a discussion about cost and timing, we shook hands and lit out the next day. Boris’ friend Aziz is a taxi driver in Tashkent and would be our chauffer for the trip.

This is Aziz and Boris.


Being a taxi driver, Aziz drives like a madman, and his speed along with the Daewoo’s 2 inches of suspension travel and the crappy roads made for an "interesting" experience.

We stopped at Boris’ home in nearby Yangiyol for jerry cans for gas; fuel in the southern part of the country is a lot more expensive than in Tashkent. While there I met Boris’ father and he gave me a bottle of wine he’d made from grape vines growing around the property. Further down the road we stopped for piping hot, dripping somsa, baked/fried dough filled with onions, beef and oil.


These guys are in their mid-twenties, like to punch each other in the shoulder when they joke around, and listen to very loud Russian rap, dance and trance music. With the car’s bass thumping we barreled through small villages where people were selling fruits and bread and honey, passing gypsy women with pots of smoldering twigs (“Very bad people”, said Boris), modest mosques, endless cotton fields, and donkey-powered carts hauling just about everything imaginable. On a mountain pass we stopped for photos and lunch in a choykhana (tea house), kicking off our shoes and lounging on a shaded, cushy, raised platform, eating salad and tender mutton.


We’d set out late from Tashkent and arrived in Termiz around midnight, and met with some of Boris’ friends at a restaurant. Not surprisingly there were many toasts with vodka, and I had way too much and stumbled to my hotel where I got quite sick. Boris and Azziz stayed up, partying until sunrise….ah, youth!

Here I am toasting something with one of Boris’ friends. International friendship perhaps?


After a late start the next day we visited the local (and excellent) archaeological museum, then some local historical sites dating from the 10th century, including the ruins of Kyrk Kyz, and the mausoleum of Al Akim Al Termizi.



That evening we took it easy, having only beer with dinner. Azziz and I left at a reasonable hour, Boris stayed on to seduce the waitress (and he apparently succeeded).

The drive back was fast and bumpy but uneventful. We stopped at a roadside bazaar on the outskirts of Samarkand and bought thick, heavy loaves of platter-shaped bread. The bread in UZ is amazing and delicious, with regional differences in taste, shape and texture. The Tashkent bread is fairly light and easy to tear into pieces. The Samarkand bread is very dense and difficult to tear, but extremely tasty and oily. I gnawed on the bread for days to come!