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Stage 4

Kazakhstan and Uzbekhstan

Great Venture
Great Venture

It was dark and we had only rode for just a few miles when we arrived at Kazakhstan: we spent the whole day trying to fix Arianna’s wheel. The Customs officers were polite and do their job quickly, just long enough to run through immigration paperwork (at the moment visas are not required here) so we can cross the border. We were immediately faced with some difficult driving conditions in this country: miles and miles of irregular asphalt, accompanied by huge holes and sandy stretches that often forced us to drive just outside the road. In the dark everything is accentuated and this madness lasted until late evening. With Arianna falling, luckily with no harm done, we decided to stop and set up our tent on a plot of land (or rather, sand) next to a house under construction. Nothing disturbed us until late in the morning, when the shadows of a group of cows appeared on the walls of the tent. It’s time to leave, and with hundreds of kilometres separating us from the border with Uzbekistan, we arrived the following day due to the heat and road conditions. We eventually arrived at the Uzbek border (the last 100 kilometres were terrible …). Although the military are very kind and made us comfortable straight away, the whole process requires a good deal of patience. The procedures and papers to fill out are many, long and rather disorganized, combined with a less than perfect professionalism of customs personnel, who continue to associate the words “Italy” and “Italian” with the singers Albano and Cotugno, humming to each of our bundles of paperwork. The sun had already set when we got across the last gate: here we come, Uzbekistan!

We pitched our tent in the garden, behind a restaurant (been given permission), and after a tasty plate of tomato pasta we planned our next steps. First Moynaq, with its cemetery of rusty ships, at the edge of the dried up lake of Aral, and then towards Khiva, Bukhara and Samarcanda, ancient cities whose names already evoke epochs of caravans and markets, featuring minarets and majolicas. Desert temperatures and sandy winds made daily transfers rather long and painful, so much that we decided to stay in those comfortable and inexpensive guest-houses available in each city for the nights ahead. Khiva is the most mind-blowing city for us, with its inhabitants, whose lives goes on quietly behind the walls of the citadel, as it was long ago. A melting pot of tourists and merchants peacefully mix together in the bazaar. Bukhara has undergone perhaps too many urban upgrades, in a vain attempt to be more of a western city in the middle of a landscape of sand and camels, never as much as the madresses and bazaars in Samarcanda, now a tourist trap to access the monumental area (no longer free), once core of city life but now stripped of any character, but not its architecture. We hope that the next step will come back to fill our hearts with emotion: we will once again cross the border towards Kazakhstan, of course with some complications, then towards Kyrgyzstan!

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