Leaving Turkmenistan went reasonably quick. I accidentally left my dashcam running which they didn’t like very much. But a friendly soldier removed the images from the SD card and after a fast control I was allowed to leave. Also the Uzbekistan border went relatively fast. There was some confusion about which direction I was going. This was because there was no one on the going-in side so I (without knowing it) I went to the going-out side to fetch a guy. So, after refusing one annoying guy a “souvenir” (he wanted my knife, or axe, or binoculars) in about 2 to 3 hours and total I cleared the border.
Directly after entering Uzbekistan I saw an old structure to the right and drove there. It was a mud castle called Gyaur-Qula, that is now not much more than a hump of sand. I guess that is what building with mud gets you. When standing on the mud-castle-hump I noticed a bunch of structures to the north. The structures were graves, some of them quite huge. Uzbeks (especially richer ones) build large shrines for their dead and this was a massive collection of them. This place was called Mazlumxan Suliw. Shortly after I arrived in Nukus, where I found out that having only a fifty dollar bill with a small tear in it was a very bad thing… I went to literally 5 hotels and about 10 banks to see if they could help me. no one could. Banks in Uzbekistan are a joke. They are old shitty buildings and no one seems to have a clue. Also there are many of them for some reason. So, having tried everything I contacted some friends to see if they could help me out. Arjen was able to send me a bunch of dollars by Western Union which I could pick up after the weekend. Since it was Friday that meant a 2 day wait. These 2 days I spent on the side of the river Amudarya, reading, writing enjoying starry nights by a campfire and eating some of my reserve food. In the end, not so bad after all :).
On Monday it was time to go to a bank with Western Union. I stood in line for about 2 hours but when finally reaching the window, they told me that I was not allowed to pick up the money because I was not Uzbek. I was to register myself and come back with some kind of documentation. A guy at that bank helped me out by going to another (better looking) bank. There they made some effort to register me and after a few hours they gave me the WU money. They even offered to change my torn 50 dollar bill (for a 20% commission of course), which took another 2 hours for some reason. Money is no funny business in Uzbekistan. Bring more than enough when entering! My mistake was entering Iran with too little already. Turkmenistan is a crappy money country as well, and with Uzbekistan as a third in a row, it just didn’t work out. Anyhow, with a pocked full of money I directly went to hotel Jipek Joli to register (which you have to do about every 3 days, traveling by car). The people at this hotel are very helpful. Too bad I didn’t go there before my money problems. After a chill evening in the reception and a good night sleep I met An Australian and a French and we decided to go to the famous art museum. Because we went way too late we saw only a third of the place. It was nice still. After that it was beer time. After some beers we met some locals with who we drank vodka. Quite a lot actually. It was a very funny evening and the next morning was no fun at all. How it should be
So with a hangover Jean and Mary took a shared 4×4 to a yurt camp at the Aral shore. A shared 4×4 costs $450 pp so I didn’t join them. It would of course be ridiculous and a slap in Brutus’ face to not go there by myself. I had been asking around for the route there and found it hanging on an a4 on the wall in the hotel. I reproduced it on my Maps.Me app and decided to drive there. Everybody in the hotel had been telling me how dangerous it is and that I had to fill up on diesel and water. Probably to make me not do it and go for the $450 trip? Diesel is hard to get in Nukus but the 4×4 rental company has diesel wagons too so they showed me where to go. The diesel came from a rusty barrel in some guy’s garden. He sucked on some old hose and the diesel flowed into my jerrycans. After filling up the water tank and grocery shopping it was time to leave for the Aral sea shore. The first part of the route is on reasonable roads towards Moynaq, an old fishery town which is now about a hundred kilometers removed from any shoreline. In and around Moynaq you can still see boats and fish on signs, plaques and it still has a coastal town feeling to it. But the town is in total decline and everything looks rather depressing. A real sight is the boats in what is now the desert, next to the town. It had been raining for a few hours and I didn’t stay long. This rain would become a thing in the next bunch of hours.
After Moynaq there are a few small villages after which the gas on the old seabed fields begin. The roads here are broken up by large vehicles and it gets worse the deeper you enter the gas field. Everywhere around are installations to extract, process and store gas, and buildings for the workers. The deeper you go in, the more widespread these installations get until they die out completely, and the roads slowly turn into mudbaths (in this case, due to the rain). I was following what I thought were the tracks of the others who went there a few hours before me. At some point these tracks went off the road because it became a total disaster. So I followed them. This was not a good idea because I got stuck in the mud quite a few times. After letting air out of the tires and going in off-road mode it all went slightly better but I was still not able to go faster than 15 km/h because Brutus would slide sideways and get stuck again. So this is how I drove for a whole bunch of kilometers. Sliding 90 degrees, getting stuck a bunch of times, going slow as hell, in the middle of nowhere. At some point I was so tired that I decided to set up my bed in the car. I couldn’t really leave the car because of all the mud so relieving myself had to be done hanging out of the car. I was about to give up there, and planned to go back the next morning. After about 10 hours of solid sleep I woke up and, because of better weather it was possible to see the old shoreline (50 meters higher up) about 8 to 10 kilometers ahead. I felt a lot more positive and rested so I decided to push ahead. About an hour later the mud tracks turned into sand tracks which moved uphill. Once up the old shore the sand tracks were so good that I could keep a steady 50 km/h. The distance I still had to do was about 70 km so in 1.5 hours I arrived at the yurt camp.
The caretaker of the yurt camp, Ismael, invited me in for some tea and lunch. He only spoke Russian and Uzbek so my little dictionary came in handy sometimes. He told me that Jean and Mary had left one hour before I arrived, so I just missed them and I was the only one there. After lunch Ismael showed me the old coastline while his 2 little dogs were following us. There were some nice rock formations there, clearly formed by water. But most of the evidence of it having been a sea are no longer very clear. After our little stroll I was allowed to take a nap in the yurt while the resident cat took a nap on me. When I woke up Ismael prepared some more food and while eating started talking about “stare mestia”, an old town near the yurt camp. After dinner we went on another hike towards the old town. On the way there we found some turtles that he tried to make have sex with each other, old graves of former inhabitants and salty lakes. The old town was more like an old fortress with crumbling walls from around 1800. We walked for about 3 or 4 hours. Later that afternoon I took a short drive to the “new” shoreline of the Aral sea. Less impressive than the beach on Terschelling and a little polluted by the rests of an old yurt camp. It wasn’t very warm so I decided not to take a dive in the extremely salty and polluted water. We had a nice dinner after this.
I spent the night in the yurt for $10. This included 2 breakfasts, 2 lunches and a dinner, and the 2 hikes the day before. The next morning we woke up at 5:30 to watch the sun rise over the Aral sea. I know that the sun rises every day, but this one turned out to be pretty awesome. I napped some more and after lunch it was time to go back to Nukus. The way back was much easier than the way there. The old seabed had dried up in one full day of sun and in stead of 15 km/h it was possible to about 40, without getting stuck. In Moynaq I found a small lake in which I cleaned up the car as much as possible. Brutus was completely covered in mud and sand. After that I went to the history museum, where a tiny collection of random artifacts and bad taxidermy was put on display. But for an admission price of about $0.50 it was actually quite entertaining.
Back in Nukus I spent one more (social) night at another building of Jipek Joli hotel before heading towards Khiva.