Taxiing Through The Desert

Bukhara to Khiva through the Kyzylkum Desert, Uzbekistan, on Friday, October 24, 2014.

Akbar, the manager of the Hovli Poyon B&B in Bukhara, had been asked by Akmal in Tashkent to arrange a taxi for me to my next city on the Silk Road trail: Khiva. But there was some sort of misunderstanding; he hired me a PRIVATE taxi for $100 for the 6+ hour drive — the fastest, most common and “convenient” way to get there — but I thought I’d just be getting help locating a shared taxi for a fraction of that cost.

(The train between Bukhara and Khiva is no longer in service, and flying there requires a pricey ticket back to Tashkent, a three hour layover, and another flight to Khiva, i.e. the same amount of travel time, at four times the price.)

 

The driver was waiting outside when I told him $100 was too much. So the he quoted me $50 if he could bring others (i.e. a shared taxi) and although that was still steep (it should have been about $30-35), I just went with him since I didn’t want to bother thinking of another plan. Besides, part of that $50 went towards getting to the shared taxi stop outside of town.

“Uzbek? Rusky?” the driver asked as we pulled out in his Chevy Nexia.

“Uh, nyet,” I said with a smirk. “Nyet. Da. Spasiba.” That was the extent of it. He asked me my name. “Erik.”

“Sher.” We shook hands. “[Cigarette]?”

“No. Nyet.”

Before there was Google Maps and GPS, people had to rely on a sense of direction to get places (man, I’m old school), and I wondered why we started heading east, due to the position of the morning sun. Khiva is west. But the shared taxi stop was east and that’s where we stopped for the car to fill up.

“Erik! Ten minutes,” Sher told me. He always addressed me with an enthusiastic “Erik!” which was much better than the usual “Mister…”

“Okay. Da.”

It took not ten but about 20 minutes for him to get the first person. “Erik! Ten minutes.”

“Okay.”

It took another 20 for another. We waited more but three was good enough, probably because I was paying extra to justify the drive over without a fourth.

The two new guys hugged their goodbyes to their buddies while Sher checked up on me. “Erik! Okay?”

“Okay,” I said with my thumb up.



Observation: whenever you take a shared taxi in Uzbekistan, only the driver goes to the pump at the gas station. Before entering the station gate, everyone leaves the car. Originally I thought this was solely to stretch legs, but it must be a security thing because everyone does it as a rule.

Sher dropped us off on the side of the road and then picked us up about ten minutes later, just like my first shared taxi driver from the border to Tashkent.


A video posted by Erik (@theglobaltrip) on


Cruising through the Kyzylkum Desert.



When you gotta go, you gotta go.



“Erik!” Sher proclaimed again, before asking me something in Uzbek or Tajik with the hand motions for eating. “Samsa.”

“Oh, okay.” I recognized the word for samosa. Just in time too, because I was feeling a bit hungry.

We were about halfway through the Kyzylkum desert, near the border with Turkmenistan, where a few shacks had been set up for food. We went across the road to the one Sher recommended, a little hovel (well, big compared to the other ones), which was more like a general store than a restaurant. There weren’t any samsas, just some hard-boiled eggs, Uzbek non (naan/flatbread), some bottled drinks, a bin of nuts, and a bin of chocolate wafer cookies. Sher ordered a soda and 4,000 som worth of chocolate wafers, and without many options, I just got the same. Cookies for lunch; I could get down with that, even though I craved something savory.



The other two men of my shared taxi to Khiva weren’t about to just have cookies for lunch. One of them got a big Uzbek non, while the other went to another shack and brought back a whole chicken stew, packed in a plastic bag. He ripped open the bag over a plate where a whole chicken, potatoes, and carrots spilled out. They ordered tea for their meal and invited Sher and me to join in. And so, four strangers share a meal, pulling apart a tasty boiled chicken with our hands. We ate everything with our hands — including the chocolate wafer cookies I shared with them for dessert. #kindnessofstrangers



“Erik! Hotel?” my shared taxi driver Sher asked when we were getting close. He originally told me he’d get me to the B&B in Khiva, but that didn’t necessarily mean he’d physically bring me there. I had read that most drivers doing the desert haul don’t go to Khiva, but to Urgench, the bigger commercial hub city of the area, about 30 minutes short of Khiva.

“Hello? You speak English?” I asked the B&B manager on the phone with my Uzbek SIM card. My American voice came as a shock to everyone in the car because I barely spoke anything on the ride other than “Okay” and “Da.” “Can you give the driver directions?” They had a conversation that ended in “Jaqshë, jaqshë.”

My phone rang and the manager translated for me; I was going to be dropped at the taxi station in Urgench, where another driver would take me to Khiva. Just as I had read and heard. When we got to Urgench, Sher bargained over a price with the new driver, and gave him part of the $50 I paid him to get me to the shared taxi stop in Khiva where the manager would meet me. My bags switched trunks.

The new driver sped crazier than any driver I’ve had. On a 4-lane road (two one way, two opposing) he drove in the far left on curves. He’d only slip into a seatbelt whenever a cop was near (granted, every driver does that), and I’m pretty sure he was making fun of me with the 3 guys in the back.

“Skolka?” he asked me in Russian. I recognized that one: “How much?”

I played dumb tourist; it was my understanding his fare had been paid by Sher, so I shouldn’t have to owe anything. He let it go, until we arrived at the main gate of the old city of Khiva.

Jalo, the manager of the B&B came to meet us. He had an exchange with the driver that did not end amicably. “Let’s go,” Jalo told me. The driver sped away, annoyed.

“I hate these drivers. They’re always trying to take money,” he explained. “He said that since he went directly to the gate and not the taxi station, I should give him commission.” He stood his ground and turned him down; that wasn’t part of the deal.

Anyway, I had finally arrived in old Khiva after a long 6-hr haul through the desert, just in time for sunset.

 


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This dispatch is one of over 70 travel dispatches from the trip grouped and titled, "The Global Trip: 'Stan By Me." It's an archived compilation of Instagram and Facebook posts which chronicled a trip through three countries in Central Asia: Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan.

Next entry:
Khiva: From Dusk ‘Til Dawn

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Back in Bukhara for Beers




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