18 Aug, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
We entered the country and were bombarded by children selling water and ladies in veils offering to exchange money. Everyone was hanging off of our car and assaulting both Collin and I from every side. We were vigilant against would-be thieves and exchanged $100 with one of the ladies for almost 200,000 Uzbekistani som. Because of inflation the highest denomination bill is 1000 som, so we were left with a huge brick of cash to carry around.
After hearing horror stories about the quality of the roads upon entering Uzbekistan we were happily surprised that the roads were in better shape than the road from Beyneu to the border. Not to say that the roads were in good shape or anything, but they were definitely manageable. The part about there being no gas or supply shops for a good distance was definitely correct though–we were glad we had both jerry cans filled up. It was a bleak desert landscape the entire way, with little more than small outposts of humanity or deserted industrial centers next to dried up lake beds to interrupt the monotony. This was the once autonomous Karakalpak region, inhabited by the ancestors of the nomadic tribes that once lived here with their camels.
We drove non-stop for many hours and eventually came down off of the desert plateau and onto a startling plain of green-ness. The abrupt change was amazing. All of a sudden there were fields, and people, and rivers, where there had been nothing but sand and dust devils before. We drove to the city center and towards the city of Moynaq, from where we would see the remnants of the now largely drained Aral Sea, when we caught sight of the convoy from the previous day. Even though they had had a seven hour lead we had been able to catch up with them somehow! They had just finished getting water at a local market–we did the same and proceed onwards.
It was about an hour drive up to Moynaq and the old coastline. Admittedly there wasn’t much to see–a couple of rusted out ship’s hulls, a memorial to the sea as it had been in the past, and a barren landscape dotted with desert plant life. We spent less time admiring the sights as we did dealing with our vehicles! We tried to go on a path towards the rumored grave of an ocean freighter, but the lead car got stuck in the sand and we had to all get together to push it out. Not even ten minutes later the Dane’s car got bogged down when it tried to drive down to the ship corpses to pose for a photo. Luckily a group of Uzbekistani boys were returning from doing who-knows-what in the sea basin with a bunch of shovels, and they proceeded to help us dig out and push the car back to solid ground. That alone took about thirty minutes of strenuous work for all of us, and one of the guys gave them a small bit of money to thank them for their assistance.
On the road back we tried to take a detour but the road ended up disappearing after about twenty minutes, making us lose quite a bit of time. Lucky for us the rest of the group had decided to wait for us, and we rejoined them near Qongirat. We headed towards Nukus, the next main city, hoping to find a spot to camp for the night before it got dark out. This was not to be the case, as there were steep trenches along each side of the road that prevented us from turning off (and a large amount of mosquitoes). We decided to go on past Nukus when we were pulled over by a policeman. He asked us if we were planning on heading to Turkmenistan. “No way!”, we replied. “Well, this road leads there–it’s about 20 kilometers ahead”, he responded in Russian. Looks like someone made a wrong turn. He didn’t know what to do with us and decided to call his commander out. The commander showed up and introduced himself as the ‘sheriff’. Some of the other guys in our convoy were a bit paranoid about cops stealing your papers and then asking for money to get them back, but I could tell that this wasn’t the casein this particular situation. I explained what we were doing and got out our maps. He said he would send his constable with us to make sure we made it past Nukus and away from the Turkmenistan border alright. That’s one time where were were glad (in the end) that we were pulled over!
We eventually made it out of the boggy area surrounding Nukus and into a more desert-like area where we pulled off out of sight of the road and made camp for the night around midnight.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.