We might be the only foreign tourists in the country at this time. Museums are empty, hotels are empty, everywhere is empty. It’s surreal. We were incredibly nervous about traveling during the pandemic. Little did we know how easy it would be to avoid crowds!
Kokand is one of the ancient towns of Uzbekistan. It has existed since at least the 10th century, but the Han Chinese have written record of conquering this town in 1st century BC! But don’t tell them that! They might pull a Trump, grab a Sharpie, and draw in a nine dash line on a map. It was a major thoroughfare for trading on Silk Road.
When we woke up we decided to ask the hotel staff about hiring a taxi for the day instead of worrying about driving around town. It’s always a pain to get around town and we learned long ago it’s best to just park the car hire someone else to drive us from place to place inside a city. The hotel staff suggested one of them should join us for the day. We were shocked but accepted. We were off! We had our own personal assistant and interpreter for the day! What a luxury! We ended up teaching him lots about his own town. We showed him places he had never even heard of before.
First on our need to do list was the local bazaar. Qo’qon Bozori. It was your typical outdoor marketplace all but it wasn’t typical at all because there wasn’t a lot of yelling, shouting, and even arm pulling to get your attention like there often is in may parts of the world. It was really convenient to have our hotel guy with us now because he did all the bargaining. We weren’t getting any souvenirs or even anything Uzbek, we just needed some basics. I’m only mentioning it because I do think it’s worth mentioning everyone was incredibly calm. It was the least hectic outdoor market I’ve ever been too and I’ve been to many a outdoor market on multiple continents.
After the basics were out of the way we were ready to be tourists. First on our must see list was an old madrassa turned mosque, Norbutabiy Mosque. It’s protected by the governmental historical society so they’re not allowed to change anything. Everything looks just the same as it has for a very long time. It’s old and beautiful.
Next we went to the Modari Khan Mausoleum to see the burial place of Nodira. She’s the kinda lady I want to pay my respect to! She was the wife of the khan, ruler, of the Kokand region from 1810 to his death in 1822. When he died she became the de facto ruler because her son was still a teenager. She was a poet and her poetry was mostly about the oppression of women under Islam. The khan of another region didn’t like how brazen she was, he thought she was in the public eye too much for a woman, he also got mad at her for refusing to marry him, and had her hanged along with her sons. A beautiful mausoleum was built for her.
Later, the Soviets propped her up as the model Uzbek woman. The exhumed her body, moved it a bit away, and reburied it with a new monument over her.
Next, we went to a theater originally built in the 1800’s. There wasn’t much to see and we couldn’t get a tour. Apparently someone on staff had died and the funeral was today. Everyone was away at the ceremony. The grounds were beautiful.
After that we headed to the old part of town. Our friendly hotel staffer told us we were walking on the very first street of the town. We never would have known it because the roads were freshly paved and the houses looked freshly painted. Nothing looked ancient. The first stop was a mosque. This was also an old madrassa. Sahib Mian Hazrat Mosque. There was an imam there an he showed us around. There were NO PICTURES signs posted so, sorry, so pics.
Then we walked on and found our next place. You guessed it! Another old madrassa! This one from the early 1800’s. It was beautiful. We were told it was originally built as a guy’s personal residence. He added a classroom a help teach students, then another room, then another, then soon he had a full blown madrassa at his house.
Last stop was lunch! Plov!
We woke up in Tashkent this morning, had breakfast, and left for the Fergana Valley. It’s a region in the eastern part of Uzbekistan most many foreign visitors to the country skip. Not this family! We want to see it all! At one point, while we were driving along we looked up and there was a camel in the back of the truck in front of us.
Our poor UAZ Patriot doesn’t handle mountains well. We couldn’t go up the passes much faster than the big semi trucks and at one point we were afraid our engine was going to overheat so we stopped to give it a rest. We had lunch here. Eggs, sausage, bread, and water.
After about a 4.5 hour drive we made it to our destination: The Palace of Khudayar Khan in Kokand. We arrived from the back of the place and parked in a huge empty lot behind the place and it looked completely unimpressive. I was thinking it was going to be a bust. Sometimes when we travel like this some things end up being not worth it, but!!! When we got around front… this place was different! It was great!
It’s been mostly restored and it’s gorgeous, but we’ve seen lots of old palaces before. The thing we liked the most was the museum. There had lots of neat stuff in it. The most interesting to us was the reference to some petroglyphs we have not heard about anywhere else before and we’ve done lots of research on Uzbekistan. Now we have a new place added to our want to see list.
We were pretty tired after that so we checked Google Maps for hotels nearby and found the Silk Road Kokand Palace Hotel with good reviews. We seem to be the only guests here. I mentioned this in a previous post but it’s so surreal traveling at this exact time in history. museums are empty, restaurants are empty, hotels are empty. everything is empty. My husband and I are both vaccinated, but our teen daughter isn’t. We had serious discussions about whether we should travel this summer or not and if we were going to travel where we should go. Our conversations went around and around and in the end we decided on no airplanes, road trip only, avoid large crowds, try to stay outdoors as much as possible. Oh my god! We had no idea avoiding large crowds would be so easy! There’s no one here! No one! It’s just us everywhere we go!
We left Almaty on Monday morning and about 350 kilometers into our trip our car broke down. We were pretty angry because we had taken the car for a full tune up just last week. We had told the mechanic we were going on a two-month road trip all around Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan and to make sure our car was fully prepared.
When I called to say our car had broken down do you want to know what the mechanic said? “Your car has an electrical problem, that’s probably what’s going on.” WTF??? What part of we’re going on a massive two-month road trip through two countries where we don’t speak the languages and we really need to make sure our car is ready did you not understand????????
We pulled over on the side of the road, popped our hood up, and stood there for a bit. It only took about two minutes. One of the first cars that drove by us turned around and came back to help us. They didn’t speak any English, we don’t speak any Kazakh, and our Russian is poor, but a broken-down car is universal.
The guys tried a few things but nothing worked. They communicated that they’d call someone else to help us. We pulled our camping chairs out of the back of our car and kicked back under the shade of a tree. We were in the middle of nowhere and a dog walked up! I love dogs! I was excited! It was happy to see us, wagged its tail, hung out by us, but wouldn’t let us touch it. While I was trying to pet the dog a police car pulled up.
We went up to talk to the police. They were friendly. They tried to start our car but couldn’t. After they had only been there a few minutes a tow truck pulled up. The first people had come through for us! They really had called a tow truck for us! The tow truck driver spoke with the police for a bit and then he loaded us up. Before we were off, another police car pulled up! I’m pretty sure this police car just wanted to see the Americans broken down on the side of the road in a small town in the middle of Kazakhstan.
It turned out it was a national holiday in Kazakhstan. We didn’t know that. There was no mechanic anywhere around willing to work on our car. The tow truck driver agreed to drive us to the next small town. We really were in the middle of nowhere. He had been just driving us down the road and randomly stopping at gas stations with garages and even at people’s homes and asking if anyone would work on our car.
We stayed in a town called Taraz at a shitty hotel that didn’t even have hot water for showers. The ceiling of the bathroom looked like it was going to cave in on us and the knob on the door to our room was so fragile we were afraid to touch it, we opened and closed the door via the lock. But! The receptionist was amazing! We’d stay there again just for him! We had had such a stressful day. It had been awful. This guy was really patient with us and our lack of any way to communicate with him in a language he understood and he ordered delivery food for us.
The next morning, he was in the process of trying to find a mechanic to come to the hotel and fix our car for us when a fellow guest just happened to say hello to us in English. What?????? Someone that spoke English???? Here??? What were the chances??? This guy was from Kyrgyzstan but has been living in the US since the 1990’s! He’s a long-haul truck driver and just happens to be traveling through Kazakhstan right now. He’s traveling with a good friend who’s a mechanic!!!!!! They fixed our car for us!!!
So, we were on our way! We drove about three hours and got pulled over by the police. Now, had this been me of 15 years ago I would have been terrified. Heck, had this been me of 7 years ago I would have been terrified, but me today? Naw. You want to know what we did? Or what my husband did? He laughed at them. Literally. Here’s how it went down:
The kid and I sat in the car; the cops told the husband to come back to the car with him. They tried to get him to pay a $300 USD bribe. He LOL’d at them. He told me one of them laughed when he laughed at the cop. So my husband laughed directly in a cop’s face and then the other cop laughed at that. So, they went back and forth and back and forth the cop trying to get a bribe out of him and my husband kept insisting just give me the ticket. That’s not what they want. They don’t want to give you the ticket. They want you to pay a bribe. In the end, we paid a bribe. $10 USD. Yes, you read that right. $10. The cops originally tried to get $300 out of us.
We’ve lived in China and Benin. These Kazakh cops aren’t going to get shit outta us.
Eventually we made it to the Uzbek border. I had read horror stories online about the Zhibek Zholy border crossing and since we have our own wheels, we drove the extra kilometers to the Kaplanbek border where I had read it was much easier to get across. But when we got there were no other cars, only semi-trucks. A guy came out and told us there were no cars allowed at this border crossing. I had the distinct feeling he was lying to us, but we had had such a stressful time getting here so far, we just didn’t have it in us to find out if he was lying or not. We turned the car around and headed toward the dreaded Zhibek Zholy.
Wow! It was annoying. It was almost empty. There were maybe three other cars there and it still took us four hours to get through customs. I cannot even imagine going through there on a busy day and I do not recommend it. We would never do it again. If we ever visit this country again, we’ll fly in and rent a car. We have no idea what took so long. It seemed as if it was all for show. Every time we thought we were finished they’d call us over to another window and ask us more questions. It was borderline absurd. We were there an hour and a half after already having had our passports stamped! Really! I’ve read stories online of fights breaking out at that border due to the stress and oh my god! I can understand why. There was literally no one in line when we were there, no one, and if I had been there just one more hour, I would have been ready to start screaming. That place must be complete insanity on a busy day. Truly, if you’ve just randomly stumbled upon my blog because you’re thinking of doing this trip…. oh my god…. do not enter through this border. My husband and I are well seasoned travelers. Uzbekistan is our 39th country to visit together. We arrange all our own travels, and we have the utmost amount of patience, but wow! This I can really see how this place could drive someone to violence. We did it in the middle of the pandemic when there was almost no one around and it took us four damn hours to get through. Only do it if you’re a masochist.
We spent New Year’s Eve and Day for 2015 in the rural village of 坡头村中国。It was a very interesting time. We were served hot Coca-Cola with ginger in it, we could not find any way to explain to our friend why we don’t have warmer clothes, and we had 2 different elderly men sing for us.
In the village where we were the only heat source is coal burning stoves. It is very, very cold outside and the homes are not well insulated. You’re pretty much shivering all the time. The locals all had very thick clothes on especially made for such weather. They appeared to be thicker and more insulated than ski outfits. Then here we were with our blue jeans and people kept asking us why we didn’t wear warmer clothes. We explained that we don’t have warmer clothes and they thought we were insane. How do you explain to a person with no indoor plumbing and a dirt floor that we don’t usually need warmer clothes than these because our home and every where we go is heated? The only time we’re out in the extreme cold is going quickly from one place to another. But out there it’s cold everywhere all winter.
We are the first foreigners to have ever visited this village and everyone came to see us! It was almost like we were circus freaks more so than honored guests. We do have enough culture to know to bring a gift when going to someone’s home but our gift paled in comparison to what they gave us. The owner of the house we stayed in, our friend, gave us some of his hand drawn artwork and some old family photos, while a friend of his that’s an art teacher sculpted us little figurines and fired them during the day returning to the house in the evening to send us home with them. Our tin of chocolates was looking less and less like a worthy gift as time went on.
There was a never ending revolving “door” which is really just a blanket hanging over a threshold of people wanting to meet us. It was special but tiring.
Traveling Latin America one will notice several cultural differences but the one I still have not been able to adjust to is the blatant racism . There are restaurants such as the one in my featured picture that pretty much translates into “Black people food”. There is a tourism sign in Lima, Peru with a picture of horrible cartoon black people beating on drums that says “Go to this town and see our black people dance”.
We met a guy from Chile that seemed pretty nice and since we didn’t make it to Chile I was asking him some cultural questions. I asked him if in Chile it was like in Columbia and no matter what the day or time there was music blaring and loud people everywhere and his response was “No, we don’t have any black people.” I don’t really know this guy so it wasn’t like he was saying this to me in any kind of confidence, it was just a normal run-of-the-mill kind of thing to say to a stranger.
Then there was the first leg of our speed boat trip to cross the Columbia-Panama border. We started off in the armpit of the world that is Turbo, Columbia at 8:30AM. There was a group of about 8 Columbians that were REALLY obnoxious. We couldn’t tell if they were really drunk or just like that naturally until they started passing the bottle of rum amongst them. I remind you it’s 8:30 in the morning. The ring leader of the group and the loudest, most obnoxious one of the group was annoying the hell out of us.
Every time the boat would hit a wave and crash to the bottom he would scream like a baby, he was making stupid jokes, and he kept blowing this damn horn he had. I swear in the US this guy would have been thrown overboard. Then at one point when I guess he thought the ride was too rough (once again-speed boat-ocean-not going to be a smooth ride) he leans back and yells “Hey nigger, slow down!” Then what happens to him? Everyone laughs. Yep. They laughed. This is how such behavior doesn’t stop. It was so offensive I made a video of it. See link on side. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FuLI5tvmQCs&feature=youtu.be
It was like being stuck on a 4 hour horrible roller coaster ride with a group of 12 year old boys. All but these people were older than me. It was a constant stream of fart jokes, stupidity and racism and it was praised.
So I’ve been volunteering at the Gainesville Senior Center for the past couple months. I knew it would be fun because I always love talking with old people but what I didn’t know was how depressing it would be. Not depressing in the way you may be thinking but depressing in the omg we should do better for our senior citizens way.
They play bingo on a daily basis and it’s fun! The prizes are pretty depressing. Sometimes the prizes are left overs from the food pantry delivery and it’s always something little like canned peaches. These seniors get as excited about a can of peaches as the characters in The Road or the Walking Dead do. That’s all good for fiction but it’s pretty sad to see in real life.
I happen to know of a particular establishment that received a grant to give out fresh fruits and vegetables to people at their place. Sadly, many of the people don’t eat the fruits and vegetables. So what does this establishment do with the food? They throw it in the trash. Employees can’t take it home even if they want to. Everything left over must go in the trash.
Well I don’t like this rule very much so I figured out a way to sneak the uneaten veggies out of said establishment. Yep. Could get in a lot of trouble for this because you know it’s supposed to go in the garbage.
What have I been doing with the fruit? I take it to the Senior Center and give it to them. They give out fresh fruit as bingo prizes. I got so emotional the first time that I cried. They were so happy! 75,85, 90 year old people holding a piece of fresh fruit in their hands like it’s a piece of gold. There’s no telling when the lsat time they actually had fresh fruit was. Most of these people only depend on Meals on Wheels and the Food Pantry and the only fruit they ever get from them is canned and packed in syrup. Fresh fruit! They were so happy some of them were truly giddy.
Have some fresh fruit sitting around your house that you know you won’t actually eat before it goes bad? Get on the internet and find your local Senior Center. They’ll love you for it.