I’m writing this from a little burger and beer joint–one of the few places Danielle and I can seek refuge from the masses of elderly people here on packaged tours. And that’s only because despite the glossy sign advertising its location, this place is pretty run down. And they don’t serve cappuccino (the beer is excellent though).
Does I sound like I’m complaining? That’s because I totally am. I think Sasha said it best: “Uzbekistan feels like a slap in the face after the warmth and hospitality of Tajikistan.”
It all started on the way from Dushanbe to the border–we should have known. First our taxi driver mysteriously “forgot” the price that we had agreed on after ten minutes of haggling. “Americans never want to pay,” he angrily announced to curious onlookers. A screaming match ensued (my Russian has never felt so fluent), making for an unfortunate ending to such a great stay in Tajikistan.
Then passport control.
Ugh, passport control. The long walk from Tajikistan took us through seven checkpoints, which meant seven opportunities to come up with excuses to not give out our phone numbers. The worst was at the Tajik immigration office, where the middle-aged guards insisted that we stay in Tajikistan one more night to join them for dinner and some dancing.
They took me to a private room for “questioning,” as Danielle doesn’t speak Russian, where they spent a good ten minutes trying to convince me to make us stay an extra day to enjoy a proper Tajik goodbye party with them.
Um, no thanks, perverts. Of course I couldn’t actually say that because they were holding our passports.
We finally made it to Uzbekistan, only to find ourselves in the midst of yet another argument with a taxi driver. And then eight hours of reckless driving later we finally made it to Bukhara!
Oh Bukhara, what can I say about you? People come here for the Silk Road architecture, which really is impressive. I think magical would even be an appropriate word to describe Bukhara. The only downside, which probably wouldn’t be a problem usually, is that it’s swarming with tourists and all the stunning buildings are filled with vendors selling the same silk scarves.
Maybe that’s too harsh. It’s just that for the past two months we haven’t seen many tourists and have been consistently welcomed by locals with invitations to tea instead of orders to buy things. It feels like people here just see us as a potential sale.* Maybe Samarkand will be better; we really will try to give it a chance.
*Okay, now I have to admit that we judged Uzbekistan way too quickly – oops! Right after writing this post two tour guides approached Danielle and me to invite us out to dinner and dancing. They treated us to some delicious Uzbek food and taught us more about Uzbek history.
They’re guides for French tourists and despite my pleading that they use Russian, they insisted on only speaking French. And my French, well, let’s just say it’s even worse than my Russian. Then again, high school me probably would be quite happy to hear that all those French lessons had proven useful after all! And a little perplexed as to why they were useful in Uzbekistan – because I’m not sure high school me even knew it was a country, sadly.
Had these tour guides been listening to Danielle and my complaints while writing this blog post? Hopefully not, but if they had, they certainly did a good job of redeeming Bukhara in our minds.
Money in Uzbekistan
Come prepared with 50 and 100 dollar bills. Uzbekistan has a black market for currency. Do NOT exchange your money at a bank or anywhere else that uses the official rate. There will be plenty of black market money exchangers eager to help you. Ask around first to make sure you’re getting the best rate. When we were there (October 2013) the official rate was roughly 2100 to a dollar, and the black market rate was 2700 to a dollar. Most bills are 1000, so be prepared to carry around some seriously fat stacks of cash.