The Hands of the Red Sand
Wrap, Slap and Whip around us
Screaming “You Are Mine”
The Qizilqum, meaning Red Sands, is located in Central Asia between the rivers Amu Darya and Syr Darya. For us, this meant 4 days of undulating road, sand everywhere and demanding conditions as we hurried from Khiva to Bukhara.
From Khiva we went to Urgench and on to the main road towards Bukhara. This was a mistake as we suffered head wind to Urgench, the road was poor and it was the long way round. The thing with all mistakes is that if they didn’t happen we wouldn’t have experienced the outcome, which often outweighs the mistake itself. In this case it was the love and hospitality from two Uzbek families and Kurban Hayit (Eid al-Adha) celebrations. Two nights in a row we ate and slept in homes, played with the children and learnt about their lifestyle as we made our way to the edge of the desert.
About 20km before we reached the beginnings of the desert, a main road appeared. This was smooth, big and easy! The road gradually rises and drops through a hilly desert landscape. At regular intervals (about 50-100km) you encounter a “Yol Patrol”, police check point, which is often accompanied by a çay house or small shop but other than that there is nothing around. We had no problems at the checkpoints, occasionally they would call you to stop and maybe check passports or just chat – everyone was friendly! Amusingly this desert landscape has a big expanse of water running adjacent to it, marking the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. We only discovered this after finding it hilarious when we encountered a lone fish restaurant by the side of the road and wondering where all the fish came from.
Unfortunately for the majority of our time in the Qizilqum, the wind was not quite in our favour. Blowing from the NNE, it pushed into our left side with such force that it took a lot of energy just to remain upright. We had a poor day on the second with heavy head wind and lack of motivation so we decided to pack it in and build a massive fire and had a few beers.
The wind didn’t let off the following day so we decided to take on some night riding on the third. We stopped in a roadside caravan, cooked up some supper having only done 60km set out into the dark. There were long stretches of half a road built that we were able to lift our bikes onto and enjoy the luxury of a road completely to ourselves! Knowing we were safe from traffic on the new road, we decided to make it our mission to make it to Bukhara by morning. By Midnight we had done 120km and had 120km left to go…easy. Energy levels were high as we listened to a rendition of the Tarzan soundtrack. 1am came and Cliff and Richard called it a night, they could ride faster than us and as we were both still raring to go we thought we’d continue for another two hours and see where we got and how we were feeling.
We managed another 30km, where the new road ended we found ourselves sharing it with truck after truck. We stopped for a break and decided to push out another half an hour, but we managed about 3km before we couldn’t go any further, the stresses of seeing a bright lights, unsure if they were getting closer and then them suddenly turning into two and a truck hurtling by was starting to drain us.
So there it was our longest stretch without sleeping, 150km, half three in the morning. Half asleep we pitched the tent trying not to think we were still in the desert and had another 86km.
Five hours sleep later, feeling sorry for ourselves, we ate the last of our biscuits and raisins. We half expected Cliff and Richard to cycle by before we had even left. To Julia’s calculations they would pull up at the tea house we had a stop at for a coke and to finish our halva in 10 minutes. They never turned up.
Instead we made a new friend in the form of a Turkish Super truck driver, Mustafa, who took us under his wing and became our support vehicle. He stopped every few km’s to hand us, water, fanta, gum and sunflower seeds out of the window. Then he treated us to lunch at a nice tea house, which was just as well as we were beginning to fade, biscuits, halva and raisins was not enough to get it to Bukhara.
It was dark by the time we reached the city and to were no surprised to see Mustafa calling us over. He had parked at the TIR parking and went about asking a shop owner to make sure we knew where Madina’s B&B was and even called her up – to which she then arrived with a Mini van and loaded us up and took us get a whole chicken each and into her sister’s hotel as she was full.
Whilst we were tucking in, the Turkish man appeared – ok that was a little bit weird, he’d now decided he wanted to stay at the same hotel and hadn’t brought anything with him. Anyway although it sent our alarms ringing it seemed like he was just enthusiastic about the fact that we could speak Turkish and was bored of hanging out with other truckers.
The following day, we headed to Madina’s and were reunited with Cliff Richard – who had some stories of their own, unfortunately not as smooth running. A night of pizza and wine made it all a bit better and we set off the next day, with Cliff and Richard taking an extra night to recover were to join us in Samarkand.