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Checkpoint Troubles, Hot and Hotter and We Meet Superwoman

As far back as Mongolia, we knew the Uzbek border crossing was not going to be easy. Once there, after delays, as we got lost several times, we were told to wait our turn behind several industrial truckers as the guards sifted through their trucks looking for God-knows-what.


Several hours passed and finally, it was our turn. They made us take all our luggage off the bikes and meticulously went through every item, even making Nick fire up his laptop and look through all the files and photos, pausing for quite a long time on some risqué shots of one of his past fashion model girlfriends, taken years ago.


Once satisfied we weren't smuggling illegal contraband, they motioned us through and we met with our state-required guide, Yuri, who was quite disgruntled because he had been waiting there all day for us, not knowing exactly when we'd be getting there.


Yuri turned out to be a gem of a guide and a walking wiki on everything Uzbek history. We started to record our conversations because they were so dense with ancient Silk Road history that we just couldn't process it all in real-time.

Our first evening and following day was spent in Tashkent, where we ate traditional Uzbek food, went shopping in the huge open-air central market, and changed money on the black market, which took us into some shady neighborhoods and felt like a drug deal was going down. We each gave Yuri a crisp $50 US and he came back with literally a garbage bag full of Uzbek currency.


Jiri always carried a shoulder-strapped briefcase with him. We realized that this was his wallet because Uzbek currency has no large denomination bills. Paying for dinner was comical because we had to count out hundreds of bills to pay for what amounted to a $10 tab. I started to count them out slowly, but Jiri snatched the stack of bills away, shooting me a disdainful “you’re such a rookie” look and with the most amazing technique, almost like shuffling cards, counted out the proper amount in seconds.

While on the road from Tashkent to Samarkand, our next destination, we passed one of the frequent checkpoints. Most just waved us through, but at this one, we were stopped by a couple of young guys wearing sunglasses and jogging outfits. They looked like cartoon characters out of a Russian mobster movie. They approached me with a hand up and started asking me questions in Uzbek. I immediately answered in English that I didn't know what they were asking, and they switched in a blink to sternly asking questions in broken English.


They asked me where I was from, and I told them California USA. Then they asked what I was doing there, and I answered that I was sightseeing. Then they asked me what my occupation was, and at that moment Yuri jumped into the conversation abruptly, speaking Uzbek in a strong voice, and motioned for them to step over to the side of the road. A very animated conversation with a few raised voices ensued, and at the end, the two guys looked up with sheepish smiles towards us and waved and we were on our way.

I asked Yuri what he had said. He told us they were Secret Service agents and that they were going to try to shake us down, but obviously, they weren't aware that we were traveling with guides. Yuri dressed them down for causing a scene and showing Uzbekistan in a bad light, and although he didn't go into full details about what he had said to create their humbled reaction towards us, we guessed that Yuri must have outranked them by quite a bit within the state hierarchy.

We made it to Samarkand and had a wonderful tour of this ancient jewel of the silk road, as Yuri filled our brains with the rich history of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. We stopped for lunch at the birthplace of rice pilaf (plaf in Uzbek) and gorged on a variety of pilafs cooked in huge metal and ceramic bowls outside over wood-fired pits. Yuri later invited us to have dinner at his driver Frera's house that evening.

When we arrived at Frera's house we could smell the aroma of burning embers and savory meats from a BBQ. We were given a tour of his beautiful complex of rooms in a very old house that was in various states of reconstruction. Ferrera was in the process of creating a bed-and-breakfast hotel. We told him that we would be happy to be his guests when the construction was complete.


​Our next destination was Bukhara, another UNESCO World Heritage site and Yuri's hometown. We could sense a complete change in demeanor from a guy that was doing his job as a guide to a warmer, more friendly stance.

Bukhara is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia and is home to one of the oldest and largest Madrasas in the entire Islamic world. We could tell that Yuri was quite partial to his hometown. The history lessons flowed out of him, and he was quite proud of the fact that there was virtually no crime in the inner city. Granted the punishments are quite harsh, but he said that we could leave our cell phone on one of the tables in the park and it would still be there the next day untouched.

On the road between Samarkand and Bukhara we were running low on fuel and desperately hot from the desert heat, so we pulled over at a roadside restaurant to see if we could find some fuel and cold water. As we were refueling our bikes, we saw another motorcyclist on a big adventure bike pass by, then double back and pull up next to us. The rider dismounted from the Triumph Tiger 800 and took off his helmet.


Out flowed a most luxurious head of long hair and we saw that he was actually she - and a most beautiful she at that. Her name was Leah Reich from Germany, and she was on a solo round-the-world trip going in the opposite direction of us. Naturally, our tough-guy biker egos shriveled to the size of peanuts but in the most amazing way. We were completely enthralled with her and of course, wanted to hear all about her travels. She was on her way to Tajikistan and then on to Mongolia, so she wanted to hear all about our travels through Mongolia.


Needless to say, we hit it off and it was wonderful to swap motorcycle tales. I told her she had to look us up when she was traveling through the US, which she did! She stayed the night with me in LA on her way to Northern California and then on across the States. We're friends to this day and I'm a huge fan of her travels and amazed with her bravery. She's truly a superwoman!

After Bukhara, we traveled to Khiva, an ancient walled city on the border with our next destination, the wacky and weird country of Turkmenistan.

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