I like the way the Uzbek people sleep together in the open air. It’s so warm and dry that families lay out their beds outside and sleep together under the stars. I am next to one such family right now, who are setting up their beds on the wooden boards of what could be an underground water reservoir. I am in my tent on my own little wooden platform. I’m at the Lower Amudarya State Biosphere Reserve on the edge of the Budai-Tugai Nature Reserve. It was about 6.15pm when I came across the sign for the Reserve and I had just started searching for a place to camp. I almost didn’t bother checking it out but then thought why not? As I rode down the drive I passed a mother and two young kids, one of which was about six years old and riding a bicycle. As I rode ahead, he kept up with me. At the end of the drive was an empty water fountain and a few buildings. The place felt completely deserted. I sat on the edge of the fountain and waited for the woman to arrive. I saw her running as she rounded a corner before returning to walking pace and I got the impression she was a little worried about her son who had run off ahead with me. The lady didn’t speak any English, but I managed to ask if it would be fine if I spent the night here. She didn’t seem to mind. As she disappeared into one of the buildings (obviously her house), I got on with setting up my own home.

Just before I started dinner, the lady emerged with her two kids and wandered past me and into the fenced-in grounds of another building. Meeting her on the inside of the fence was a deer. I went over for a closer look. While the children stood warily to the side, the lady was pulling down the branches of a tree so that the deer could eat the leaves. I patted the deer before taking over the job of holding down the big branch. The lady explained with sign language that the deer was from the wild but got hurt from fighting with other deer. I could see open sores on its neck. Here, they are feeding it and (I think) giving it injections until it’s better, at which time they will release it back into the wild. Eventually, the lady signalled that the deer had had enough and I returned to my tent to make dinner while she returned to her house, presumably to do the same. As I was cooking the man of the house emerged and wandered over, no doubt wanting to suss me out. He seemed nice and didn’t seem worried by my presence.

There is no one around besides me and the family. About ten minutes ago a group of wild animals from the nature reserve sent up a ruckus making me feel like I’m on the edge of wild jungle, but things have since quietened down. I’m lying in my tent. The stars are out and the family are chatting and giggling about ten metres away.

Going back to the start of the day, I didn’t get a lot of sleep in the chaihana (it being a shared space), but my body didn’t seem to suffer and carried me along well. Twice I was gifted with a kilogram of tomatoes and I have done my best to eat them before they start going bad. When I was coming to the end of my first break, during which I sat by the roadside eating bread and tomatoes, a boy walking past handed me the watermelon he was carrying. I think his mum had seen me there and told him to give the fruit to me as a gift. I faced a dilemma. There wasn’t really a way to secure the watermelon to my bike and at the same time there was no way I was going to let it go to waste. I sat back down, got out my spoon and proceeded to eat the whole thing. In the mid-afternoon I had a pleasant nap at a roadside shop at which I had stopped to buy some bread and prepare some sandwiches. As I stretched out on some mats lying in the shade of a large tree, the lady running the shop (who was also resting there) handed me a cushion. I fell asleep immediately and woke with drool running down my chin.

Definitely full now

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 111.03km
Average cycling speed 16.2kph
Total distance ridden 21,924km