What a day on the bike. By 1.10pm I’d completed 100km at an average speed of 24.8kph. After a first stretch of 50km I stopped to devour some bread that I spread with generic Nutella and topped with tomato slices. After 100km I stopped to do exactly the same. After 130km I repeated the process yet again. It wasn’t until I’d ridden more than 140km that I reached some kind of notable destination. This was a small chaihana, which represented the first and last place of the day that offered water. I am now about 20km from the border in the hamlet of Karakalpakiya. It’s a bit of a frontier settlement, the only structures being crumbly old buildings and rusty old caravans. There is a chance I can reach a town in Kazakhstan tomorrow, but if the border crossing takes a long time or the road on the Kazakh side is as bad as reported online, then I’ll probably spend my first night in Kazakhstan camping out.

Safe in the knowledge that I can at least easily reach the border in the morning, I asked the girl running the chaihana if I could sleep the night. I had annoyed this girl a little when I arrived, as she didn’t like the fact that I paid for a drink with the last of my small notes, one of which is worth about two cents. She had since softened her attitude towards me, having realised I’d got there alone on my bicycle and was obviously physically shattered. I dozed and rested through the rest of the afternoon, sharing the lounge space with a couple of guys who also slept. I didn’t actually know if she knew I wanted to stay for the whole night, but I figured she would get the message when it was clear I wasn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. I waited until 7pm before asking if food was available. I managed to order something, but it was quite small. I resigned myself to the fact I would get a little hungry overnight.

I should have known my last night in Uzbekistan wouldn’t be so uneventful. I just was about asleep when a group of loud truck drivers stepped into the teahouse. I lay still for a few minutes until it was clear that they were settling in for a while. A few recognisable words also told me that I was already the object of their attention. When I sat up and introduced myself, I was instantly welcomed into their circle. My not-quite-full stomach was soon overflowing with bread, meat and salad and I lost count of the number of vodka shots I had (around seven). The conversation was led passionately by one guy and seemed to involve guns. Eventually, the truck drivers returned to their machines (I think they drive in pairs, with one of each pair indulging in alcohol when they get chance) and the chaihana became quiet once again. While I was initially annoyed by having been disturbed when all I wanted to do was sleep, I was struck by the realisation that this was my last night in Uzbekistan and I should be making the most of it. I began to relish the time with the guys as a perfectly fitting farewell from a country I have grown to love.

Fellow wanderers

Accommodation Chaihana (tea-house)
Distance ridden today 141.85km
Average cycling speed 21.7kph
Total distance ridden 22,459km