In April 2010, Eleanor Moseman left Shanghai on a journey of more than 10,000 miles, across 3 countries, on one bicycle. This is where she updates from the road.
Uzbekistan, Part 2: Tashkent to Nurata (June 13th-June 18th 2012)

I could of bee lined straight to Samarkand but I decided to head to Bukhara via the Nurata mountains. After researching online, it seemed there were some guesthouses along the small road to the south of the lake that were noted on a tourist site.

Uzbekistan is getting HOT and this is the time I notice I have difficulties photographing in this intense lighting. It hasn’t been like this since Tibet, yet I’m always feeling like I’m melting. After looking through these photos a near year and half later, my face looks like a lobster. Even with sunscreen and a hat there was no way to avoid it.

On June 13th I would leave Tashkent. (I’m going to zip through a lot of this as my memories are fading fast and I don’t believe I was journaling much more these days).

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There was nothing exceptional the first day except getting out of the city and traffic. Uzbekistan is full of police checkpoints, I believe more so than Kyrgyzstan. The day begins to end and I’ve found myself on a somewhat quiet and easy road. I spot a cafe behind some trees and it looks fairly empty. It’s a little early for dinner but I just figure I’ll eat and then head on to find a place to camp for the evening. Although I’m still on the outskirts of the city, I’m a little worried about finding a good spot.

I roll into the cafe and there is an older man and woman, that my assumption is they are the owners. I’m correct and they wave me over to sit anywhere I’d like sit. I take a seat at a table and I’m served naan, tea, and I don’t remember what my meal was. Eating slowly, I notice there a few other young women working there that take some curiosity of me and the men ignore me or leave me be. It feels comfortable and safe.

When I pay the check they ask me where I will be sleeping. Of course I tell them I don’t know and I have a tent. They tell me no, and that I will be sleeping inside the cafe tonight. I leave my bike outside, take my expensive items inside and sit at the kitchen table with 3 women. We try to make small talk as they prepare food for the guests. The cafe becomes fairly busy and as the sun sets I’m shown to my own room where I’ll be sleeping. As I make myself comfortable, after bringing my bike inside, I’m served a bowl of plov, naan, and water. It’s a bit of a noisy evening as I can hear chatter outside into the early morning but it’s still a  comfortable sleep. Because my bike is not in my room, there is always a bit of paranoia looming over me because it’s not in my site. I just go with it…

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I would head out right after sunrise and I waved goodbye to a woman doing the early morning sweeping. It’s already getting warm and I can remember almost exactly how that rising sunshine felt on me that morning.

Continuing on I would get slightly lost on the 14th. I had entered a city and trying to follow the map to skim along the Kazakhstan border and get closer to the Nurata mountains.

At noon I remember getting so hot and pulling over for a cold liter of Coca Cola. I believe I visited nearly 2 shops before finding one that was ice cold. Pulling over to the side of the road in the shade I would drink it down while applying sunscreen and eating some peanut butter on naan. After about an hour of putzing around I tried to find this small road. It turned into a single lane and all of a sudden it felt like I was pedaling over sand. Is my tire flat?…

I’m under the blazing sun, no clouds in sight, and there are grain and cotton fields stretching kilometers in all directions. There are some homes but everyone has taken cover out the sun. To check my tires I set my foot down and I feel it sink into the tarmac…you have got to be kidding me!? I’m riding on melting roads.

After making a half a dozen attempts to find this small road to the mountains, I turn around losing 30 kms and a lot of energy. It could just be looping and I’m not sure where this is going so I head back and just stay on a main route.

Exiting the city I pass by some vacant buildings and a bazaar.

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I am on a pretty secluded road at this point and a little concerned where I actually am. Maybe my map reading skills aren’t that exceptional…although I do pretty well in China. Maybe it’s not so much as “wander cyclist” as it is some other form. Honestly, I just kind of go in the general direction I’m supposed to be going and I’ll figure out on the way. Perhaps it’s mostly because I hate planning, it’s the most boring part I think. I don’t like reading websites, tourist books, any of that. I just have a general goal and I enjoy figuring it out in the moment. Ooops, have I let a secret out?

It seems Uzbekistan is going to be the country where I try to find shade constantly. Whenever I see an opportunity after cycling for an hour. I take it. I lied down in this grass for nearly 3 hours with maybe a half dozen cars passing me. I’m  not sure what I contemplated, speculated, or dreamed about…but I’m pretty sure it was good. I still clearly remember that spot and the sound the water made in the canal.

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After that refreshing lounge I stop to get some biscuits and some water. Sitting in a bus stop next to a police checkpoint, I have some visitors. A friendly bunch, seemingly innocent enough. The little English they can speak, and the little Russian I can…we have a good time.

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At sunset I would roll into a cafe, more like a truck stop, and hang out with these amazing people. I was also given a place to sleep.

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Now it’s the morning of June 15th. Just after a few hours of riding on a barely two lane country road it’s break time. This sun and heat is killing me or it’s because of all the time off I had in Kazakhstan…or maybe…I’m close to hitting the end of my tour. I think a lot are playing a part here. I’m not really sure what was going through my head around these days but I’m pretty sure it all stemmed from ending my wedding engagement that previous January and finalizing the break up between he and I in April after the Kyrgyzstan blizzard. There were times I would have tears rolling down my face while riding…hell, 2 years later I still had to hold back a few tears walking the streets here in Shanghai. When I tell people I burned my life to the ground and I’m currently rebuilding, I really mean it. There are no regrets, but…well, on with the story.

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And then I stop for some naan…of course…my tour was all about photography, sitting on the side of the road thinking about life, and eating.

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I load up on supplies in this town as I’m almost on the small road that skirts along the northern edge of the Nurata mountains.

I’m drinking more water than I can carry. I can’t keep up. Through these villages I see everyone carrying either empty buckets or buckets of water. Is it so hot that everyone walks around with a bucket of water to carry? Am I absolutely insane for being out here right now. I’m getting concerned about water so I pull into a village and look for water. Someone points me down a village road and I come home to a well, without a cover.

Peering down, it’s about a meter drop in and I’m trying to figure out how to do this. An older woman approaches me and I ask her how to get the water. She gives me a slight smile and moves along and jumps right in the hole. Asks for my water bottles and fills them up. She smiles as she hands me each bottle. Wow…did I really just witness this woman half my height and twice my age just pull a total Teenage Mutant Ninja move…I was humored for the remainder of the day with that site.

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Stopping for ice cream a couple hours later I meet this fella that can speak some English. We sit on the stoop and I buy another ice cream and talk with him for about an hour. He says he’s never seen any other foreigners along this road and it’s summer vacation for him right now. I believe the store keeper was his uncle and his family urged him out of the house to practice his English. In retrospect, he reminds me of my dear Uyghur “brother” Akbar in Korla.

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As I finally see the edge of the Nurata mountains I see a watering station where a few trucks are pulling over to. A driver turns the water on in this massive concrete structure and there are 2 faucets on both sides. The men are drinking the water…so I fill up one bottle with the water to use to cook. I also use this opportunity to wash my face, hands, and feet. The salt is caking my shirt stiff.

Heading west, the sun is beginning to set and there is no one or anything in site. I eventually see these lines of trees heading off the road and into the mountains. I imagine there must be some sort of irrigation for these trees to be in the middle of the desert. As I get closer I see homes.

I eventually reach where a few dirt tracks are heading south into the mountains and the lake is to the north. There is a woman holding a baby on the left side of the road speaking to a man on the right side. There are some children around her and I see about a dozen women along a small pond doing laundry, chatting, and drinking a white liquid out of bowls.

Slowing down to see what the opportunities are here but also playing it cool, I stop to take off my sunglasses and put on my eyeglasses. The woman approaches me urgently with a smile and hands me a bowl of the white stuff. It’s cool, it tastes like milk but with maybe some sort of herbs I can’t differentiate from. I’m not a culinary expert but it’s some sort of chilled dairy drink that’s absolutely delicious. She gives me another with a smile. The women are all laughing and talking louder and hooting at us.

They ask me the basic questions and within a few minutes I’m walking along a broken gravel path to her home to stay the night.

We eat, we talk, we watch a little television in the main room. There is about a dozen of us and one younger man brings back a bag of ice cream for all of us. The food was delicious and after every meal like this all I can do is try to prevent myself from passing out. I answer their questions the best to my ability and I’m in awe of the family unit. The main woman explains to me who everyone is and how they are related. I believe her husband is a professor in Tashkent. Her small child is ill, it seems to running a fever. There were a few moments when all the eyes were on me because the infant really to a liking to me. All smiles and she even held my hand at one point.

Yes, it melted my heart a little. Going months, years, without intimate moments it’s these fleeting seconds that remind me of who I really am. At 34 I’m not really sold on the idea of motherhood for myself, but I remember Uzbekistan had a very lasting impression on me. All the women and children; it was there I realized that if I were to have children, it was going to be like these women out here. Their children never lead their sides and they all take care of each others offspring when in need. Of course all mothers love their children…but there was something different in Uzbekistan. Perhaps it’s the difficult environment, many fathers are absent because of work, and the fact these women are working throughout the day taking care of the home…and at least a couple of children.

I can’t remember her name exactly but it was something like Magdelene, but it is written in a notebook at home in the States. She lived in this large home with her father, her brother and his wife, and the children. Her mother had died a few years before as she showed me her portrait hanging in one of the rooms.

She signaled to me it was time for bed and we exited the home. The two children and she began to prepare the bed outside. Oh my goodness…you can’t believe my excitement of sleeping on this platform bed in a warm Uzbekistan desert night and staring straight up into the heavens. If you’ve ever been in the desert, or out of a city at night, you have a 360 degree horizon of star speckled black’ness. It’s one of the things in life I live for.

I sleep on the edge next to my bike, with the mother next to me, her infant and the two children. We are all on the platform together with barely 4 inches between us. This may have been one of the loveliest nights of my entire tour.

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I do not see myself as special, or exceptional, or anything of that sort. My time in Tibet was when I realized how insignificant I am in this entire world and how my life is such a speck on the map. But when a woman shares her bed, with me, and her family…maybe there is something about me that sets me apart from the herds.

We wake up at sunrise with the sun blazing down on us.

Of course I don’t leave until about 11 after hanging out with them. I watch the naan being prepared and cooked. They send me off with 6 naan, water, and apricots. Of all the places I want to return to on my route, is to this woman. She wrote in my journal a note in Uzbek that I had translated later. It basically was wishing me safe travels and that she was happy to meet me and that she hopes I never forget her and the children. I’ve met many many people along the ways but there is about a dozen of older women that my heart yearns to visit again.

Today, a year and a half later after this story has taken place, in the real world I have people talk to me about feeling a connection. But a real “connection” is with someone where it crosses over language. Where you can sit next to a person, and rely on true feelings, emotions, intuitions, and your gut tells you about a person. I think my time in China and on tour has allowed me to “feel” people like I never have before. More than just a judge of character, but really “see” what they are all about within juts a few moments. When you have to move past words and language, and completely trust your instincts.

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Morning of June 16th are the previous photos and head further West. Supposedly there are guest houses along the way and I debate about taking a small road north towards the lake. But after my experience with “lakes” in Kazakhstan, I decide not to because of the heat and lack of drinking water. It’s dry and hot out here.

Around 4pm I find a sign to a guesthouse and take it. It takes some asking people and a grueling 20 minutes pushing my bike up into the mountains. Let me just cut this story straight but it was a horrible rip off. So badly that I made a complaint to the company that advertises. This is the only time I’ve ever did something like this because I was furious. It probably wouldn’t have been such a big deal if the woman’s sun didn’t keep me up at night trying to talk to me and then sleeping on the same platform bed with me, texting into the night, and horrendous dog barking throughout the night. I’m embarrassed to even say how much money they took me for. Enough that would of last me for weeks in China…WEEKS. The complaint also had to do with the fact that even though I’m a western woman, I was insulted that they thought it was appropriate for a young man in his 20′s to sleep so close to me.

Anyways…it was cute place and I enjoyed watching the neighbors get apricots from their trees. One man would climb up and shake the branches while 3-4 women stood underneath catching them into a sheet.

Morning of June 17th. I do everything I can to get shade and enough water. There is only one stop, with one shop, between the guesthouse of the previous night and the next town I will stay at.

blog-25 blog-26 blog-27 blog-28 I hung out in there for a little while. A boy had escorted me out of the previous town with the one shop, on his bike. He was sweet. I told him he should go back because there was nothing out here. Most of the kids I play along with and their racing games. His bike looked like it was about to fall apart so my biggest concern was he going to far and having a problem with the bike.

I come into a town near sunset and on the edge of town is about a dozen men sitting on the east side of a bus station. One gets up and waves me over. I’m greeted with smiles and waves. He buys me a water and ice cream. Then he buys me another ice cream. After 15 minutes of shootin’ the breeze with these hooligans and watching them heckle this local woman driving a motorcycle, that kept stalling out,  I’m walking back to the man man’s house.

This was dinner.

blog-29 After dinner and right before the sky turns black, I snuggle onto my “kurpa” outside the house with the rest of the family. There are a few meters between me and the rest of the family but it was a very easy going and non-obtrusive homestay. It seems that these moments always appear after a horrible situation.

The next morning, June 18th,  I leave after the man escorting me out to the main road. I ride out just as the sun is peeking over the horizon. Around 10 am I pass this dead dinosaur in the road. I’m reminded to never sleep in the desert without a tent. The lizard must of been 3 feet including tail and a good 4 inch girth. I’m also spotting white spiders with a bright orange back.

At 10am I arrive in Nurata and look for a place to buy water. As I’m sitting outside a shop a young girl tells me to come inside, out of the sun. I end up staying the day with the women in the back yard. The two sisters work on embroidery and the mother is making apricot preserves. We all take a nap inside a dark room around 2 to 4 and then carry on with the rest of the day.

I would stay the night with them. The sisters and I would sit outside along the main street watching traffic and passer-bys listening to my iPod. The mother at one point wanted me to stay with her, in the room with her husband. He had come home later in the day and by now he was intoxicated. The mother’s demeanor had changed from the joking jovial woman earlier to something that seemed like fear. There was some sort of exchange with the mother and daughters and the two sisters and their cousin won me for the evening.

The four of us lined up along the platform on the back porch and giggled into the night.

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You know what? If you haven’t caught on…I LOVE being a woman, alone, on a bike. Yes, there are dangers I have to be cautious of. Some have had the audacity to say I’m setting myself up for some of the things that have happened to me. But through these years wandering around Asia have taught me so much what it means to be a woman…not for myself, but experiencing the lives of others. Never have a I wished to be a man…maybe I wouldn’t have had the courage to do what I’ve done.

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  1. Eleanor,
    As I sit here in my apartment, looking out at the snow, and 2 degree temps, I received your update.
    What a joy to read, the goodness of people shining through every word. As a foodie, I also enjoy seeing the photos of the food and hospitality.
    The photos of the people you have met along the way are so striking, there is something in their eyes, something we seem to have lost here in the states.
    Thank you for the words and photos.

    Have a good holiday season,
    Be well,
    Stephen

    Comment by Stephen Lambert — December 23, 2013 @ 7:05 pm

  2. What a fantastic treat for Xmas. So good to read about your feelings and experiences.
    Pictures, of course, wonderful. I know I have asked before but what camera were you using for these pictures?
    Best wishes
    Matthew

    Comment by Matthew — December 23, 2013 @ 7:54 pm

  3. Hey Matthew, it’s a D700 Nikon with Lightroom as the editor.

    Comment by Eleanor — December 25, 2013 @ 8:04 am

  4. Happy Holidays Stephen! Glad I could tempt your tastebuds.

    Comment by Eleanor — December 25, 2013 @ 8:05 am

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