Temporarily Arrested in Uzbekistan…
Turkmenabat, Turkmenistan to Bukhara, Uzbekistan
After a “restful” night, we set off early to drive to the border. The drive to the boarder was uneventful except for the occasional directional challenges when in Turkmenabat. Just before Farab (the last city before the boarder) we had to stop and pay a bridge tax, which according to one local was supposed to be about $1, we ended up paying about $20.. After paying $20 we thought that at least it would be a nice bridge, we were wrong. The bridge was not really even a bridge, more like floating sections of road hinged together. Maybe it was a temporary bridge while a new nicer bridge was being constructed, but there was no sign of that. Finally, we made it to the boarder crossing at 12:55pm, thinking we made good time only to find out the crossing was closed for lunch from 1–2pm.
So we decided to have a nice relaxing lunch as well. Once the office was reopened the procedure went smoothly enough, except when it looked like the guards lost Will and Olie’s car documents (everything was found, thankfully). When we arrived at the Uzbekistan boarder we again had to go to about 4 different offices, never really knowing what each one did, until the last one where they wanted to see our med kit to look for drugs. They searched through and everything was fine, but maybe they didn’t believe us cause they wanted to search the car as well. Luckily for us the search lasted all of thirty seconds. The boarder guard looked inside and immediately saw Marshal’s Yak hat and thought it was hilarious, so he made Marshal put it on and do a dance around the car! So after a bit of embarrassment for Marshal we met up with Will and Olie outside the boarder and we were off to Uzbekistan!
About a mile after the border Ollie drove up to our left side with excitement in his face. He excitedly reminded us that we had a dare needing completion — race another team. The road was straight, empty, and well paved, it was the perfect place. We pull over to the side to talk it out. Josiah and Olie are easily the most excited for the race, they are going back and forth with ideas for the set up and organization, while the rest of us are too tired to contribute much emotion or creativity. After about 15 minutes of discussion the rules are agreed upon, the race was going to have multiple elements intertwined together to make as ridiculous and Mongol Rally-esk as possible.
First, the track length. There was a telephone pole in the distance, this was to be the turn around point (assuming there was a turn around because it was a divided highway). The winner would be determined by Jon, who would be waiting at the start with his camera on the line.
Now the fun part. The race included two separate challenges. The first being a moving driver swap before the telephone pole — just like in all the spy movies. The second challenge was a melon eating contest at the telephone pole, then it was a sprint to the finish.
The race began with Josiah driving, Marshal in the passenger seat, and Patrick in the back filming. With the wave of the start flag and we were off! The engines roaring, tires screeching quickly brought Marshal and Patrick to full energy and excitement. Will and Ollie took the initial lead… they have far and away a faster accelerating car, but when it came time for driver swap Josiah and Marshal pulled it off smoothly and quickly overtook Will and Ollie. The race was neck and neck up to the telephone pole, so the melon eating was tight. We, Americans, thought we had this one in the bag, eating large amounts of food as fast as humanly possible? It’s the American past time. However, Will and Olie it seems had been well versed in melon eating, so the race stayed tight with them beating us by a fraction of a second. We pile back in the car with Patrick now at the helm to satisfy his need for speed. Will and Olie slightly ahead led the way to a turn around point about a quarter of a mile past the telephone phone. At the turn around point we are about 20 ft behind Will and Olie, make the turn and start speeding towards the finish. Right as make the turn we see something that initially we thought was harmless, a truck flashed his lights at us. As we’re all to pumped with adrenaline we ignore it and keep going to catch up with Will and Olie. Their Nissan Micra may have the acceleration, but we had the speed. Patrick has the pedal to floor and changing gears like Schumacheur we catch them and right as we get to what we think is the end we pass them!
But wait. Where’s Jon?
We keep driving a little, we know we’ve passed the point where we set off, Jon is nowhere to be seen. Maybe we missed him, we were driving pretty fast after all. So we turn around and head back, slowly this time. Again, no Jon. Now we’re worried. We jump out the car search the bushes, nothing. We start driving slowly away the start — maybe someone told him to move and he just started walking. After a couple minutes we see a figure with a cane running towards us. There’s Jon with his monopod and camera. How in the world did he get so far up the road??
So I had a bad feeling about this whole filming situation from the start. I was being a bit of a debbie downer about the whole situation. I, Jonathan Keewon Ma, would like to state for the record that I did not want to film this stupid race scene. We were less than 5 km from the border… So off they went on their race as I filmed the back of the cars whizzing away… Then I hopped over the median to the other side of the road to wait for the “photo finish” they all wanted… even though I knew the Nissan Micra would be coming in leagues ahead of our beloved Polo… reliable. not fast.
So here I am waiting for the cars to come by with my full filming set on. Monopod, Camera, RODE microphone, hat on backwards… I could be a professional from afar.. Then a white van flies by and then stopped.. turned around and comes back.. The driver points to my camera and makes an “X” with his hands then makes rectangles on his shoulders and then makes the “X” again and shakes his head side to side.. At this point I knew, the brass didn’t want anyone filming in this area. I nodded my head in agreement and tried to communicate if he could get me a ride to the stupid racers up the road. This failed and he drove off.
At this point my heart beating a bit faster than normal as I try to make up a little bit of the distance and walk…fast… towards the “turn around” point wherever that was up the road…. Then on the other side of the road an army green truck pulls up, a middle aged Uzbekistan man in full military cameos come out and motions for me to come over.
I go over and shake his hand and give the biggest dumbest looking smile I could as rapid Uzebeki is flowing like Ludacris rap lyrics from his mouth. I have no other communication strategy but to smile and shrug my shoulders and try to motion my “team” was up the road. The driver is telling the guy from “passport! passport!” Which I conveniently left in the car. I flip my pockets inside out and come up with my lens cap and some dirt and lint.
Clearly frustrated, the guy who I assume is an officer, motions me to get in the truck. I think we are going to go get my passport.. I think. I get in and see two young privates in the back seat and the young driver. The guy I was talking to was definitely an officer. I smile as big as possible and shake everyones hand and we drive off towards my passport. MY heart is almost coming out of my chest as this point, but I still have the dumb tourist smile on my face. We drive a couple kilometers down the road when the micra and polo fly past on the other side of the road. The driver honks his horn and flashes his lights, but its a race so obviously they aren’t going to stop.
Then they turn to me and start yelling something in Uzbeki over and over. I have no idea what they are saying. But I take this as an opportunity to get out of the car, as they keep yelling at me, I think at one point they say “cellphone.” I just hop out and start walking towards the knuckleheads that are racing. I’m not turning around to check if they are looking at me. I just keep walking. The walking turns into a trot. Then into a full on sprint. I get about 400 meters down the road and realize they aren’t following me. In the distance I see the cars pulled over. My heart skips a beat in a joyful proclamation. My sandals are almost flying off as I grip my monopod hoping my camera doesn’t fall off. I finally get to the car and just yell,
We need to get out of here fast!!! I got picked up by army people and we aren’t allowed to film here.
I climb in the back seat and we take off. We are searching the roads ahead expecting this big blockade of military folks ahead…
there was none.
I must have been too small of a fish to deal with or my amazing smile did its job. We drive for 15 more kilometers and my heart settles down and I fall asleep most likely to counter my stress from that whole ordeal.
We end up stopping around dinner time in Chorbaka, or something like that, on the recommendation of the nicer border guys. Patrick walks in to check it out with Marshal in close behind.
Immediately these old Uzbekistan men call Patrick over and start pouring him shots of vodka and giving him breads and meats to eat. Patrick is lost to their hospitality for the night. A completely separate group calls over the rest of us and we all share in coke (Marshal was the only sober one), Uzbekistan vodka and shashlik (grilled skewers of meat). I don’t know what it is about Uzbekistan men, but they drink like sailors. Although they are the nicest men in the world, I think within an hour we all had 10+ shots and the meats and bread just kept coming out of the restaurant.
No one could communicate to anyone so whenever there was a dull moment, someone would just yell, “UZEBEKISTANNNN!!!” Then pour drinks for everyone. The old men really like to say,
“INTERNACIONALLL!!!!” Then the drinks went around.
I’m pretty sure one time they yelled, “SHOTLANDIAAAA!!!” Might have to bring that one back home with me.
I ended up taking a nap in the car while the festivities continued through the night, then Marshal drove us all to hostel after getting lost and asking for directions once… But we were all in a bed and sleeping soundly in the end.