(27) Khiva, Uzbekistan: Transportation, gas shortages, and women

I thought when I found a bus leaving Nukus that my transportation adventure was over for the day.

Not so.

After a while of sitting and waiting, a man (the driver?) came around to the side door and said something that got the passengers riled up. His hand gestures seemed to indicate we wouldn’t be leaving after all. I was so defeated from the challenges getting to this bus in the first place that it was just one more heavy straw on this little camel’s back.

There were many phrases and hand gestures tossed back and forth between the driver and the passengers.

But the passengers won, and eventually we were off. 

Soon enough though, I questioned what where we were exactly off too. The road was narrow, grown over. In dense trees. Over rocks and through sand. More than once we had to get out of the van and walk so that the vehicle could make it along.

Eventually, we make a right turn onto a (relatively) well paved, straight and wide road. I look back along the road and ask a fellow passenger if that nice road heads back to Nukus.


“Then why the <insert squiggly hand gesture> bad road?”

The passenger points to two imaginary locations in the air. “Nukus”. ” Beruni”. Then he points to a third in between the two. “Police. Papers.” He then also does a squiggly hand gesture around the police. For whatever reason we had to evade the police road checks. I’m hoping it a missing drivers license and not wheels about to fall off their axle.

The road towards Khiva is long, straight, boring, hot, and flat. Uzbekistan, especially the wide western half, is desert. But not pretty sand dune desert. More like light, crust gravel. The odd dried up vegetation. And random goats (how do they survive?). We pass the odd looking mesa that was featured in the student painting I bought in Nukus.

My co-passenger in the back seat uses the drive as an opportunity to share all of the English he knows. “I love you” is pretty common, but I don’t take it as a sign of an outpouring of emotion on his behalf. His magnum opus is a poem he recites from memory.

Mother, mother, mother,
I love you very much.
I hope you’re very happy
On the Eighth of March.

The 8th of March is International Women’s Day. While somewhat in the media in Canada, the date has much more prominence in this part of the world, ranking in Lonely Planet’s holiday guide along with Persian New Year and various Independence Days.

Soon enough he invites me to come to stay at his home. The offer is a genuine one, but I am emotionally exhausted, and I am really in no space to turn on my gracious traveller face for longer than the length of the ride to Beruni. I need some alone time. Some quiet time.

At Bernuni I change for Urgench in a shared taxi, after which I switch again finally for Khiva, in a propane-powered car. Can’t say I’ve ever seen gas cylinder in a trunk before. After some frustrations with the driver over payment, I somehow have grown a spine after all the defeat today. I take out a little map pointing me to the guesthouse I was recommended earlier in Turkmenistan. I get there, and it is lovely. Wonderful clean private room with a balcony. Wood plank floors. Rooftop views over the old city.

Khiva is part town, part old town. I stay inside the walls of the old town.

Highlights in Khiva:

  • Wandering the old city, taking photos – especially during the “Golden Hour” of lovely evening light. The mix of dusty mud walls and vibrant blue tiles.
  • Walking the wall of the old city.
  • Buying a lovely cotton and silk bag from a women’s weaving cooperative
  • Chatting with women at the watering hole. Women lift up the mainhole cover and one woman goes down into it and they take turns passing down buckets/jerry cans of various sizes to gather water. I stop by one young woman’s home later to get her address so that I could mail photos later.
  • Going to a local “black light” theatre performance – talent was “entertaining” (take that as you want).
  • Meeting Katarina and Christina, having dinner (mother/daugther travelers who lent me money – no easy access for 6 weeks!)
  • Venturing out into the new area of town to look at options for taking money out or mailing my painting – no luck.
  • The view from the roof of the guesthouse, and my room, oh my clean, spacious, wood-floored room.