Another dawn start, and we headed 130k down a (largely) smooth road to the next point on our route, the improbably situated Wifi Kafe. We whiled away a couple of hours over a pot of chai, answering emails and googling the answers to a series of questions that have occurred to us in the last few weeks. One still puzzles us: why do people sometimes paint the bottom of trees white, and why do they mainly do it to trees beside the road, and not to those further into the wood? Suggestions welcome!
We then rode into Qo’ng’irot (Kungrad), quitting the arid steppe for irrigated lowland, a sudden burst of green among thousands of miles of dusty brown. The route into town took us past a beautiful mausoleum complex, of the type that is dotted over the steppe, but Qo’ng’irot itself felt rather wild west, a rough grid of a town conjured out of concrete by the soviets as part of their effort to settle the traditionally nomadic locals and turn their energies to settled cultivation. The results of this project, most infamously the diversion of water from the rivers which feed the Aral Sea, have been disastrous, and the area is the poorest in Uzbekistan, itself not a wealthy country.
We set about finding somewhere to sleep. We had heard that it was possible to stay at the sanatorium, but we were out of luck. An old lady took us under her wing and offered to put us up in her house, prompting some confusion as to whether we were paying guests or not. Dinner was plov and a delicious dish composed of potato, egg and tomato. This was followed by a shower, confusingly located in a bar on the other side of town, and a final round of chai before bed.
(side note: Ant, we miss you and are just checking that you are dutifully reading this blog)
The following morning it turned out that we were indeed paying (as I had come to suspect by the end of the evening) and after some negotiation we left, making it a few kilometres down to the road to Nukus, before we were stopped by the tempting sight of a truckers cafe.