We left hotel Nukus following a rather dodgy breakfast of reheated frankfurters, bread and coffee to find the wind was poised ready to hit us hard. Our luck in the desert further West has built up a buffer of goodwill towards the wind gods, and I just put this gusty outburst to the back of my mind as I delved deeper into my Sherlock Holmes audiobook. The sand in the teeth was mixed with Vaseline for quickly cracking lips when we stopped for a snack and were waved over by a sweet balaclava’d young lady to her melon stall. Not only did she share some of her fruit, but bread, tea and sweets also!
As we grunted into the wind for a few more kilometres, we passed a Zoroastrian ‘tower of silence’: where the dead were placed to rest for a year to be picked at by birds before their major remaining bones were gathered into ossuaries of various shapes and sizes… An interesting way to go!
We stopped for lunch having completed a not-so-mighty 45km and decided to change our route against the advice of a local to go off the main road and into a cross-tail wind. The difference is certainly worth at least two decades of extra road degradation! We were joined for a second lunch by a Kiwi couple (motor)biking to the Netherlands between two episodes of their lives. Some kind of local grilled fish was served which we hoped to maybe identify when we crossed the river later, but the water was so muddy that we could not have seen a swimming elephant…
As the riding improved in the afternoon, a group of melon sellers welcomed us into their humble abode (2 mats on the floor under tall trees where they live for as long as they sell melons during the year) for our second round of melon, juicier and more sugary than we had ever tasted! With the taste still in our mouths, we were stopped for a third time, by three tipsy locals driving a white Chevrolet who nudged us into their car as two of them insisted on riding the bikes to another melon stall. Becoming rather picky at our third course of melon for the day, I made a personal request that we eat watermelon instead which our new partners were surprised, but pleased, about.
Of course, they did not want us to miss out on any of the fun they had been having and were quick to produce a bottle of Karakalpakstan’s finest vodka, which we did not find so fine and which made the remaining 20km for the day feel far harder than we had hoped.
On arrival into Gurlan and having shopped for a treat of a dinner – bread and tomatoes – the shopkeeper asked us where we were sleeping and offered to host us. The eldest son of the household was having an engagement party which we had the pleasure of joining, along with helping to eat the delicious plov and drink yet more local spirits! Alex had rather a lot, and woke up with his head ‘in a box’!