The day began slowly, as Muzaffar took me to the head branch, the only place in the area able to issue cash on demand using a cash machine. After a wait of an hour, during which I made firm friends with the security guards (they gave me a couple of Bank Ipak Yolu notebooks as a present and made me promise to invite them to my wedding), I was finally ushered to the issue desk. The cashier scrabbled around in a cupboard to find a card machine, and half an hour later a hundred dollars were clutched in my hand.
By now it was coming up to 10am, and well past the 7am departure I had calculated was necessary to keep to schedule. I pedalled hard, fuelled by the small mountain of samsas I ordered for lunch, at a choyxana outside Guzor (more about that later) and started the climb into the mountains, reaching the small town of Korashina (which sounded to me more like somewhere in the land of the rising sun) by sunset.
Just as I was looking for somewhere to sleep, a car pulled to a stop beside me, and an enthusiastic man jumped out, more or less forcing me to accept the offer of a bed for the night. I was more than happy to accept. Gulmurad, the enthusiast in question, assured me that his house was no more than two kilometres away.
Well…it wasn’t entirely true. As it emerged, his house was five kilometres away, at the top of a ludicrously steep hill, and accessible only by a completely uncycleable gravel track. We took a little detour, too to the local shop, in search of beer. This was admittedly in his car, but having got into the front seat, I realised that my feet were stood in a pool of honey, which had spilled out from a large container Gulmurad had in the front of the car. Disaster. Honey in my cleats (not a common cycling problem). Anyway, back to the hill. I tried to leave my bike at the bottom, but was enthusiastically informed that the goats would eat my panniers (he curled his forefingers over his ears, the recognised Central Asian sign language for ‘goat’), and helped to push my ludicrously heavy bike up the hill to his house. I began to regret bringing the tent. Still, at the end I was rewarded with a delicious lamb stew, with pomegranate and melon for pudding. This came with another lesson in Uzbek (khaun for melon, and amar for pomegranate) and a relentlessly enthusiastic discussion of his imminent (?) trip to London. Would I host him? Of course. And his family, wife, daughters and two year old son (nickname ‘kapitan’)? Err…
A solid night’s sleep ensued.