Uzbek Watermelon

Never in my life have I tasted such an incredibly crisp, dripping watermelon slice. The smiling Uzbek market vendor guaranteed it and he definitely delivered. We have cycled down from the coolness of the thinner mountain air into the fertile Fergana valley area of Uzbekistan. Not only have temperatures pushed up to 35 C, but faces have rounded and softened, colourful fresh produce has reappeared, and gone are the smashed vodka bottles and piles of rubbish. 

 

my uncle still compares all melons to those he ate in Uzbekistan
 
Every country we enter has had surprises to reveal but Uzbekistan has my eyebrows at a permanent raised arch. Once past the first ever bicycle  pannier search where the official finally cracked a smile on recommendation of my current Kobo read On the Trail of Ghengis Khan, we discovered a whole new world. Homes are more modern and often include green vegetated courtyards. Cities stretch on and on blending into one another.  Horns are honking incessantly. Even songbirds and several storks have surfaced again. 

 

the quick stops turn to 40 min with so many curious uzbeks
 
Most surprising has been the shouts, laughter, whistles and invitations. People here are over-the-top extreme hosts. Come for dinner. Stay at my house. Questions questions. How old are you? (Ooooooh! No really?! Malatsy!) Three teachers brought us to their school and a small sea of crisp black and white uniforms followed us back to our bikes shoving their notebooks in our hands to get autographs. Who knew dirty cyclists from Canada could have a fame alert?!

inspiration

Years ago I climbed Kilimanjaro with this photograph of my mother tucked in my pack. Now it sits tattered in a pannier. Watching. Comforting. Sometimes I cannot help but wonder how it is that Sybirak families survived the ordeal. No doubt the incredible generous spirit of the Uzbeks was a lift. On the Naryn River yesterday I marvelled at the earthy straw and mud brick housing.  When my mother’s family had typhus in Jakobad the owner moved them into the barns to prevent infection of her own son. No doubt those walls they looked at from their delirious state looked just like these.   

clay and straw and wood uzbek wall
   
 
We are now pointed towards Tashkent where Bonnie will fly back to Canada. Given that Lee and I are Canadian, we require guides in Turkmenistan and Iran. Sadly we have to drop Turkmenistan to be able to afford even a shortened stay in Iran. The good news is we have arrangements to get to the shores of the Caspian Sea in Iran (Bandar e Anzali or Pahlevi as it was known).  

 
 

a kyrgyz campsite along the m41 highway
  
There is a definite feel of loss in ending our journey soon but it seems fitting somehow.  The last boat across the Caspian Sea that brought the Sybiracy to freedom was in September 1942. Here we are September seventy three years later. I can only imagine the desperate hope and strength that they mustered to survive.  How heartbreaking it must have been to watch those that didn’t make it. (Only about 115,000 out of the original million+ deportees made it on these ships). 

one of the evacuations across the Caspian Sea from Krasnovodsk to Pahlevi, Iran

As we roll over mountains and spin along the cracked pavement I think of our families. Our losses. Our hearts. Our lucky breaks. Meanwhile, Tashkent here we come. 

smiling cyclists
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2 thoughts on “Uzbek Watermelon

  1. Hey Ewa, Another great entry!! I can’t wait to see the film, and show my kids. In other news, the RLTA regulation and proclamation finally passed cabinet. I have received comments congratulating you on your great work! Possibly the furthest thing on your mind, but there you have it. All the best for a happy ending to your trip!! Rodney

    Date: Fri, 11 Sep 2015 17:10:51 +0000 To: roduney@hotmail.com

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  2. Ewa that watermelon looks quite like a slice I had today here in Sulawesi. Very refreshing. I decided to counter my days of sitting on my butt in front of a computer with a “challenging” bike tour across Central Sulawesi this year – 950 km over 16 days. People here are the most hospitable that I have ever encountered and like you, we are causing quite a stir. Kids line the village streets to high five us, everyone shouts hello, and want to know where we are going. Several have offered cold drinks – once out the window of a truck while I was riding along. I’m keeping up with the group but I have to say that I am even more in awe of your fortitude – both physically and emotionally – after this experience. It would be quite a different ride if we had to haul our gear, deal with all seasons instead of just heat – not to mention the challenge of languages! Curious to hear how you plan to cycle in Iran in the local dress! All in all your epic journey is an incredibly wonderful way to honour your mother’s memory. I’m looking forward to seeing the documentary. Selamat Jalan as they say here, safe road.
    Rooth

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