Uzbekistan: Bukhara, the black market and goodbye to Jamie and Wardlaw

Posted by on Aug 5, 2013 in blog | 4 comments

Uzbekistan: Bukhara, the black market and goodbye to Jamie and Wardlaw

Friday July 26

With a few hours to spare and a broken power-steering line, we made it to the Turkmenistan border at Dasoguz. There, customs tore our car apart. A team of three, including a pretty pregnant women with excellent English she learned in a “special course,” opened my laptop and went through my files. They looked at every photo on my camera. Checked the tires for drugs. Unzipped every pocket in my bag. Laid everything from the car out on the pavement. They were very friendly, even when they told us to pour out our diesel.

Uzbekistan has a diesel shortage so we filled up two jerry cans in Turkmenistan. Instead of pouring the 40 liters of diesel into the ground, Jamie and Wardlaw carried it over to a group of taxi drivers loitering outside the gate. They returned with no cans and excited over a haul of 10,000 Uzbekistan som. The pregnant woman looked at us with sympathy. Later we tried to buy two cokes and a water with the money, but had to give back one of the cokes because we didn’t have enough.

The official exchange rate for Uzbekistan som to the US dollar is about 2,100. But no one uses that. In Bukhara, we exchanged money in a carpet shop on the black market where the dollar goes for 2,700. Since the largest denomination is 1,000, exchanging money results in a huge wad of cash that doesn’t fit in my wallet. I stuffed it in my waistband.

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Owen’s money stash. The Bandits, who we are now caravaning with. 

After hours clearing the border, we headed towards Bukhara on an Uzbek road almost as potholed as Turkmenistan.  A man on a battered bicycle held on to a trotting donkey by a leash. Two men rolled the burned-out shell of a car down the road. There are regular police checkpoints with policemen waving sticks in vague directions. I spent an hour buying car insurance from a gangly man inside a roadside shack, a vivacious young Uzbek woman pouring me shots of Coke.

After a long drive through another desert that smelled like natural gas, we arrived in Bukhara. Bukhara is beautiful. It is also more than 2,000 years old.  Seventeenth century madrasas with blue mosaic, the bright carpets and hand-embroidered suzaini hung in the dry desert heat. We slept, showered, found the internet and the Bandits, picked up Dean and said goodbye to Jamie and Wardlaw.


Hand-drawn police car on the side of the road, 17th century madrasa in the historic old town of Bukhara

And so begins another leg of the journey. I will miss Jamie throwing rocks at everything he can find and Wardlaw pointing out all the roadside storage tanks. The two of them constantly eat giant snickers bars and sour cream and onion Pringles. Wardlaw asks everyone he meets if they know Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. (So far, to his disappointment, no one has said yes.) Jamie wore a Team Rocinante shirt nearly every day, giving away the dirty ones to people we meet on the road. The two of them are on an Uzbekistan Airways flight to Istanbul to try and get home. Thanks Jamie and Wardlaw for making the trip so much fun!


Wardlaw this photo is for you! 

Dean and I are now heading to Samarkand, Tashkent and then into Kyrgyzstan. But first we need to find diesel. I’ve heard that a few miles away, through a roundabout and to the left, after a U-turn by a market, is a man in a green shirt standing on the curb who might sell me some black market diesel. Cash only. I hope I have enough.



Parked at our hotel in the old town. At an actual gas station that sells diesel – perhaps the only one in all of Uzbekistan. 



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Buying black market diesel.  

P.S. I spent my birthday camping by a muddy Uzbek river, drinking vodka and plum juice mixed in an old coke bottle and wading in the cold river. I loved it.


My birthday dinner 


  1. Hi Cousin! My computer crashed so I am just now catching up on your great adventure! I’ve spent the morning reading all your amazing posts. I agree with one friend who said you will need to write a book. I have to admit, it made me happy to read you are now traveling with the Bandits. Safety in numbers! Keep going and keep writing us! Love, Kita

    • Hi Cousin! Thanks for the note. Hopefully I’ll be back on the road today!

  2. Sounds like a good time:) thanks for sending Jamie back to me!

    • thanks for letting him come!!

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