I remember the tiles of sapphire and sage that decorated Abdulla Khan Madrasa’s whole exterior. I remember the old Uzbek ladies laughing at us, taking pictures of the most magnificent architectural buildings I’ve ever seen, and being nervously approached by the same ladies laughing; they wanted to ask for a photo. I remember the feeling of a strong Islamic presence as we walked from mosque to madrasa. I remember my grumbling stomach relying on soggy french fries, dried peas, and the occasional unknown meat. My memory is pure rotten, but in some short miracle, Samarkand and Uzbekistan’s whole stands evident in my mind.
In the Stans, travel was slow and never just a short endeavor. However, one of my favorite parts about traveling is the journey taken to reach the destination. From Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, we took a ‘merushka’ or a small van, and we planned to arrive in Andijon, Uzbekistan in a few hours. I watched from the merushka as life went on outside the stained window; children danced around their mothers at the local market, and men smoked cigars until just a mere stub was left. Not long after, Kyrgyzstan’s vast mountain range and spalling peaks were behind me, and only the border stood in between me and Uzbekistan.
By the time we reached Andijon, the night was more than upon us. I shook my legs that had fallen asleep from the bags and bags of squashed apples laying at my feet – a gift from a kind Kyrzg man. Finally, we had reached our apartment. We had previously done three months in the Stans, Georgia, and Armenia, so the strikingly meager post-communist, Soviet features in our accommodation were no surprise. However, I was very excited about sleeping on beds as the past few nights we had been sleeping in yurts in the middle of the Kyrgyz countryside.
Andijon was a border town, notorious in the travel world for being not the nicest, but merely a place to rest your head and then proceed to other places in the country. Nevertheless, we enjoyed Andijon, but not because there were tons to do. Mohammed Ali from the front desk quickly invited us to go to lunch with him. We ended up at a cafeteria-style restaurant filled with hundreds of local, hungry Uzbeks on their lunch break, and a few even asked for a picture. Over french fries and an unknown soup, Ali gave us our first insight into the people, food, and Uzbek culture.
My brother opened our apartment door, responding to a brief knock. A large jar of jam and “circle bread” lay in the dimly lit hallway, a present from Ali. We talked about the creation of PB and J sandwiches at lunch, so we brought our stash of peanut butter and went to the front desk for an impromptu late-night snack. Before leaving Andijon, we shot an English promotion video for Ali’s English school, got to meet all of his very eager students, played a lot of indoor soccer at night, and hopefully turned the Uzbeks onto peanut butter and jelly! Andijon was a perfect introduction to all the beautiful people we would meet in Uzbekistan.
To get to the next planned city, we had a long six-hour train journey ahead. The Andijon train station was decorated in blue and sapphire tile, had ridiculously high ceilings, and was guarded by police dressed in tall, fluffy blue hats. My backpack hung heavy on my shoulders, and my fingers ached as I tried to wrap them around my passport, train ticket, cell phone, camera, and a bag of peanuts. We were elated to find another tourist, the first we had seen in over two months. She gifted us a half-eaten pizza that she had found in a small restaurant. The train ride quickly came and went. I watched, amused as with each train stop, local Uzbeks attempted to shove couches and sacks of myriad items in the few minutes we were stopped. In the next blog post, I’ll share our adventures in our next city, the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and the incredible town of Samarkand. Stay tuned for part two of a three part series!