Thanks to Ian who had left Beyneu a few days before me, I now have reliable information on the road conditions ahead of me. Via Whatsapp I learn that after crossing the Uzbek border, he rode about 300 km in only 2 days, thanks to tailwinds.

The border crossing is easy: easily recognized as a tourist by the guards (who all individually want to get a close look of my passport), I'm being guided to pass by the queues of pedestrians. A few questions about what I carry in my bags and I'm already in.

Should I ride or should I not...?

When I wake up in Uzbekistan the next morning things don't look so well: 20 kph (or more) headwinds are, again, the bitter reality. And what I had heard next from Ian is not too encouraging:

"After the border it's 160km before water, then 120 the second day."

There is however a village only some 20 km from the border, "Karakalpakiya", which is where I'm heading now. A detour from the road, maybe 2 or 3 km, but I definitely need a fresh drink and maybe some foods from the supermarket. Returning to the main road an hour later, I take another long break at the sun shelter. I've reached a motivational low point, thinking now what lays ahead of me:

  • Hundreds of kilometers of deserted landscape with nothing to see, no shelter around
  • The next safe water and food supplies are at least 80 km, possibly even further away
  • The weather forecasts 40+ Celsius peaks and headwinds for the next few days
  • It would probably take me 5 or 6 days to cycle to the next bigger city, Nukus in these conditions
  • My current food and water supply is not sufficient, and I would have to carry up to 20L of water+juice just to be on the safe side
  • The worst: I would have to drink nothing but mostly hot water for many days

1 or 2 hours pass while I'm hoping for a sudden change in wind, but it's not happening, of course. I make a decision.

This fucking sucks! I'll take the train from here!

Camping near Karakal...something

I cycle back to village where a group of workers direct me to the ticket office. It's closed!

A passer-by offers help and calls the office clerk for me.

"Ticket sale only in the morning", he says to me when ending his call. "You should come back tomorrow morning, at 7".
"Alright. And what time does the train leave?"
"At 7".
"Ummmh. Okay!"

I will be there at 6.30, that's for sure. Nothing much going on in this town. But at least they have an "I <3 Karakalpakstan" sign.

Mixed sauna train to Nukus, please!

I've camped a bit outside of the village and gotten up extra early. But when I cycle into the town about 6:20, I just see... a passenger train coming in, surely enough going into the right direction.

"No no no no no! This cannot be! I cannot miss this train!"

There is only one train per day and the possibility of missing it and being stuck in this village for another 24 hours is... not optimal, to put it nicely.

When I arrive at the station a few minutes later, the train is still stationary. And the ticket office still closed.

Turns out the customs procedures are carried out just here and the train has a scheduled stop for about 2 hours: it won't leave until 8:15!

When the ticket office opens a few minutes later, the clerk quickly boots his computer and not even 10 minutes later I am proud owner of a needle-printed ticket with my name on it.

When I'm allowed to board the train about 1 hour later, my bike and luggage are quickly loaded and stored wherever there's space.

There are no individual compartments and I share the train carriage with maybe 50 other people. Everybody's got their own small "bed" to lay down on. Most of the travelers are Uzbeks who were in Kazakhstan to buy loads of stuff, mostly food items: I see heaps of candy, cans of vegetable oil, bags of seeds and whatnot.

The atmosphere in the train is, as one might have expected, fairly relaxed: Everybody seems to know and talk to each other, share drinks and food. And of course everyone is curious about that guy who brought a bicycle aboard...

Not exactly comfortable however is the temperature onboard: the train has no air conditioning, not even fans. Only the tiny windows provide a bit of ventilation--when the train is moving.

Sleeping is difficult in the heat. In fact I wonder if I'd sweat more on the bicycle or on the train. Every minute or so, sellers walk through the carriages to offer different kinds of homemade foods such as Samsas or Shashlik, cold drinks and other snacks.

Despite many stops (some lasting for more than 30 minutes) we somehow we make it to Nukus on time and I can say: I'm more than happy having skipped the last 400 km!

On to Bukhara or Samarkand?

After 1 night in a luxurious, air-conditioned room (17$ including registration fees and breakfast) I set off to the train station once more. I want to get at least to Bukhara today and then cycle on to Samarkand.

"No train to Bukhara today or tomorrow". The lady behind the ticket counter relays the bad news to me.

- "To Samarkand?" I ask.
-"Yes. Tonight, at 19:36"
-"Okay, that'll do"
-"First class?"
-"Yes!!"

I've read about the air-conditioned high-speed trains and I cannot wait to be aboard. First class! After all, this should be on-par with my train ride in Iran.

I return to the station in the evening, full of excitement.

As usual, there is no "real" space for bicycles on the train but we manage to squeeze it besides a doorway which will remain closed throughout the train's journey.

And then I get to see my compartment which looks... pitiful. This passenger car is, like the one on the train before, from the Soviet era. Built maybe in the 1960s. Again, no air-conditioning or even fans.

The 3 fellow passengers in my room laugh when they see my disappointment. At least we can share our suffering...

Luckily some time after midnight, the cabin has cooled down a bit and it is possible to sleep. By 5 am it feels comfortable, even!

Samarkand

In the end I get to Samarkand. Stay there 2 nights. Feel a bit off, but leave to Tajikistan anyways: I really wanna get to Dushanbe and the Pamirs quickly, which will be a highlight of my trip, no doubt about it!