Having decided to leave Bukhara, we endeavored to find a way to Khiva, a city on the western side of Uzbekistan. There was a train, but it took 24 hours and would depart from a city an hour from Bukhara at 3:00am. If one wanted to jump a bus to Khiva, you should wait on the side of the street and wave down passing busses and inquire if they were headed towards the west. The third and final option was to hire a shared taxi, which is to say that one driver will sell seats in his car and leave when all the seats are full. Our B&B owner knew a man who was leaving for Khiva that afternoon at 5:00pm, so we said we’d tag along for $18 USD. It would be a five hour ride.
The driver arrived and was a giant man with a square jaw and veins protruding from his forearms. HE had already found another local man heading to Urgench, a city near Khiva, and suggested we either pay for the empty seat or wait at the bus station to find a fourth person. We opted for the later. The car itself was a tiny Nissan with no seat belts and back windows that did not budge. There were no head rests and the air conditioner had been removed to make way for a large CD player, which jiggled around in the dash board while we drove. At the bus station we picked up a scrawny fourth traveler, who looked sickly and slightly drunk. We peeled out of the bus station, sending rocks flying up behind us. The driver and the two local passengers then did a short prayer together using the phrase, “inshallah” which means, “God willing.” This did not seem like something a driver should say about a straightforward drive to another city, they all bowed together and did the traditional prayer gestures (note that we had not stopped the car and now the driver was closed-eyed doing 100kph).
What should have been a straightforward ride turned out to be a test of my inner most patience. We were stopped by cops seeking bribes as well as several internal customs and border checks (regional rather than national). Before and behind our car people were crying as the seats were ripped out and their baggage overturned. For some reason, perhaps the fact that our driver knew every guard along the route, our car was sparred.
After 4.5 hours in the car we stopped and the driver told us we were then in Urgench. He told us to get out and threatened to leave us where we had stopped, which was in the middle of nowhere at a local family’s home and diner. We got on the phone right away with the lady from the B&B in Bukhara. She saved the day and negotiated for the driver to take us from where we were directly to the front door of the hotel we indicated for $5 USD. Seeing little alternative we agreed, though the extra $5 was pure robbery. Once at the hotel in Khiva, though, he demanded $5 a person, not $5 all together, and made an ugly grimace with his misshapen head as he continued to stick out his fist for more money. It was at this point that I lost it and barked out a stream of unintelligible information to this man and demanded that he get in his rickety little car and drive off before I really got angry. He thought this was cute, but seeing as veins were now popping out of my forehead he got in his car and left. The owner of the hotel demanded a ridiculous sum to spend the night, and I also snapped on her and told her I thought that the money grubbing was getting out of hand. We ended up paying $10 USD for the night at the hotel.
In all, it was a great test of patience for me, while Mike’s mid-western charm was turning from charming to placating.