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Today we were again up bright and early to travel, but this time we weren't going far, just a hop accross the border into Uzbekistan. The border had been closed just a few days earlier due to terrorist threats, so we were all slightly nervous about the process and expected it to take several hours.

We loaded up the truck and drove only 15 minutes to the border. Exiting Krygyzstan proved no problem and we were in "no man's land" within an hour. Then began the process of getting in to Uzbekistan. This involved countless lines, forms, more forms, stamping of forms, passport control, more forms, angry looking men with AK-47s looking at our forms, standing around for no apparent reason, having our luggage x-rayed, more lines, more stamping and so on. I knew things were going to be a bit different when I told the border guard "thank you" in Russian and he shook his head and told me "rahkmat!". I got it, even though everyone in Uzbekistan spoke Russian, they much prefered you used Uzbek.

Meanwhile our truck was searched by other men in uniforms and a pair of the most friendly, cute drug dogs in the world. This gigantic German shepard and Spaniel mix friend snuffed out every corner of our truck, then returned to our feet for skirtches behind the ears. I can't imagine ever being allowed, let alone encouraged, to pet an American drug dog. The border guards were actually quite friendly, and they joked with our driver over buying myself and another female passenger from the trip. This would be the theme of Uzbekistan for me. For some reason myself and this other woman were big hits there and I think I could have easily snagged myself an Uzbeki husband.

Finally, after many hours, we were waved through. We sped off north leaving behind the lush mountains of Kyrgyzstan for dry rocks and farmland of Uzbekistan. We stopped along the way to take in a WWII memorial. Uzbekistan made huge sacrifices during the war and over 450,000 of its citizens were killed.

Further down the road we made a stop for lunch in Sahrihan. After so much plov it was a delight to enjoy the tastey kabobs available on every street corner and restaurant.

After lunch we were given a brief tour of a local silk factory. The Silk Road brought not just the importation of silk and spices from China, but eventually the secrets of silk production. This small factory still produces everything by hand, from the raising of the worms, to spinning the silk, to dying the thread, then weaving it into scarves and rugs.

Our drive ended in Fergana City, at the amazingly modern and luxurious Hotel Club 777, complete with giant bar, spa and huge swimming pool. After so long in the small villages of Kyrgyzstan it was complete culture shock to have the afternoon to lounge in the sun by the pool with a beverage.

The rest of the hotel's guests seemed to be made up of suspiciously gangster looking Russians and a few wealthy, young Uzbeks with their model-esque girlfriends or wives. For a heavily Muslim culture, it was surprising.

That evening our new local guide took us to a restaurant he described as a cabaret of sorts. We walked in to the enormous Tantana night club and were seated near the stage. We were the only non-locals in the rapidly filling club. We ordered a bottle of paint-thinner vodka and beers and enjoyed our meals which ended up being nothing like we thought we'd ordered, but quite tastey anyway.

Then the lights went down and the stage lit up. The first act was a traditional Uzbek dance with gorgeous women in lavish costumes. This was followed by another traditional dance with men. Then some sort of Uzbek karaoke style vocal performance. Then more tradtional dance, more karaoke, and more dance. Each dance got progressively less traditional and more modern, with influences of ballet and modern jazz. It was really quite good. Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, out came an ensemble of Uzbeki bboys. That's right, break dancing in Uzbekistan. And they were fantastic, with huge power moves and creative choreography. Completely surreal. I was really wishing I'd brought my camera. I did, however, manage to find this YouTube Channel posted by the dance troupe who performs there.

After the breakdancers took their bows, the floor was opened up to a disco and everyone left their tables to dance. It was absolutely hilarious and fun. We all got far too much attention being the only westerners there, but everyone was well behaved. One guy called himself "slim" and followed me around all evening, only managing to say in English "I live in Moscow, I come here to dance" all evening long. He even managed to jump in my cab and tried to follow me back to our hotel, but our driver, Zoe, and I lost him at the hotel gates.

It was one of those nights that simply can not be planned and one of the great joys of traveling to have no expectations and find yourself watching breakdancing in the middle of a small town in Uzbekistan.
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May 2017

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