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Traveling to Western Uzbekistan

The Plane Trip to Nukus

Uzbeks are a lot like the Chinese in their inability to understand the concept of a line, let alone line etiquette. Both cultures push with their bodies and use their arms to inch forward. The only difference is there are a whole lot more Chinese than Uzbeks. Although we all had seat assignments, the Uzbeks felt the urgency to push to get on board the Russian-built Tupulev 134. Nonetheless, Elnora, our in-house tour guide, and I held our positions against the ancestors of the Golden Hoard and were among the first aboard. Elnora made a bee line to the emergency exit aisle in order to take advantage of the – I kid you not -- three feet between seats.

It was a warm day, so the crew had opened the emergency doors. The door was propped up on a reclined seat. Once the man in front of us brought his chair up, the door came crashing down. If not for that three feet of space, Elnora’s and my feet would have been crushed. I, laughing worriedly, got out my camera just in time for this shot.

The stewardess chastised me in Russian, and I happily played the mono-lingual tourist. The crew put the door back in place. I sat down in the window seat left wondering how the hell someone in an emergency could open it inward with a hoard of Uzbeks pushing to escape. Before we took off, I repeatedly pounded the door with my fist to make sure it was locked in place. Just for fun, do a web search for this exactly (without quotes) “TU Russian plane”.

Finding a Hotel in Nukus

I flew to Nukus with some others from the Embassy to make the final preparations for the Ambassador’s trip. Prior to leaving Tashkent, we had the entire schedule in place and felt confident things would go smoothly. Realistically, we reminded ourselves where we were.

Tourists, if they go to Nukus, fly in and out the same day so there are few hotels. Our reservation was at the new Automotive Restoration Hotel (it sounds better in Russian). After handing our passports to the receptionist to “process” (photocopy and report to the secret service that we were in town), we went to our rooms. They were quite clean and would definitely be comfortable for a few nights. We went to pay the receptionist and things went sour.

First, she demanded that all foreigners pay in dollars. Then, she demanded that all foreigners pay twice the price of the established rate. This is not only illegal but the hotel’s manager earlier had set the flat rate with Elnora.

Then the group decided to leave. A very poor precedent was being established and we did not want the situation to explode when the Ambassador arrived the next day. We asked for our passports back. The receptionist boldly said she did not have them. Our security team member explained to her the perils of holding hostage a diplomat’s passport. She unlocked her drawer and returned mine. Finally, after 45 minutes of negotiations to release the ransomed passports ($3/each), the security member threatened to call the police. At 2030 we left the hotel with our passports, but nowhere to stay.

It took another hour of driving around looking for a hotel that a) had a vacancy for a group and b) had running water. We ended up at the former state hotel, Hotel Nukus, where we rented a suite. Included in the price: two dirty bathrooms, one semi-working toilet, 4 sagging beds, a broken window pane, a fly swatter, a china cabinet, and a television that worked after 6 PM. The mosquitoes and bed bugs were free.

If you go to Nukus.......

Nukus is a Soviet-built outpost city with only a few things worth seeing, such as the Savitsky Museum .

Savitsky intentionally safe-havened works by artists the Soviets blacklisted. Nukus has never been an easy place to get to. It is an amazing museum whose archive has hundreds of canvases stacked side by side waiting for something or someone.

Next: The Aral Sea (or what was once the Aral Sea)