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Khiva: the annoying adventure begins

The annoying adventure began when I received a phone call from the hotel in Khiva cancelling my reservation because an "official delegation" was in town. An hour later, the group received a phone call cancelling our reservation at the yurt (central asian tepee) camp. We were out in the middle of nowhere, where would we spend the night?

The President was in Khiva to celebrate some anniversary of some dead scholar who the President claims is Uzbek, and the Turkmen claim is Turkman. Because the average citizen is not allowed to attend public events, the government had to bring in officials from Tashkent to make an audience. Our group was caught in the middle; it didn't help that we were from the Embassy!

We easily got a reservation at the state-run Palace Hotel in Urgench. We soon found out the President was flying out of Urgench that evening and the town was completely shut down. Once we crossed over the pontoon bridge spanning the Amu Darya, our caravan of three became four when we were greeted by a police escort. "They" (the Secret Service, or KGB), had our trip planned for us (they likely cancelled our reservation!). As all the roads into and out of Urgench were blocked with dump trucks, we needed the escort to clear the way to our hotel.

The caravan looked pretty cool: a big suburban and two land cruisers speeding by villages and pedestrians, the lead car blazing ahead with its (unecessary) siren. Once in town, we saw the paranoia and insanity that runs this nation. Paranoia in the sense that cops and military were on every corner, monitoring the pedestrians' path (all motor vehicles had been banned that day). Insanity was displayed in the self-gratuitous face-lift given to the city's main boulevard. Just as the President's street in Tashkent is cleaned every morning and is free of potholes, this Urgench boulevard was decorated with flags and newly-constructed civil buildings painted in ghastly pastels. This boulevard was the route for the President's trip; he would not see the poverty that exists a few blocks away.

Fresh coats of paint aren't what this place needs.

Next: the ancient city of Khiva

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