It takes me almost three hours to get out of Tashkent. The first hour or so is nice enough. I walk through some residential areas that are interesting because they are unremarkable – a glimpse of daily life. But most of the time I spend mindlessly trudging along the ring road where nearly all traffic is bound to be local. If I knew which bus went where I could catch one, but – apart from the nicely decorated but illegal to photograph metro system – the city’s public transport network is a mystery to me.
Once I get to the ring road I don’t even bother trying to flag down a ride, because it’ll look like I’m trying to hail a cab. I’m going to have to walk all the way to the final police checkpoint before the start of the highway out of the city. And the sun is burning away any strength I have left. Just as I am about to collapse in self-pity at the side of the road I am saved by a guy in a red Damas. He is an older gentleman but is keen to show me he is familiar with European ways which he picked up serving as a Soviet soldier in East Germany. ‘Are Modern Talking still popular?’ he asks.
It’s not long after I’m dropped off that I find myself riding shotgun in a car with four guys heading to Andijan. That’s where I will be going a few days later, and I consider skipping my next destination, Ferghana. But then again I’ve heard that Ferghana is the most pleasant town in the entire valley. Plus since the town and the valley share a name it must have some sort of significance. So when we get close to the city the guys stop the car and get out to arrange a ride to a place where I can get a shared taxi to Ferghana. For the first time since taking public transport across the Ukrainian-Russian border I have to pay for a ride. I could possibly make a point of refusing their help, but out of politeness I cough up the equivalent of fifty euro cents to a some guy transporting goods. Though he doesn’t speak much Russian, he does manage to explain why not: he skipped a lot of school. ‘I am a bandit,’ he proudly exclaims. But he still delivers me safely to the center of Margilan. For the last dozen or so kilometers to Ferghana I take a shared taxi, I agree on a price and when I leave as the last passenger the driver asks for double the fare. I argue, but give in easily. It’s been a long day.