Dated: 08 JUN 18

I continue through the desert, it is a touch droll after a few days, one horizon of sand merges with the next unseeingly. I do however get the occasional break when the road wends through the green belt. I had been wondering where they cultivate the food required to sustain the Uzbek people. It is a thin strip of flat cultivated land rich with fruit trees and tilled soils. Irrigation trenches are apparent throughout this green patch directing the life giving water. But mainly I have sand and shrubs for company.

When I picture a desert it is the likes of which Lawrence of Arabia once traversed with vast sand dunes which creep across the landscape with the passage of time and at the will of the wind; this is not the Arabian desert. On the plus side sand gets bloody every where especially when camping so at least I don’t have that problem.

In the heat of the day I find myself gaping mouthed, my tongue raised from the floor of my mouth, I suppose this is my bodies attempt to cool its self as much possible but I dry and over ride this dog like panting for it must sap moisture from me with every deep breath and I’m constantly sipping small gulps of water in an attempt to retain some mouth moisture.

My mouth is perhaps as dry as the Aral Sea which could once boast the title of the worlds fourth largest lake but now it is just a puddle of its former self; mass irrigation using its waters has reduced it by 70% of its original volume since the 1960s. I pass to the south of this vast parched lake bed, in the distance I could see a lone rusting hull beached as the water receded. It is the first time on the trip that I have missed something I would have love set eyes on, just a short taxi ride away is a ship grave yard with huge vessels hung out to dry, rusting into decay they sit as a reminder of the fishing and shipping industry which once thrived on the waters of the Aral. Maybe next time around.

If I’m going to take anything away from this trip it will have to be my supreme skills at charades and Pictionary. Since crossing the Caspian English is well and truly a foreign language so sign language takes precedence. Its Russian as a common language here and I speak it? Nyet.

Fortunately the arts of charades and Pictionary cross all boundaries. Food, repeatedly move ones hand to one mouth like you are grasping a sandwich (please note: avoid “holding” a sausage); eggs, crack an invisible egg into your invisible frying pan; chicken, do the chicken dance with the odd “cluck” to send the point home; beef and pork need no explanation. Tea, pretend to drink, raise the little finger for a touch of class. As for Pictionary, I draw a mean tent accompanied by resting my head on clasped hands which I admit is bending the rules slightly. I do attempt my pleases and thank yous but always cock it up, in some ways I think that is a good thing, most people find my attempts very polite but amusing, I always add a good bow or two of the head for good measure.

Aside from the fact that I am looking more camel like by the day this facial hair which spouts from my chops is having some unexpected results. Where as most westerns seem to be greeted with a howdy dowdy, well a hello, I am met with “As salam aleykum” (peace be upon you) and respond accordingly “Wa aleykum as salam” (peace be unto you. If I’m quick of the mark I beat them to the introduction which they really like which is great until the mistaken assumption that I can take it further. Before leaving I thought that in this region of the world I would fit in with a full set but it is reserved for the practically pious or even the overly devote. I get the odd look on the street and I’ve even been questioned as to why I would want a beard, “its hot and you look like a camel”….they don’t actually say that, they say I look like a terrorist.

The fact is that I’m just not bothered about my appearance, though I would love to look like an explorer but alas despite through no lack of trying I have no frost bitten toes nor a big red sunburnt nose, my lips aren’t even chapped let alone cracked, and sore from exposure. The simple fact is that I’m hardly going to dry shave in the mornings by torch light but maybe its time I paid a professional to rid me of this face carpet.


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