Tuesday 9 June 2015

A Black Market tale on the road to Samarkand, Michael Noyce

Despite the clear lesson from the 2014 leg of this journey that, when driving in unknown regions you always fill up with fuel at any opportunity, we left Tashkent at 5.30am for the 320km drive to Samarkand without filling the Toyota with diesel the night before.

After about 100km and many fruitless servo stops we were down to the reserve tank with the needle on empty. We agree by radio that Jon, our guide, would try to find a black market source at the next town, Gulistan. Jon’s estimate of a 5km drive turns into more than double that, with the fuel gauge stuck on empty.

Over a breakfast of lovely warm, fresh bread, honey and fruit, under a tree in a carpark, next to carpet and furniture shops, and adjacent to traffic flying past on a busy 4 lane road, Jon gets on the phone to track down diesel. No luck, until he talks with one of the ubiquitous crowd gathered around the vintage cars. More phone calls and he and the new friend are off by taxi, returning with two full 20 litre cans. The price is pure extortion but what choice do we have? We agree and into the tank it goes.

Then a loud arguments starts, with a growing audience, between our guide and the fuel supplier. Jon claims it’s a rip off, at double the correct price. The blue is interrupted by the intervention of a tall, distinguished looking man who lectures the combatants on the need for hospitality towards guests in their country, especially travellers in trouble, and that there should be no charge at all!
Pretty amazing but we do pay and off we go. The Uzbeks are really nice people.

Fifteen kilometres later we come across a service station selling diesel!

We catch up with the classic cars, where Ian has stripped down to red knickers and taken a swim in an irrigation channel. In the middle of ancient Uzbekistan, a country that did not exist by name when our German ancestors came to Australia. What would our great grandpa Neuss say?

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