Despite the luxury of only 200km to go, we headed out really early in an effort to beat the heat. After all, we knew the menu since we had ridden 80% of the road 2 days ago on our way to Nukus. The plan worked well… until 7h45 am. By the time an hour and a quarter had gone by, the air had already heated up, and we were kept “cool” by the warm rushing air hitting our faces… not the best option… if we had an option that is!
For the first time since we set out, we were riding the same road in the opposite direction. This proved both good and bad. Good: we were able to judge easily where we were and how long we had left. Bad: frankly, although the scenery once to our left was now on our right and looming ahead of us was what we were riding away from, the desert landscape is little different whichever way you look at it. Vistas were thus out of our mental picture, and we had to resort to good old fashion thinking and listening to music to while away the kilometers.
After stopping for a refreshing coca-cola (without wanting to advertize for them, I must admit that there is little better than a cold Coke in the blazing heat… ok… there is an argument to be made for cold beer, but we ARE driving, remember? beer is for the evening only!) we asked around for the road to Urgench and Khiva. It is a little baffling that, although one of Uzbekistan’s 3 biggest attractions, Khiva/Urgench is signposted NOWHERE! Moreover, the road is not exactly “well ploughed”. A small country path wound through the fields that got lusher as we approached the Amu Darya (present-day name for the Oxus river), finally petering out at a makeshift bridge, of which we have no photos because I was too concentrated on riding across to be able to stop and snap some. Urgench was easy to find (do all roads lead to Urgench?) but here again, the lack of signs for Khiva was surprising. Nevertheless, our lacklustre uzbek/russian was enough to get us onto the fantastic road to our destination.
We entered the north gate of Khiva’s old city around 11am, only to find ourselves lost in a maze of narrow alleys between mudbrick houses. I was assured that we were on the right street for the hotel, but still could not find it (later I discovered that there were 4 streets with the same name, all in the same neighborhood!). A little boy on a bicycle took pity on these obviously stupid foreigners and lead the way, winding through the close-knit houses. Needless to say that it was much easier for him than us! We constantly feared hitting the houses! Now normally this would be bad news for our bikes… not so here! My biggest fear was ripping nice large chunks out of the earthen houses. Happily no damage was done and the Islambek hotel proved clean, airy and welcoming, in short almost a palace compared to Nukus’s $#&-hole.
A shower and a change later, we were to be found in a restaurant whose atmosphere was distinctly better than the food. Still, we had made it early and were happy. The afternoon was spent lounging, napping and dealing with some administrative issues. And in true holiday fashion, we whiled away the evening drinking beer and fanta on the roof of the hotel with Matthias and Francois, 2 fellow travellers (we had already crossed paths with Matthias in Samarkand), while watching the sun set on a hot Khivan day (see photo above) and looking forward to tomorrow’s day of rest.