The next morning after breakfast, i was picked up my my driver who was to drive me to the Kyzilkum Desert (Kyzilkum means "red sands", i believe). Normally they arrange these desert excursions for groups, but i was just one. I had hoped that others might have decided to go on the same night as me, but alas, i was alone.
So my driver, who did not any English, drove me for 3.5 hours into the desert. The drive was great. I was able to watch as the city of Bukhara and its outlying areas melted away, leaving only rural areas, then just occasional tiny towns, then just desert. As we drove, the cars began to be outnumbered by donkeys and carts. The desert was totally sandy in spots, and in others is was dotted with dry sage colored shrubberies. Often i would see a tribe of goats roaming without supervision, or a few lazy cows.
We stopped along the way at a couple of holy sights, but mostly we just drove in silence (silence except for the driver's mix of 1990s dance and techno hits, that is).
Finally we arrived at the yurt camp. Twelves yurts arranged in a circle around a fire pit, plus a large dining yurt and a sort of a house (though 'house' seems like the wrong word - more of a ramshackle shack) where the family who runs the camp live. There were some outhouses and a couple of sinks that didn't produce any water. It was all quite in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after arriving, i went on a walk and climbed to the top of the highest sand dune and do you know what i saw? An endless vista of sand dunes marked by the odd, solitary camel.
After resting for a while and enjoying a cigar, My drive took me about a half an hour away to a massive lake! What a surprise that was. The lake was huge and seemed to have a tide. The sand was beautifully soft and i waded out quite a ways into the water. We sat in a couple of old chairs left by the water and i dozed off for a while. After awaking, we stalked a tribe of goats who were at the lake to drink. Every time i got close to them though they ran off irritably.
After the lake we returned to the yurt camp, where my camel was waiting. I went off into the desert for about 2 hours just before sunset. It was lovely. I saw many long-tailed, hopping desert rats and a few rabbits. I also saw this one mud shack in the middle of nowhere with an old women outside. It was pretty god. My camel was very docile and i found him reasonably comfortable (no more or less so than a horse).
After the camel there was dinner of vegetable stew, fresh vegetables, melons, and tea. After dinner i had another cigar and watched the stars come out. With no city lights or electricity to get in the way, the stars were magnificent. It was like being at a planetarium. I sat there until i remembered that i am afraid of the dark and then i went to bed.
I slept soundly and awoke when the sun started to slice through the gaps in my yurt's roof.
After breakfast the next day, there was supposed to be more camel riding, but the camels had apparently disappeared during the night. I should point out that my driver, nor the host family spoke any English, so i didn't do much talking during this overnight excursion. All i got regarding the lack of camels was "Nyet Kamel". So we drove back to Bukhara.
On the way back, more desert scenery and silence and 1990s music. When Ice Ice Baby came on the driver and I both "sang" along - i did the verses and he the chorus. Vanilla Ice, bridger of cultural divides.
Yesterday afternoon after i scrubbed the sand and camel off of my skin (my clothes may just have to be burned when i return - i have basically been wearing the same outfit for 2 weeks in 40 degree weather), i spent the rest of the day smoking shisha and reading.
Today i have no plans. I am taking the 7:50pm overnight train back to Tashkent, which is supposed to take 11 hours, but i expect will take longer.
Bukhara has been amazing. It is definitely one of those places that is very easy to just hang around in. The yurt/camel thing was really good. I loved how desolate and quiet it was, but, not being a 'camper' by nature, one night was sufficient.
Tomorrow: back to Tashkent and the beginning of the long journey home.