Finally we’re back on the bikes. The scenery is green, the poppies are blooming and the road is flat and straight. Unfortunately, the heat has cranked up somewhat – it’s now about 35 degrees so I’m drinking gallons and gallons of water. 40km outside of Jizzakh, the next town, two Uzbek girls, both called Savara, drive past me and pull in to the side of the road. They speak no English or Russian, so we can’t really communicate, but after twenty minutes of us taking photos and attempting to talk, they tell us to text them when we arrive in Jizzakh. I have no idea what might happen, but I’m certainly willing to find out!
The road deteriorates when we get closer to Jizzakh, but after two hours we arrive and find a cafe to sit in. I get the impression that Jizzakh is a University town, and this is confirmed by Aziz and Oscar, two Uzbek guys who speak perfect English who, luckily, sat down beside us in the cafe we were in. We talk for a while before the Savaras turn up and they are able to translate for us, thankfully. First of all, Savara1 and Savara2 decide they want us to stay the night. So we walk for half an hour to find the only hotel in town that tourists can stay in, before the girls pay for it – classic Uzbek hospitality. Then, we go to what I can only describe as the most surreal dinner in my entire life.
We arrive, after showers and a change of clothes in the hotel, by taxi to an incredibly grand-looking building. There is gilt everywhere, and lavish decorations. Aziz, translating, tells us that we have a choice of three rooms. This is starting to feel like the beginning of a story. They pull open the first room to reveal a dance floor and they ask us if it looks good. We both reply, enthusiastically, that it looks brilliant, and the six of us dive in.
We struggle through the mass of people to a table. The lights are down, and everyone is jumping to Uzbek techno mixed with Scottish fiddle music even though it’s still early. I look down at the table to see that there is cutlery in front of me. On the table there are four bottles of vodka. I get the feeling things are only going to get stranger. I’m right. At some signal, the lights go back up, the music stops and everyone who was dancing ten seconds ago is now sitting at their table, waiting for food. By this point a nine year old girl has joined our party. She likes to dance and she’s going to make damn sure Ryan and I dance with her. The vodka starts. It doesn’t stop for a while – only shots. The food arrives – dishes and dishes and dishes of delicious vegetables, meat and steaming rice and we drink vodka and beer as we work our way through these piles of food.
That was the first course, there are two more to come. I’m already full. But, of course, between courses there is a break for dancing. The music comes back on, the lights dim and everyone gets up to dance. The young girl is as insistent as I would expect and half as shy – she drags us all up to dance and I don’t have the willpower to resist her iron determination. So we dance and dance and dance and then we’re dragged back to our seats by this girl, who sits us down. Savara1, to my left, hands me another shot of vodka and suddenly, Hogwarts-style, the food has arrived. Stomach almost full, I push to eat as much as I can, as it’s really delicious. More vodka and beer, then the food is gone and the dancing begins again. More techno, more fiddle music and lots of drunk, happy Uzbeks. We’re the centre of attention. Finally the music finishes, the food is all finished and we’ve run out of beer. We call it a night. The girls take us back to the hotel, and Savara1 tells me she’ll pick me up in the morning so we can hang out. I crawl into bed, completely exhausted by one of the oddest experiences I’ve ever had.