A sleepless night. How can i be so wide awake when i’ve barely slept for 4 nights? By morning i feel much better, cooled by the aircon, and with only one trip to the bathroom in the night, instead of the 20 or so of previous nights. Dave wakes at 8.30 and we go for breakfast, guided by another woman who is also nothing but smiles. I haven’t seen so much smiling, ie a fairly normal amount, since leaving greece. Breakfast is in a spectacular room with old hand painted decoration. We sit down to a table full of food that looks so nice i actually have an appetite. Tea and coffee. A glass of drinking yoghurt, which is delicious and must surely help my stomach recover. We are brought a bowl of freshly made creamy rice pudding, which we have with some of the plummy jam. There’s bread, cakey biscuity things, little apples and delicious plums. Pancakes. Meat and cheese that we don’t dare risk, that i couldn’t stomach anyway. Butter. Clean plates and cutlery. Classical music. It’s heaven, and although i only eat a small amount, it’s a big improvement over via packet of crisps and a fried egg that is all i’ve had in the last 4 days. Recovery is in sight, and dave seems happy enough to agree to staying another day, to recover and to give the bike some attention. And hopefully a bit of sight seeing, which i’m not up to today, and although dave is doing better than me, he also seems disinclined to be out in the heat. My peanutbutter sandwich craving has given way to wanting more of the delicious, digestion-restoring yoghurt drink. While dave does his blog on my laptop, i do some laundry, being very generous with my short supply of detergent, hoping to get rid of the smell of Hotel Nukus. I feel much better after breakfast, which has so far stayed in. I don’t see how i can be so wide awake after so little sleep, but it’s a huge relief to feel relatively normal after feeling so rotten. In the afternoon we have a short stroll round the old town, and it is certainly spectacular, and old. Also very quiet, not many people braving the high temperatures of low season. It doesn’t take long to wear out both myself and my camera battery. I do manage to find a postcard, first since istanbul (the ones pinched from the baku hotel room don’t count), though i haven’t seen a post office since then either, then escape to the cool of the hotel room. Now, feeling much better and looking forward to trying the italian restaurant down the road, i’m taking advantage of another of the ever more infrequent opportunities to get online.
Still feeling horrendous but sick of Hotel Nukus, we get on the bikes and head into the desert. It’s incredibly hot, high 40’s, and harsh. Riding along thinking nothing but "please don’t break down". We manage to find enough chances for cold water and places to rest in the shade. We get hassled by a couple of the silly police checkpoints they seem to like over here, but only a short delay. Everywhere we stop, crowds gather. I buy water watched intently by half a dozen locals as if they’ve never seen a man buy water before. We’d planned a fairly short ride and hoped to be able to find a camping spot near the river shown on the map, but widowe get there it’s clearly not suitable for camping. It’s more harsh, sandy terrain, with a puddle of water a few hundred yards across the sand. So we take the only option of continuing to Bukhara, another 170 miles. There’s no sense stopping out in the open in 40 degree heat. By late afternoon i’m really struggling, feeling like death. It’s all i can do to ride in a straight line, and that not very well. I’m riding without jacket or gloves because i’m so hot, and i’m too unwell to notice the sunburn i’m inflicting on my hands. It’s nothing but endurance, with no real certainty of making it through or finding a place to stay. Passing through a small town a dog on the other side of the road pricks up it’s ears, spots me, and starts galloping towards me. At 60mph, with no protective gear on, this could be very ugly. I veer away, as i mentally extrapolate the paths of the dog, closing fast, and the car coming the other way, thinking i might get lucky. Just as dog reaches road, car reaches dog, and a split second later the aftermath is fortunately out of my sight as i continue, relieved, and not at all sorry about the loss of one more motorbike chasing dog. The desert does not abate, nor does my thirst, fatigue, cramp, discomfort. Grin and bear it. Left wing mirror has gone floppy and spins about uselessly. The road gets rougher and I whack into some big potholes at speed, that i would normally have avoided but alert is the last thing i am today. Will need to check spoke tension soon. The bike seems to labour in the heat, and i know how it feels. I ease off to give it half a chance of getting me out of this horrendous place. Eventually, scenery gets greener. I almost get wiped out when i encounter a woman washing a carpet on the road, on a bend, with a big bus coming the other way. And then, Bukhara. Hope soars. We ride around looking for a hotel, doing a full lap and exhausting every likely looking avenue without success. It’s getting late and Dave’s headlight isn’t working. Hope fades, as does the light. Returning to the junction where we started, there’s one last road to try and we head along. It looks like another no hoper, until i see a hotel sign, but no way into the hotel on the bike. Then another sign, then "Amelia Boutique Hotel – All The Comforts Of Home!". A woman greets us in the street, looks like she works here. Turns out she’s called Martha. All smiles. She puts me on the phone with an english speaker and soon we have a really nice room, with air con and a fridge, a big clean bathroom with a superb shower, and after a tricky ride through a doorway and along a corridor, our bikes are safe inside the courtyard. I feel better already. English tv news channel has someone describing somewhere as "The Crucible Of Terror", and i assume he’s talking about where we’ve just been.
There’s no way i can ride the bike today, i feel like i’m not far short of needing to go to hospital. In desperation i ask the hotel if they have a better room, and remarkably they do, with air conditioning and without the godawful stench. I wish we’d been in it from the start, instead of the fetid squalour of the room we have been in. The air con starts to cool me down and rescues me from what was probably quite severe heat stroke brought on by the food poisoning. I catch sight of myself in the mirror and am shocked to see that with the beard and the effects of 3 days vomiting and diarrhea i’m so gaunt i look like i’ve just come out of a prisoner of war camp. Everything i drink, so far i haven’t eaten, still just pours straight through, but if i can sleep tonight there’s a good chance i can get back on the bike and head off through the desert towards Bukhara tomorrow. I’m hoping that the terrain isn’t so harsh as what we’ve just come through, and that the river on the map actually has water in it and might offer a chance to cool down if i start overheating again. God knows what i’ve eaten to put me in such a bad state, or how the locals tolerate it. I hope this doesn’t happen again. As i lie here watching the same songs loop round on an italian music tv channel, which is slightly more watchable than any of the russian or uzbek stuff, I find myself craving a peanutbutter sandwich. The only food we could find locally that wasn’t left out in the open, unrefrigerated and with flies buzzing around, was pretty much limited to a packet of crisps. The italian music channel selects james blunt as the next track, and suddenly i’d rather be watching the bad russian soap.
The hotel is grim, but i’m mostly just lying on the bed, swatting away flies and trying to keep cool. The plan had been to ride up to the aral sea, but with dave ill, of very ill, and realising how hard it is to ride in this heat in the desert, we scrap the plan in favour of trying to get well. Dave gets bitten by a thousand insects, i seem to escape. I exchange a few left over euros at the bank and end up with 134000 of the local currency. Apart from feeling pretty rotten, the day slips by without much happening. That night, the illness kicks in again, and i spend a dreadful night, burning up, permanently on the loo, unable to keep anything down or in, and pouring cold water from the shower over myself trying to keep cool. By morning i feel worse than ever.
By morning i’m shattered and feel like death, i certainly can’t ride a bike in this condition. So i ride in the car while a local rides my bike to the border, for a fee. Dave gets stung by a scorpion. By the time we get to the border crossing i’m still shattered and weak, dehydrated and barely able to stand. I have to get on the bike, and try to stay upright while we endure the endless rigmarole of the turkmen exit and uzbek entry procedures. Somehow i get through it, and we manage to find the only hotel in nukus and get a room. It’s a huge relief to be able to lie down and have a toilet close by, even if it’s an utterly disgusting, decaying soviet abomination.