Silk Road Day 7: The international language of dance

Day 7: Sunday, January 3rd, 2016

I woke up at about five in the morning in Samarkand to the sound of roosters outside of my window, and also to the baffling heat of the hotel room. It was so hot I couldn’t distinguish where my skin met the air. While awake, I took the opportunity to use the internet. The issue with traveling with a group of young people is that the WiFi is constantly in demand. When our group enters a WiFi hotspot, it’s usually the most traffic the router has seen in years and it nearly crashes every time. When you wake up at the crack of dawn, however, no one else is awake and it takes less than five minutes to check the weather for the day.

The group grabbed breakfast in the hotel before we headed out to see the Tomb of Daniel. Supposedly the tomb grows thirteen centimeters every one hundred years, and the holy water spring below the tomb’s hill wasn’t there before the tomb was put here in the fifteenth century.

Afterwards we went to the King’s Lev or Shah-I-Zinda, which is a collection of mausoleums that butts up against a local cemetery. The cemetery reminded me a bit of the ones in New Orleans, wherein there are large above ground tombs. All of the tombs in this cemetery are fairly modern, with laser-etched faces of the deceased on the gravestones. Each tomb is topped with what appears to be a mini succulent garden, a beautiful alternative to cut flowers, of which I barely saw any.

We left this area and met the latest member of our group, Anne, who also is my new roommate. We went off to the bazaar, where Ben and Remi bought traditional fur Uzbek hats, for a cool $15 USD. At this bazaar there was colorful Samarkand bread, which is similar to the bread we’ve had all trip, but in addition to the beautiful dimpled designs, this bread had colored sprinkles in pretty patterns.

I bought a giant bag of mint tea, which was an interesting experience. I asked for just a little bit, then the guy filled it with about a cup of dried leaves and asked for ten thousand som ($2). I said it was too much, to which he responded by pouring another cupful into the bag, essentially making me a pillowcase of mint. He then argued that this large quantity would now be ten thousand som, and well worth it. Finally I interpreted to him that this was way too much, in quantity and in price, and he finally emptied out half the bag and charged me a dollar for it.

When it came time to leave, Johnson went missing, per usual, leading Tan and Helen to wonder if he were some sort of secret agent that purposefully goes missing for chunks of time. Apparently he used to (really) be in the Singapore military. We’re too lazy to look for him in the large bazaar, so we all stood in the corner and yelled his name in unison until we got winded and moved on.

We headed off to the nearby Bibi Khanym mosque, which was built in the 14th century. Johnson appeared shortly thereafter. Coincidentally there was a cluster of what looked to be Russian mafia members nearby, further confirming our suspicions of Johnson’s mysterious disappearances.

It started to drizzle but it was just in time for lunch anyway, so we sat down for a meal of Samarkand plov and the broth soup (potato, carrot and meat in broth) that had a twist: meatballs instead of mystery meat chunks! It was fantastic. During this lunch we began a game of paper telephone per Patricia’s recommendation, wherein one person writes a sentence, and then the next person draws a picture of the sentence. The following person looks only at the picture and writes a sentence, and it goes on until everyone has had a turn, and the final sentence is always nothing like the original. It provided us with a few good laughs before we broke for free time.

A handful of us (Remi, Matt, Patricia, Chris, Ben and Eilidh) wandered around while the rest of the group went back to the hotel for rest. And as always, wandering around proved to be more worth it as we entertained ourselves with stupid and silly adventures.

A few of us were itching to get small change, which is hard to come by in a country where you carry around thousands of som just to buy a pack of gum. The solution was the local grocery store, where pricing isn’t rounded to the nearest thousand, and therefore allows for smaller bills in change. We stopped by a local grocery store near the restaurant where we had lunch. We come in as a cluster of silly westerners, first doing the “shopping cart dance” (Patricia), slipping around on the freshly mopped floors (Matt), having Matt try on traditional Samarkand hats that are actually meant for women, and wearing teapot warmers as silly hats (everyone). The girls working at the store were quite entertained, laughing hysterically at our dumb jokes. Some of the guys in the butcher section even took pictures of us while we wore teapot warmers as hats.

We walked around town through the plaza, kicking around a pine cone as a makeshift soccer ball, when we came across a cluster of street cleaning ladies dancing under the new years tree to the music of a live DJ. I’m not really sure what was happening, but we think they just got off of their shift and heard the music and started dancing. From about fifty yards away, we started dancing along, and when we joined them in the middle of the plaza, they were laughing and enjoying our company. One of the ladies even gave me a 1000 som bill yelling “Uzbekistan” when she gave it to me. We danced for a good 20 minutes or so, earning ourselves quite an audience before calling it quits and heading to the bus to meet up with the rest of the group.

By now it was almost dark, and we headed in the bus to a fashion show by Valentina Romanenko. She is a designer who creates clothing based on traditional Uzbek garb with a modern twist. Her daughters are the models for the clothing, and we all were mesmerized by the choreography and swirling hand-painted scarves of the show. The venue was her home studio, which was covered in unique found materials and hand-made sculptures, even in the garden.

Off we went to a pre-dinner wine tasting. It was an extra opportunity that wasn’t originally included in the tour, but everyone willingly paid the ten USD to participate. At the tasting, we were offered ten different Uzbek wines. Several were dessert wines, and more than a few were double the normal alcohol content for wine. Needless to say, the post-wine-tasting mood was very lively, and included more than five people joining in to dance to some Nelly Furtado in the middle of the dining room.
After everyone was very, erm, joyful from the wine tasting, we went to an Italian restaurant, where we had no Italian food whatsoever. It was pretty funny because the place had tons of Italian-themed artwork and murals, but then the food we got was just the same chicken and rice stew sort of Uzbek food that we’ve had the whole trip. It was still good, but unfortunately very different from what we were expecting. Luckily a few of us were treated to back massages from Remi and Patricia, so that was pretty sweet.

After dinner, a small group of us returned to the dinner restaurant from yesterday to have some drinks and hookah before we retired for the evening. We had to get our beauty rest before sneaking out early tomorrow to see the sunrise.