We were up a little before 8, this time by choice and not because of loud talking outdoors. We got packed, which is easier when driving and whatever can go in whatever bag. We had another mediocre breakfast, and then headed out with Firdacz. Our destination was Bukhara, well to the southeast in Uzbekistan. The road used to be awful, so MIR had scheduled a full day for the travel. We had read, however, that the road was much better, and we wanted something to see today, so we requested to see Ayaz Qala, an old fortress between the two cities. We headed northeast to Urgench (a sizeable city with an airport near Khiva), then north to Bo'ston. We talked about the Aral Sea with Firdacz. The giant lake has shrunk precipitously the last 50 years, for a couple reasons. First and foremost, the two main rivers feeding the lake have had lots of their water diverted to assist with irrigation of cotton and other crops. Second, global warming hasn't helped. We headed over the Amu Darya River, which is one of the rivers that was being starved off. It really looked like large portions that had used to be underwater were exposed, but of course we had no point of reference.

Farther north, out in the middle of the desert, was Ayaz Qala, an old fortress. Technically, it is three fortresses. The oldest fortress, Ayaz Qala 1, is on top of the hill, and was a defensive refuge from 4th or 3rd century BC. Ayaz Qala 2 is a fort from 6th to 8th century AD, down the hill from Ayaz Qala 1. Ayaz Qala 3, which is barely more than a pile of rocks at this point, came from the 1st to 2nd century AD. For Ayaz Qala 1, the thought is that it was built after Khwarezm got its independence from Persia. The fortress was near the agricultural lands, and was likely a lookout for nomads and others that might want to invade. The fort is about 600 feet by 500 feet, in a rectangular shape.

We parked at a parking lot near Ayaz Qala 1, and then walked up a sandy hill to the top of the hill. By sandy hill, we mean we walked through sand - basically just like fluffy beach sand - uphill. Once at the top, there was literally no one there. We could see a family coming behind up behind us, and this showed why it was a good fortress - it was easy to see people a mile away. It was nice to have an old ruin location completely to ourselves, kind of like what it must've been like at Machu Picchu 50 years ago. We tried to remember where else we had been where it was literally just us - one hike in Rapa Nui, and one ruin in Cambodia (for about ten minutes). Even with no company we had to pay attention to where we were walking, however, as there was broken glass all over the ground. We looked around Ayaz Qala 1 for awhile, and looked down at the second fortress, but there was no easy way to get to it in our footwear. So we just walked back to the vehicle and started off towards Bukhara.

Firdacz took us back southeast, where we got on a brand new concrete highway. It was built by the Germans and Koreans, and was straight as an arrow. After awhile we came along side with the Amu Darya River again, which southeast of Urgenceh effectively forms the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. As we headed southeast, the desert turned back into the sandy type desert that was around Darvaza, and the cotton fields were long gone. We had a late lunch around 2:30 and a hole in the wall on the side of the freeway in the middle of nowhere. At lunch, Firdacz told us how to break bread, literally. In Uzbekistan, the usual practice is that the host breaks into serving size pieces for everyone (Tashkent style), or does the same after first breaking the bread in half (Samarkand style). We all got some beef, potato, and carrot soup. We also had some lamb shish-kabobs with onion, which were very tasty. Firdacz had warned us that the lamb wouldn't be as good in this area since there weren't domestic lambs, but instead our lunch would be "a runner." Whatever the exercise habits, lunch was great.

We got back in the car around 3:15, with 200 kilometers still to go. Even with the good road, this was a long drive. We asked Firdacz why people don't fly, given that Khiva and Bukhara are both popular tourist destinations, and dozens if not hundreds of people must do this drive every day. But Firdacz told us that the direct flight from Khiva (Urgench) to Bukhara is only one time a week; otherwise all flights have to go through Tashkent (to the east of both), so with the connection time you might as well drive. Towards the east end of the highway in Bukhara, the new road was already having to get fixed in some places, so we turned off of it and went through some other towns. This area seemed much more populous than around Khiva.

We got to our hotel (the New Moon Hotel) around 5:30. It was very cold outside and quite windy. We were over this unseasonably cold weather; we had to keep wearing and washing the same clothes, because we had very few cold weather clothes, thinking we'd wear them in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan only. It was supposed to be in the upper 70s or low 80s everywhere else. But instead it was in the upper 50s or low 60s for the third straight day now. The hotel was kind of a dump, which was surprising given everywhere else MIR had put us - maybe everything else full when they booked? We had run out of our Uzbek Som, and needed some more, so we were looking for either an ATM or a money changing station. But instead we found only drug stores, salons, and crafts. Justin had a headache, to go with being cold, being hungry, and having no money. We went to the Asia Hotel (the same chain as where we stayed in Khiva), and they told us where to go for money changing, but we couldn't find where they were pointing. We walked around some more, irritated and about to give up and go to sleep at 7pm.

But then we walked into Hotel Ziyobaxsh, hoping they might have a restaurant where we could use a credit card. They didn't, but the proprietor there, Aziz, went out of his way to help us. He personally walked us over to the Asia Hotel, then down some stairs, to a 24/7 cash exchange. He waited for us to finish the exchange, then took us back up the stairs, and walked us to a nearby restaurant that he recommended. Then he left us and went back to his own hotel. So anyone reading this, if you're looking for a small B&B in Bukhara, please check out Hotel Ziyobaxsh. At our dinner, we toasted Aziz with our wine. We split a bottle of wine, and got some lamb and Saj (a naan-like bread). We went back to the room and got to sleep early - apparently tired from our day of sitting in a car.

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