So I’ve been meaning to post this since the first week in Uzbekistan, but since the wifi was so bad for the entire 2 weeks I couldn’t upload photos. And photos are very important!!
This was quite the journey…
Before going to Uzbekistan I asked all the players I knew that have traveled before to see what their thoughts on Uzbekistan was and if they could give me a little info on what to expect. Not one person said they liked Uzbekistan. Red flags right? Half of the players I talked to said it’s “doable” and the other half said it’s “shit.” Not the answers you want to be hearing before going to a country you’ve never been to.
My journey to Uzbekistan started from Seoul, Korea. Surprisingly there are a lot of non-stop flights from Seoul to Tashkent (capital city of Uzbek). I’m guessing South Korea and Uzbek have a lot of business. My final destination was going to be a city called, Karshi (about 450 km from Tashkent). But in order to enter the country I needed to pick up an on arrival visa in Tashkent (I could not pick up the visa anywhere else). The journey from Tashkent to Karshi is no joke. It only takes one hour by plane, but this flight only operates a few times a week by one airline. So what most players do is take a 6 hour taxi. Yup, you heard correct. 6 hours!! So many of the international flights arriving Tashkent arrive in the evening so after arriving you would need to be in the car for another 6 hours. And driving through the night can be quite dangerous as the roads are horrendous and the lighting is..well there is no lighting. There was no chance I was going to take the taxi.
My flight from Seoul arrived on a Friday night and lucky me there was a flight to Karshi Saturday morning. But flying also had it’s difficulties.
Security took forever and I thought I was going to miss my flight. When I was checking in I figured I was going to have excess weight. Cheap as it was, I was 10kg’s over and paid only $10!! But I had to go to the ticket office (more time) to pay for the extra weight. The lady asked me if I had Soums (local currency) to pay in. A little background on the currency here.…So the government rate is about 3,000 Soums to $1 USD. There’s a black market though and you can get about 8,000 Soums for $1. Pretty crazy! If you ever decide to travel to Uzbekistan it’s recommended you bring enough cash so you can change with the local people here. I didn’t have Soums to pay for the excess baggage weight and for some reason I had a $10 bill in my wallet and asked her if it was okay. Luckily she took my $10.
It’s hard to imagine that of all the places in the world for a tennis tournament Karshi, Uzbekistan would have one. Karshi has a whopping 200,000 population, but it really feels like 100. I saw no one during my time in Karshi.
One thing I noticed in Karshi was that almost every car on the road was white.
And every car on the road can be a taxi, just need to haggle around with the price. The first few days I asked the hotel to help me call for a taxi, but later I learned that there was no point as you could call any car on the street.
It was a tough week for tennis as I lost a close match in the 1st round, but ended the week on a strong note getting immersed in the culture a bit by eating with some locals. So May 9 here was “Victory Day” when the Germans surrendered to former “Soviet Union” in World War 2. A few people from the club invited some of the players to eat with them to celebrate and honor those that lost their lives during the war. The drink of choice for dinner, Vodka. Not surprising. To be honest I’ve never got a good vibe from people from this region (Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan). From the facial demeanors and the way they talk is very aggressive and strong. But they are actually really nice and friendly people. As the old saying goes, “Can’t judge a book by it’s cover.”
Next stop was Samarkand, Uzbekistan..
Had to go in these old beat up cars with no air condition for 3 hours with all our bags! I shared the car with another player and we were cramped up in the back of the car holding our bags while the driver drove swerving by pot holes and passing slow cars. This driver had the worst body odor of all time! Any time he rested his arm on the door of the car I got a solid whiff of that awfully pungent smell as I sat directly back of him.
When we arrived to the new city I was really looking forward to a bigger hotel and better wifi. But I was greeted with the same wifi if not worse and a room where the air conditioning did not work. I asked the front desk to help me fix the air condition in my room four times before I finally gave up. But what Samarkand had was more people, more liveliness, better food, tourists (which meant places to site see walking distance from the hotel!), and a couple universities surrounding the hotel. I’ve got to admit, it was a bit weird seeing people after not seeing anyone in Karshi.
According to Wikipedia, “Samarkand is one of the oldest inhabited cities in Central Asia.”
This trip to Uzbekistan has been one of the most challenging trips I’ve had since playing professionally. The first week losing in the first round on a Monday was a disaster for my mind. There was absolutely nothing to do in the city and no wifi so all I had was time for thoughts to myself. Repeatedly asking myself why I even decided to travel so far to an unfamiliar territory. But you know what as hard as this trip was I got through it! And I got to see something new, experience a different culture, and meet new people.
Finally made it to Paris and will playing my first round tomorrow!