Too hot

Bukhara, 20.07.2019

Before taking off this morning, out of caution, I checked the engine oil, that was OK, and the cooling liquid – that was under the minimum! There was no liquid under the car, so no leak, but the tank was very empty. I read the Mini manual, but the geniuses that wrote it didn’t specify the type of oil, but just say “your service station will know, go there.” My next service station was in Baku, 2.100km away, I doubted I’d get there without cooling liquid. My knowledge on the matter was exactly zero, so I drove slowly to the next Gazpromneft station, that supposedly had the better fuels around here. They had just one cooling liquid from Russia, that was good for all kind of Russian vehicle brands, incl. trucks, but no western brand. I didn’t trust it, and as I had no internet I drove back to the hotel in the heat. I was completely wet from the sweat, the temperature was already at 37C at 10.00 in the morning. Back in the hotel, I started to research motor oils, as on Saturday no BWM service works (Tashkent and Moscow didn’t reply to my messages) and the Berlin service station was still closed (it was 07.00 there). After an hour of research I figured out water wasn’t a good option, and there were 3-5 types of oil, of which one was incompatible with all others. I couldn’t find out what oil my Mini used, and of course (unlike other brands) Mini doesn’t write the type of oil on the tank, the manual or anywhere else on the car. There was not much I could to, so I took off again, to fill the tank with diesel, knowing that in Uzbekistan there wouldn’t be too many gas stations and quality would be low. Due to construction work on the main road out of town I got lost in small roads, and the engine kept heating up. Suddenly I saw a car repair shop and stopped. The Tajik crew spoke no English, and Google translate didn’t work too well this time. They called somebody that spoke a few words of English in the end, and I understood that in Tajikistan there was only one type of cooling liquid, so I had no choice but to take that one. Almost the entire can disappeared into the tank. Shortly after I found a Gazpromneft station, filled the tank completely, and took off. 2:15h lost.

The Tursunzoda border was just one hour away form Dushanbe. The Tajik side was the fastest border check so far, maybe on par with the Norwegians when I crossed into Russia. In 10 mins I was done and drove into Uzbekistan. 40C in full sunshine, I passed the passport control and was then sent to a medical check. As I got into the room of the medic, a stark smell of mutton meat filled the air, and a man rose from a bed behind a desk. He took my passport and car data, and told me to pay $1 at a bank next door, “health check”. This guy had checked exactly zero on my health, I sensed another border scam. They took back a small piece of paper they had handed me as I refused to pay, and let me go. Next came the customs check, and I had to wait a long time under the sun, engine off, in the brutal heat. There were four cars being taken completely apart, every piece of them being passed through an Xray scanner. This promised to be fun. After what seemed an eternity, the next group of four cars was called, and as a tourist I was the first one. Document check, then car check. “Open the car, all doors.” An officer with a drug sniffing dog checked the car on all sides. Another officer checked it from below through a walkway under the floor. “Take out all bags and open them.” No way, really? Yes, really, I had to unload almost the entire car. I got asked all kinds of questions, if I had weapons, and especially drugs. They asked multiple times as they inspected my bags’ content. “Afghanistan, problem.” I had been in the GBAO zone in Tajikistan, and after having seen the border I understood they were right to worry. I could have loaded easily some drugs or other stuff passed to me by somebody on the other side of the river. Nobody would have found out. And a Western tourist could be an easy mule. So I cooperated, they had a job to do that I agreed with, and I had to get through this control fast. Almost two hours later I was back in Uzbekistan.

Having lost a lot of time, I needed to speed up. But the roads in Uzbekistan were of the worst kind, and to not heat up the car excessively I drove without aircon, windows open. It felt like two giant hairdryers blew hot air into the car constantly. Everything was hot, the seats, the armrest, the windshield, the hood, the roof. Whatever I touched, it burnt. I kept driving village to village, the roads leading always through the center, with its markets, taxi stations, bus stops. Very picturesque, but also very slow and nerve wracking. The Uzbek driving style was back, reckless and either super fast or dead slow. The animal in the zoo effect also, I got stared at all the time, they even took pictures as I drove by or when overtaking me in some hazardous manoeuver. It took hours until I reached a bigger, more decent road, and I shouted insults at a lot of drivers today. I had seen three car crashes today, compared to zero in the past nine weeks, and the Uzbek driving freaked me out. Also the roads, with their constant bad stretches, potholes everywhere, destroyed roads. No more, I was so done with this. A short drive through a mountain range in the brutal heat gave a little distraction, but that was all. Then the sun started to go down, and I was still 250km away from Bukhara, the destination for today. I wanted to avoid driving in the dark at all cost, but there was no way to speed up. The sun disappeared on the horizon slowly, the sky was burning, and then darkness fell with every km I drove. I turned on the fog lights to see the few meters of road ahead of me better, then the floodlights when there was no car ahead. I slowed down, to be able to react better, driving at just 50-60km/h in a slalom around the potholes. The Uzbeks behind me didn’t care, speeding with full flashlights and honking if I didn’t immediately make room for them. A mule cart with no lights appeared in front of me in the middle of the road. Then a locomotive with just a tiny light at the front slowly crossed the highway on an unmarked train crossing. Pedestrians ran across the street, and of course what better to wear at night on a road with no light than black pants and black shirt. I got really angry.

Then suddenly I hit 3-4 potholes very hard in short sequence. Bang bang bang boom, something exploded, the Mini filled with smoke, it smelled burnt, the engine turned off. I stopped immediately on the side of the road. I was sure from the smell that I had just lost a tyre, or some part of the engine. I was 80km from Bukhara in the dark in the middle of nowhere. All lights on the switchboard were on, I turned the circuit off, and got out fo the car with a big torch. The tyres seemed fine, by miracle, the wheels also. I opened the hood, everything looked fine. Brake liquid was good, I couldn’t measure the oil and cooling liquid levels. I unplugged the fridge, as I thought that was the issue. No idea what happened. I turned the car keys to on, and the Mini reacted normally. The engine also started well. Only the airbag light was on. The aircon worked. The car moved, no traces of a leak under it. Then I saw the airbag of the passenger seat had exploded, the seat was all ripped open on the right side and the white bag was hanging out. I got back on the road, driving very slowly, checking every sound, every reaction to the driving. The Uzbek drivers drove me mad. Reaching Bukhara about an hour later, at the entrance of town a car stopped next to me at a red light. “Hello mister how are you? Bukhara? Khiva? Samarkand?” “I’m OK.” I was so completely not up for conversation, I almost would have punched the guy in the face. He must have sensed that, and said something in Uzbek to the four guys in the car. Shortly afterward I reached the hotel, through some side roads in the old town, and even here I got a big hit under the car at 5km/h from some pothole. I was done for today, so done. There were still 36C outside at 22.00, I felt like a glue stick, and needed to sleep.

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