Uzbekistan and the Seach for Benzine
One of the first words I learned back in Serbia after pumping diesel into the Rascal was “Benzin”. This was the word for gasoline that transcended language and national barriers. AS I have continued my travel out of Europe and in to Asia, the word has continued to hold its meaning. While the spelling may change, “Benzine” means gasoline wherever I go.
I had mistakenly believed that Turkmenistan would be difficult for locating Benzine. The residents of the country receive 120 liters for free each month from the government. However, gas stations were plentiful, and the price was kept uniformly low at approximately 17 cents a liter. People on the Rally informed me that it was actually Uzbekistan that had the Benzine shortage.
Cars in Uzbekistan run almost uniformly on propane, methane, or LNG. While there are gas stations that claim to sell Benzine, the reality of the situation is that there is no Benzine to be found...anywhere.
I left Bukhara and headed towards the Tajikistan border. As the crow flies it was a little over 135 miles. However, by rod it was going to be closer to 250 miles. There was no way I was going to make it there on the Benzine I had. I was sitting on a half a tank, and had 20 liters in jerrycans in the back. That would get me down the road, but not to the border.
Every gas station I stopped at shook their head when I asked for Benzine. When I shrugged my shoulders and asked, “where?”, invariably they shrugged their shoulders back and shook their head. No one knew where to find Benzine.
As the indicator showed below a quarter of a tank, I pulled into a gas station. No Benzine. I moved the Rascal into a small parking spot. Several men were taking turns jumping into a large concrete cistern full of water. I gave serious consideration to joining them. It was hot, I was dusty, and the water looked invitingly cool. But, I wanted to get to the border. So, I pulled out the jerrycan. Immediately all the men stopped diving and came over to see what i was doing. I had plenty of help getting the fuel into the tank, and we had quite the “discussion” about the Mongol Rally, the lack of Benzine, and the benefits of swimming in a gas station cistern. As much as. I wanted to stay, I decided to head for Qarashi, a fairly large city, and see what I could find there. Perhaps there would be wifi and I could google where to find Benzine.
My GPS pointed me towards a bar that had wifi and cold beer. But when I arrived, the bar was closed and looked like it had been for quite a while. Around the corner was a restaurant that claimed to have free wifi, but it was closed as well!! I wandered down the block to a small stand and pointed at the meat on the rotisserie and held up one finger. A few minutes later I was devouring a delicious meal, wifi be damned.
After my meal, I asked the kid behind the counter, “Benzine?” He just shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. I walked back to my car, ready to stop at every gas station I could find, when I spotted an Internet cafe. I could google from there!
A boy of about sixteen was cleaning the shop. It was small, with only a single computer. There were shelves of office supplies and a few random computer parts. I asked, “Benzine?” I figured it was as good a place as any to start. If he shook his head, I could ask for internet access and look it up myself. He held up one finger and walked back outside. Two young men were talking in the shade of the portico. The Internet cafe youth said something to one of the men about Benzine. He conversation stopped.
One ofthe men, about 25 years old and wearing a pink polo shirt, said to me, “What are you looking for?” I replied that I was looking for Benzine. “How much?” I responded that I could do with 20 liters. There was a brief discussion between the two men and then pink polo said, “Come with me.”
I grabbed my jerrycan and hopped in his Toyota. About a half a mile later, we stopped in front of a house. Pink polo knocked on the gate and a man in his late 60’s appeared. Some words were said between the two, and the man gave me an appraising look. More words were said. Pink polo finally looked at me and said, “4000 per liter.” I immediately agreed. I had no idea if that was a good price, a bad price, or something that could be negotiated. I needed Benzine and apparently this was the guy who had it.
A few minutes later, the man’s grandson appeared carrying a five liter water bottle filled with gasoline. He disappeared back into the house and came back with another. Two more followed in short order. We poured it all into the jerrycan and then everyone inspected it. Everyone agreed that it was, indeed, 20 liters of Benzine. I put the jerrycan back in the Toyota and headed back to the Internet cafe.
The remainder of the trip through Uzbekistan was much less stressful now that I had enough fuel to get me to the border. Allegedly Tajikistan does not have the fuel shortage, so I should be able to find plenty. I poured the black market fuel into my tank shortly after being stoped at a military checkpoint. The light was fading and there were still may miles to go. The roads in Uzbekistan were deteriorating rapidly and I was reduced to 30 miles per hour. It was going to take a long time to get to the border. But at least I would not run out of Benzine.