August 20: Samarkand, Uzbekistan
10:00 I set out in search of a pharmacy that will sell me an asthma inhaler without a prescription.
10:10 It’s a short search. There’s a ‘Dorixona’ about three doors down from the hotel and the owner speaks pretty good English. They don’t stock Ventolin but the pharmacist explains that Ventolin is just a brand name for Salbutomol and they do have a Russian version of the same drug. I buy three inhalers for 8,800 com apiece. That’s about $2.14 for something that costs upwards of $40 in Canada.
12:00 After two hours of sightseeing in 40C heat I retreat to an air-conditioned shawarma restaurant for lunch. I wonder how much McDonalds would pay me to search out trademark thieves in Second World countries?
19:00 Tim and I notice several men standing by a taxi in a dark and vacant lot adjacent to the hotel. We ask if they know a restaurant called Plantan. “Sure, get it,” says one guy so we pile into the back seat of the Chevrolet Lacetti. We aren’t in the car two seconds before the doors are closed and another man jumps in the passenger seat. With one click the driver then locks all four doors. After a few minutes it’s clear that neither the driver or the thug in the front seat have any idea where the restaurant is. They stare blankly at the map on Tim’s phone and don’t seem to understand that north is at the top. At one point Tim asks if they would mind rolling down the back windows for us. The guy in the passenger seat turns around and says, “No, mafia cab,” followed by a maniacal laugh. This is not reassuring. We are soon driving down an unpaved street in a very dark residential neighbourhood. I lower my voice to ask Tim if he’s ever smashed a car window with his elbow. “Doesn’t matter,” he whispers, “neither of us could fit through that window.” He has a point. Just as I’m contemplating how James Bond would put a choke hold on his kidnapper, I look up to see ‘Plantan’ spelled out in neon lights. The cab comes to a stop and the driver and the guy up front jump out to open the back doors for us. “Have a nice night in Samarkand,” they say in unison.
20:00 Tim and I have ordered appetizers when Rodney, James, John and Halo arrive. We move to a table for six in the main dining room. Rodney orders something called Jiz-Biz. He’s brave that way. This dish turns out to be well done pieces of beef served on a bed of soggy kettle chips and smothered in raw onion and slices of lemon. To be honest, it doesn’t look too bad — an Uzbek take on nachos I assume.
21:00 We are well looked after by our “hostess” Aziz who hopes to complete his Masters degree in Canada. He’s currently studying business in Tashkent and working at Plantan for the summer. I don’t have the heart to raise the issue with his name tag.