The visa for Uzbekistan is notoriously a pain in the ass, but it is made much easier my getting a letter of invitation, which a document you can get from Uzbek travel agencies, but you have to given them all your documentation about two weeks in advance. Once the letter of invitation is obtained (LOI) you can show up at the Uzbek embassy and get your tourist visa on the same day, which is exactly what I did. Although it did come at a hefty price: $150 for Americans. Plus $50 for the LOI. Ouch.
From Dushanbe I took a shared taxi to the border and then began the fun process that is Uzbekistan border crossings. Basically they go through all your stuff, the photos on your phone and camera, AND they take a look at the stuff on your laptop hard drive and possibly your external hard drive. It's pretty ridiculous. Ok, really ridiculous. They say they're doing it to protect their country, looking for things like terrorist propaganda (plausible I guess) and pornography (come on). So if you have any nudes on your phone or porn on your computer you're supposed to delete it ahead it of time!
The woman looking at my stuff looked through my camera and was dismayed that there were almost no photos on my card, as I had already put them on my computer and deleted them off the card. I explained that, so she made sure to have a go through my computer. It was out of battery at the time (purposely) but she still had me plug it in and boot it up anyway. I showed her where all my photos were and my movies and she clicked through a few albums and then opened up a movie to make sure it was clean. After she couldn't find anything, I was able to pack my stuff back up and go. What a pain in the ass.
Once in Uzbekistan I took a taxi into a smallish town, found a hotel that accepts foreigners, and had a chance to wander around. In Uzbekistan you have to get these hotel slips to show to the border guys when you leave, so you have every night you were in Uzbekistan accounted for. Another pain in the ass.
Another interesting thing about the country is that foreigners can't use the ATMs. You have to bring in dollars and then exchange them. But you don't want to do that at any official place, such as a bank, because the government set exchange rate is awful compared to what you can get by exchanging your dollars on the 'black market'. When I say black market, it just means you go to any market and exchange your dollars for Uzbek Som at about double the rate you would get at the bank. The official rate was something like 4,000 Som for one dollar and the unofficial rate was 7,500 Som for one dollar.
So back to this small town, apparently they don't get a lot foreigners, so I was quite the attraction. I wanted to take some photos at the market, but it was basically impossible when every single person in the whole place is looking at you! I ended up posing for photos with a bunch of guys and one guy even gave me a whole melon as a gift! It's not the most practical gift for a solo traveler, but I appreciated the sentiment nonetheless!
Apparently Uzbek's really like their fast food and there were burger/hot dog/shwarma places every block, so that's what I ended up having for dinner. And ice cream, because those soft serve machines are located about every 50 feet. And the guy gave it to me for free! The next day I took a taxi to a town called Sharisabz, which is a medium sized, non touristy city, that has a nice town square and some good examples of islamist architecture. I ended up meeting a guy who liked meeting foreigners and really wanted to show me around, so sure why not?
We walked through the city gates, the fountains, the mosque, and the Amir Temur statue. I got to learn all about the guy. Like me, you probably haven't heard of him, but he amassed an empire encompassing the whole region in the 1300's. It's said he was also partially responsible for about 17 million deaths, a good 5% of the world population at the time. Not the nicest guy. He was ruthless to his enemies, but he treated his subjects well at least.
After the history lesson, we went out to eat at this guy's (his name is Jasurbek) favorite shashlik (shish kebab) place, and he told me all about how hard he is trying to get a temporary work permit in America. He's college aged and already spent $1,000 in a program to obtain one and he got denied and now is planning on trying one more time. I think he was kind of hoping there was something I could do to help, but I really didn't know what to tell him, except agreeing that it's a huge bummer. But anyway the food was good and it was nice to have a local explain Uzbek culture, traditions, and stuff like that.
The next day he helped me exchange dollars at the market AND made sure I got a local price on my shared taxi to Samarkand. Really nice guy!