So, you really want a place to call your own next vacation?

November 15, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

SO YOU WANT to get away, you and the significant other, and you're looking for a place to unwind, have a little fun, maybe take in a few sights.

The Caribbean? Please. The whole frolicking-in-the-surf, sipping-the-fruity-drinks thing has been done to death.

Europe? Sure, that's fine - if you want to run into every other mope from Baltimore with a Ravens T-shirt and Nike sweats clicking a Kodak Instamatic.

No, what you need is someplace exciting. Someplace off the beaten path.

And I've got just the place: Uzbekistan.

Oh, sure, I know Uzbekistan does, technically, border Afghanistan, where there is, technically, a big war going on, complete with bombs and shooting and stuff.

But hear me out.

Chuck Hundley of Kissimmee, Fla., a former Peace Corps volunteer in Uzbekistan who is married to an Uzbek woman, can hook you up with a nice place in center city Tashkent for a song.

For a few bucks more, he'll help you register with the national militia (required of all foreigners), get you squared away with the local currency ($1 equals 600 soam at the regular exchange rate, 1,500 soam on the black market) and help you deal with the Uzbek bureaucracy (unofficial motto: "No bribe's too small for us!")

Can't speak Uzbek or Russian or Farsi? No sweat. English-speaking translators are provided for a nominal fee.

Oh, Chuck admits there was a little problem in Tashkent two years ago.

Seems a couple of car bombs exploded in the city. Well, five car bombs, actually. Blew out the windows in two of the buildings that house Chuck's apartments, too. The boys from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan took credit for that little ruckus.

But Tashkent's safe now, right Chuck?

"I would say it's safe," Hundley said over the phone after a long pause, long enough for me to balance my checkbook.

Anyway, the thing to keep in mind is that Hundley, an amiable-sounding fellow who runs a marketing company in Kissimmee, is absolutely serious about arranging your next trip to this remote Central Asian country.

He's got a handful of "Western-style" apartments available for rent, one- and two-bedroom units that are fully furnished with private baths and even cable TV, although you might not be pulling in The Sopranos. Maid service is included, as is airport pickup and dropoff.

So far, though, Chuck's phone has not exactly been ringing off the hook with inquiries that begin: "Yes! Tell me more about a fabulous week in Tashkent!"

Since he started advertising a few weeks ago - he sent a flier to The Sun - he's fielded only "four or five calls."

He did, however, rent an apartment in Tashkent to two different Turks.

What were they going to do there? I asked Hundley.

"I don't know," he said.

Oh. Well, that'll certainly put a landlord's mind at ease.

Hundley said he goes back to Uzbekistan every summer for 30 days with his wife, Gulnora, to see her family.

Gulnora, he said, was a psychiatrist earning the princely sum of $12 a month in the early '90s. Then she became a Russian translator making $200 a month "in cash, which was pretty good." Hundley met her when she became his Russian teacher.

In any event, Chuck and Gulnora have three apartments in Tashkent, and access to a few others. If you were to rent from them, her brothers, Alisher Abdullayeva and Nuraman Abdullayeva, would handle much of the arrangements over there, including providing a car and driver and food service.(By the way, Hundley said the food isn't bad. Local delicacies include a lamb pilaf with carrots and various kabob-like dishes. Important tourist advisory: If you have a weak stomach, avoid the gutted rabbits hanging in the marketplace.)

OK, Hundley's no dummy. He realizes Tashkent is not exactly a hot tourist destination, and probably never will be. But with the war going on, he's hoping Western journalists - or any journalists really - might rent his apartments.

"If you have a TV crew going over, you could put three or four guys in each apartment and save money," he says.

The going rental rate, he said, is $40 a day, $250 a week, $900 a month, much cheaper than hotels. And the money, he said, would go to his relatives in Tashkent, where "cash is short."

Even if you're not a journalist, Hundley said, he'd be interested in renting to you. "I'd market this to anyone who'd take it," he said. "Everyone should go just once, to see those ancient cities."

Or the legendary Silk Road, where caravans laden with colorful silks made their way from China to ancient Persia.

Besides, Uzbekistan is lovely this time of year. Well, maybe not lovely. But it's really not much colder than Maryland, although Uzbekistan is a dry, desert environment. And Uzbek Air flies out of JFK in New York Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, with an hour stopover in Kiev.

So what are you waiting for?

Pick up the phone and dial 407-397-9300. Or e-mail Hundley at rcdh@aol.com.

Then pack your bags for the vacation of a lifetime!

Uzbekistan. So near to the war - and yet so far away.

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