Tag Archives: Adventure

Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan to Uzbekistan with a detour to Tajikistan

From Bishkek we followed the Silk Road to Tashkent, Uzbekistan via Shymkent, Kazakhstan.  Another crossroad conquered and destroyed by all the great invaders.  It lies in the foothills above a great valley.  Noteworthy because Timurlane the Great died here, and the city’s forges produced millions of lead bullets for Russia’s WWII fight against Germany.

*click on photos to enlarge

The train left the station at 11:22 pm and lasted 14 hours.  We paid for all 4 berths in one compartment assuring us some privacy (approx. $32.00 total).  Unfortunately that compartment was only a door away from the WC (water closet/toilet).   Thick pads and down pillows were rolled up on the top berth and to my horror there were no linens.

The ticket collector showed up and plopped down next to Bill and we tried to communicate while he looked to make sure our paperwork was in order.  Russian is the “common” language amongst the Caucuses and we can’t speak a word of it. He spoke no English.  Overall it worked out well and we had a jolly time.  Bill offered him a tip and he walked away happy.

About 10 minutes later he returned with two sealed bag of clean sheets.  Yes!

Bill and I snacked on red wine and potato chips and quickly fell asleep.

Near the Kyrgyzstan border the steward woke us up and told us to wait….. a half hour later young military men showed up at our door speed talking.  We said something in English to which they asked back “Do you speak Russian?”  Yeah right.

Passport. Check.  Then the young man pointed to my suitcase and grunted.  I opened my suitcase and he was satisfied after a portion of it was emptied.  He motioned to close it, did an about face and left.

Off to sleep again…

At the Kazakhstan border it was a repeat of the whole language barrier, passport scenario…….  It’s now 3:20 am and this time the young military man, holding a small 3”x 3” video camera, demanded that we empty our entire backpacks on the bed and then demanded we open our suitcases and empty them.  The backpack contents were mounded next to us and left no room for the suitcase contents.  So like good passive aggressive people we moved things around and didn’t unload.  He dug into Bill’s suitcase – grunting.  He didn’t put his hands in my bag and gave up after I moved a few things around. Next the immigration man stepped in and did the passport ritual of photos and stamping our books while the first showed back up with the drug sniffing dog.  Geez.

Bill thought he’d be exempt from being hassled at borders because he’s an old guy.  Apparently that was just another case of MSU.

By 4 am we were fast asleep again.  The fumes from the bathroom had thoroughly permeated our cabin.  Nothing like the smell of urine in the morning to make you hop out of bed.

We stood in the hallway in front of the small open window waiting to pull into Shymkent.

We hired their equivalent to Uber to take us to the border so we could do the easy peasy walk through and then grabbed another in Uzbekistan to take us the the capital city of Tashkent.

Uzbekistan is another landlocked country surround by 5 landlocked countries – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan.

By luck of the draw we ended up in a hotel with a great location.  Surrounded by tasty restaurants and walking distance (albeit long) to the happening places.

We left Uzbekistan for a day trip to Tajikistan.  Brand new cities were being built outside Tashkent much like China.

We ran into the same Road Scholar group from Kazakhstan in the immigration line at the Tajikistan border! Crazy.

Tajikistan – has a slight different feel of remoteness and less homogeneity, having 2 lengthy borders with China and Afghanistan and serious mountain ranges. This remoteness seems to have slowed its movement toward the west, but not the desire.

Many residents migrate to Russia and work summers harvesting crops.  The local swimming pool is open for men only 6 days a week and women!  About 50% of the city dwellers own car.

Khujand is another 2500 year old city founded by Alexander the Great and built on an 8th century BC fortress and is the eastern most point of his empire.  During the Russian era it was known as Leninbad.  The army of Genghis Khan later destroyed the town and razed it to the ground.  The revival of the city was aided by its geographical position on the Silk Road. 

Portion of the original wall built by Alexander the Great

It has a fabulous Alexander the Great fortress,  museum and caravanserai.

On a side note –  the capital of Dushanbe is home of the famous Buddha in Nirvana or Sleeping Buddha statue founded in 1959 and dating back to the 5th or 6th century.  It is the largest clay Buddha statue in the world.  America contributed $30,000 toward its restoration.

p.s. The blog is pretty much caught up.  As of May 26th we’re still in Uzbekistan. Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday!


We contacted a company (all done by What’sApp) to arrange a driver from Almaty, Kazakhstan to the border of Kyrgyzstan and then another driver on the Kyrgyzstan side to take us to the capital city of Bishkek.

Our first non-English speaking driver had a black Camry that was huge (unlike American Camrys) with leather seats and more bells and whistles than typical – the back seats had electronic reclining adjustments.  Very unusual and especially for the price we paid.  His mission was to get us there in half the time it should take. Time is money!  Poor Bill had to ask him  to slow down to help curb my fear of crashing.

The two driver system is genius because the line of cars at the border was insanely long.  We just walked on through easy peasy.

The driver on the other side surprisingly spoke English.  He had taken it in school 20 years ago and said he was rusty for lack of using it.  It was the first time in many, many countries that a driver/cabbie could communicate with us.

Kyrgyzstan is another landlocked country in Central Asia.  It borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China.

Bishkek is another spread-out city with virtually no beautiful historical buildings.  It looked and felt like a throwback to Soviet times.  The one thing it did have was a long walking park with tall trees and gorgeous roses in full bloom. It included a vast carnival and kiddie park, selling cotton candy at 10 am.

Groups of old men gather in the squares around the old soviet buildings – squatting on their heels ala Viet Nam.

Adorable are the older women with colorful scarves wrapped around their hair.  Usually contrasting the colors of their dress  to make it visually interesting and beautiful.

Zhang Qian crossed near here and documented his travels in 138 B.C.

Numerous Buddhist and Muslim rock inscriptions surround mosques, temples and Christian churches from the 800s through the 1600s.

In town a vast and bustling market remains. Outside the city nomadic tribes live in their yurts and move, livestock among the foothills and steppes.


We’re wearing out the treads on our shoes as we explore.




Azerbaijan is in the South Caucasus region and is surrounded by Russia, Georgia, Türkiye, Iran and the Caspian Sea.   

After being warned in Armenia and subsequently reading online, we were prepared to be hassled upon arrival since we have an Armenian stamp in our passports.  You’re either with us or against us in our continuing border war. Immigration was supposed to grill us, inventory our medicine with prescriptions, count our money, prove our hotel AND flight out of the country and perhaps deny us entry.

Fake news – I say!  Immigration and customs was a breeze.  No questions asked.  Welcome to Azerbaijan!

As we flew over the capital city of Baku it looked parched and dry but the city couldn’t have been more different on the ground.

Not sure if it had anything to do with it being a week after the Formula 1 race but the city is stunning!  Baku rests 92 feet below sea level.  The lowest national city in the world and the largest city below sea level.

Lonely Planets describes it as “the architectural love child of Paris and Dubai”,  and  one of the fastest changing cities in the world. It’s a great combination of old and new architecture.

We stayed within the ancient walled city – an UNESCO World Heritage site.  A wonderful place to get lost in its narrowing winding alleyways. Sandstone buildings and cobblestone roads make for warm, nostalgic feelings.

Just outside the wall are parks with huge fountains and stunning landscaping.  Metropolitan with a few suburban qualities.

On the shore of the Caspian Sea, which I learned is a huge lake and historically may have been connected to the Black Sea, is a long and wide promenade with views of modern glass buildings and the old town.

In Bill’s adventure to follow the Silk Road we drove to the Caucasus mountain town of Sheki – an important city that welcomed merchants and travellers from all over the world, founded in the 1st century BC.  We walked the grounds of another caravanserai which now functions as a museum and hotel and the UNESCO site of Sheki Kahn Palace. The Way came from Tabriz and passed on to Sinhnaghi in Georgia.  Up the road is the village of Kish.  Here, built over a pagan temple, sits the oldest Albanian Orthodox Church, built perhaps in 50-60 A.D. .  The convent, walled grounds and access road are built of river rock, and all still used and well-maintained.  This church, begun by disciple Elishe, is probably the oldest Christian church in Central Asia, a vast area under Albanian control (no relation to Eastern European Albania) before Turkic, Macedonian and Mongol (then Russia) took turns invading and destroying much of the ancient civilization.

The balance of the valleys and foothills are verdant with grapes, apples and wheat growing over hill and dale.

Similar to Armenia and Georgia sheep and cows are watched by shepherds as there are no fences.

Natural gas burning in the desert sand was mystical to early inhabitants.  A massive gas field discovery in recent years is fueling the flame of progress.  The Flame Towers symbolize the country’s close relationship with fire.

On a side note:  the airport is beautiful.  They have these sleeping pods available for free and these “Cocoons” are filled with stores and restaurants.

Dubai, UAE

Dubai is the city of superlatives.

The – best, largest, biggest, tallest, luxurious, richest,, iconic, uniquest, fastest, cleanest, most-est…

We stayed at the Marina Sheraton (filled with Russian guests), nine stories tall.  Ten years ago we stayed at the Ritz Carlton, four stories tall.  These hotels are now absolutely dwarfed by dozens and dozens of 30 -100 story neighbors but they both have vast private lawns and beaches; and are reminiscent of the Raffles in Singapore and the Metropole in Hanoi, symbols of a bygone era in travel.

On Dubai Creek – a U-shaped nine mile long inlet – is the old quarters. Amongst everything you’ll find gypsum and coral buildings, gold and spice souks, textiles and wooden dhow boats delivering goods and merchandise to the Middle East and North Africa.  The lack of everything tall and big is a contrast to the new Dubai.  Contrary to the balance of the Emirates, only 1% of Dubai’s annual revenues come from oil and gas.  It is sustaining and succeeding on returns from shipping, logistics, finance and tourism.

Dubai’s population is just over 3,000,000 with approximately 15% being UAE nationals, the rest are expats. Islam is the state religion.

Nationals wear traditional clothing – women, the Abaya (long cloak – mostly in black) with a hijab and men, the Kandura (long cloak with long sleeves – white in the summer and darker colors in the winter) and the ghutrah (head-dress). 

On the contrary women were wearing clothing so revealing that it left nothing to the imagination – g-string bathing suits were the rage on the beach – worn by young women to old ladies!

With the cruise in the rear mirror we now have the time and freedom to explore at our pace.



Oh Man! Oman

Forming the N/E portion of the Arabian peninsula, we are across the Gulf of Oman from Iran, and our stop at Salalah is approximately 30 miles up the coast from Yemen, neither one of which are current feel good spots for Americans. The mountains, arroyos and blue water remind us of southern Baja – I guess it’s called a desert.

Oman is also our first contact with Marco Polo country, since he stopped here, returning to Venice by sea from one of his trips to China.

Salalah is the world’s historic source of frankincense, brought to the birth of Jesus by the three kings and delivered to Zanzibar and India by early sailor/traders.

Our cabbie for the day, Noah, just became a father the previous day, adding to his children, who are 25, 24, 14 and 12.

We drove into the mountains to see Job’s tomb, crowded because it was a post Ramadan holiday.

Along the way, we passed literally hundreds of acres of a festival site, which occur annually over a month or two. By its size it must dwarf Coachella or Burning Man.

Hotel sized homes dotted the road.  The size accommodates a wealthy man, his multiple wives and children.

The desert and foothills were scattered with camels, domestic and wild. They control the roads, since there are no fences.

The capital, Muscat, is a dead ringer for Indian Wells, California. Date palms, and bougainvillea, Mount Eisenhower and the Living Desert, no high-rises, just white-washed villas and green lawns – tiled palaces and mosques, with the Sultan’s two yachts bobbing in the harbor.

The current Sultan deposed his father in the 1970s and has used his oil and gas dollars to create a clean attractive capital, which has half the population of Oman.

With the exception of a few old stone forts, the development is all post 1970.

Large roads, cut through the coastal range to allow expansion of the city inland, keeping the port village, small and quaint. Inland the row of car dealerships line up, like Los Angeles, including all the exotic manufacturers.

A planned community with a planned economy, and with total iron fisted control, which results in this kind of eye candy, is almost tempting to endorse.


Seychelles – a place I have longed to visit but it was so far away from anywhere (the closet airport is 7 hours from the east coast of Africa) that I figured it wasn’t in the cards.

Lo and behold it appeared on an African cruise itinerary.

Comprising of 115 islands.  The flora and fauna, the humidity and the turtle doves reminded us of Hawaii.

Mahé is the largest island in the Seychelles  – 60.7 square miles – population is approximately 95,000. and 86% of the country lives on  this island.

The town of Victoria was walking distance from the port.  We soaked in the local life as we sweated like an icy glass of water in the hot sun.

*click on photos to enlarge

The beaches are the draw.  My mission was to get us to Beau Vallon Beach on the other side of the island.

I’m the one with the cheap gene in the family – passed down for generations.  Uncharacteristically Bill decided that a $25 taxi fare to the beach was absurd for the sign said it was only 4K away.

After asking multiple taxi drivers the cost he exclaimed to the last one that we would walk.  The man pointed to the mountain in front of us and said no you won’t.

As Confucius says “Roads were made for journeys not destinations.”

Second option was taking the local bus to the beach.  We managed to jump on a full bus ready to depart the station. Being the last passengers on board the only option was a standing position by the driver.

Bill said “We can stand – it’s only 4 clicks”.

Oh but wait – it was rush hour.  Bumper to bumper traffic that moved slower than a snail. Forget the 4 clicks which was way wrong – the amount of time spent standing with my backpack weighing me down and packed in like sardines had sweat dripping down my face hindering my sight.  Pools of water seeped from every pore.  The fellow passengers wouldn’t make eye contact.  They had to assume I was sick with some disease.

After finally breaking free from the traffic jam our driver went peddle to the metal and climbed the tight mountain curves (with no shoulder) throwing the two of us around like a sack of potatoes.  We white knuckled the bars to keep ourselves upright at the same time giggling like school kids. The rest of the bus remained silent.

Unbelievably, the driver stopped three more times and allowed more passengers to board.  How the bus absorbed them was a mystery.  It just added to the heat.  The open windows offered no relief.

What goes up must come down.  I don’t know if it has harder hanging on going up or down.

All the people at the front of the bus must have known which beach we were heading to because when the driver stopped we were told it was our time to get off.

Phew.  All that excitement for a $1.50!!!

The beach was lovely.  White sand and clear warm water.

Our cruise wasn’t leaving until 4 am and this allowed us to have a beautiful beach-front sunset dinner with cocktails.

By the time dinner was over the busses had stopped operating so we paid $20 for a taxi ride back to the port! HA!

The next day we arrived at La Digue – the 4th largest island – population 2,800 and 3.89 square miles.

Now this is what I saw in photos.  An oasis – where tall mountains are blanketed in tropical green.  Huge rock formations are scattered on the white sand beaches and the Indian Ocean is crystal clear. Coral reefs make beautiful designs below the water’s surface.

It is home to one of the most photographed beaches in the world – Anse Source d’Argent.