Tag Archives: Photographer

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!

The Country of Georgia

Back to Armenia for a second (Bill is chiming in).  We flew over Iran nearly the entire trip from Dubai to Armenia.  I don’t think U.S. carriers do.  Along the way we had a magnificent view of Mt. Ararat.  If you see that speck in Paige’s photo it might be Noah’s Ark.

Now to Georgia – at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia (Caucasus region) bordering the Black Sea, Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

The capital of Tbilisi is yet again a city reminiscent of Europe, conceivably a bit fancier than Yerevan.

*click on photos to enlarge

The city’s name is derived from the Georgian word “tbili,” meaning warm, perhaps a nod to their famous sulfur baths founded in the 5th century.

On the banks of the Kura River which divides the city, cliffs and hills overlook the tall sycamore trees that line the streets. Tiny alleyways are filled with quaint al fresco restaurants uniquely decorated.

Old books are displayed on any flat surface waiting to be purchased by the non-digital reader.

Underground passageways allow people to cross the street safely, avoid inclement weather and shop at the same time.  They’re brilliant!

The food might be our favorite so far – rich, creamy, spicy, garlicky and delicious.  Like French bread is to France – Shoti bread is to Georgia.   Tasty and soft in the middle with crispy edges, moon shaped and made in tandoor ovens.

The dinner crowd steps out late like in Spain but unlike Spain dining is available all day.

Our guide said it’s the world’s oldest makers of wine but the internet and maybe the discovery of the winery in the Armenian cave might challenge that.  However, UNESCO added their ancient and traditional winemaking method, using the Kvevri clay pots (stored in the ground) to their Intangible Cultural Heritage List in 2013.

Left-over grapes are used to make cha-cha, a clear grappa type drink that tastes like gasoline.  Wine and cha-cha are sold everywhere from fancy stores to tiny homemade kiosks.

The under 30 crowd looked like a throw back from Berlin some 30 years ago wearing funky black clothes and Doc Marten’s.

Smoking must be a National pastime as everyone seemed  to have a cigarette dangling off the edge of their lips or pressed between their fingers.

Feral dogs are tagged to show they have been sterilized.  Seems a humane way to address the dog problem.

The tiny walled city of Sighnaghi is a must see.  Reminiscent of Italy with stone terra-cotta roofed buildings dating back to the 17th century lining narrow windy streets.  The Alazani valley and Caucasus mountain views are stunning.  This is a Silk Road stop, with the 4th century Bodbe  Convent (church), walled city and caravansarie overlooking the valley below, the Caucasus mountains and Russia in the distance.

Miscellaneous from Tbilisi and beyond…

Mayotte, Comoros

A French territory located in northern part of the Mozambique Channel in the Indian Ocean. Most people are Muslim, but interestingly…..when independence was offered, the Mayotte trio of the Comoros Islands opted to remain a French possession. Thus French is spoken, the euro is the currency and baguettes are the National starch. Somewhat like the Falklands and Britain.

*click on photos to enlarge

We docked in Grande-Terre (large island) and walked around the main part of town. It is an endless market of mostly homemade, new items from China or used “stuff”.

It’s getting hotter and the humidity is high. Dressing conservatively – knees and elbows covered – make for a sweaty day. I can’t imagine wearing a hijab in this climate.  The good news is that it is lush with green goodness.

After exploring Grande-Terre we hopped on a car ferry to Petite-Terre. We used sign language to purchase our tickets (hoping we were in the correct boat) as English is not spoken.

The mass of beautiful woman dressed in a rainbow of bright colors was eye candy for my camera lens.

On Petite-Terre we walked to a beach area to cool down, relax and sip Pernod and beer.

Maputo, Mozambique

Maputo (sounds like Ma-pu-tu) is the bustling capital city. Previously named Lourenço Marques after a navigator who explored the area in 1544. Upon independence as a Portuguese colony in 1975 it was renamed Maputo. It borders Eswatini and South Africa.

The architecture is a combination of old uninteresting concrete buildings with occasional unique and charming Mediterranean buildings in between – like the creamy middle of an Oreo cookie.

*click to enlarge photos

The city is right next to the port and easy to get to by foot. The streets are lined with jacaranda and flame trees (our favorite from Baja – árbol de fuego).

Armed police were scattered about and security guards stood in doorways which I took as a warning to keep my camera hidden.

The Maputo Central Train station was quiet with only a couple people wandering around. Two passengers napped on a bench engulfed in their luggage. It’s named one of the top 10 most beautiful train stations in the world by Time Magazine and Newsweek.

Outside of the main city center it became lush and hilly. We only took a short ride but it offered a yin to the city center’s yang.


The Kingdom of Eswatini

I ate some humble pie this morning as I face planted it in the hotel lobby. On the phone, and walking with my heavy pack on, I twisted my ankle (which I’m famous for doing ) and was unable to stop the slow motion fall. I heard the workers in the reception area gasp and then come running. There was no hiding.

Since we’ve never driven on the right hand side of the road we hired a driver to take us to Eswatini.  

It was a zigzaggy climb out of Johannesburg. Condos became homes – smaller than the ones upon entry but equally guarded by razor or electrical fencing.

The first stop was to get gas. Everyone left their cars running as the attendant pumped the gas. Fumes filled our lungs and I prayed we wouldn’t explode.

The hills became rich farmland with corn fields as far as the eye could see. It remained constant for a couple hours until we exited the N1 highway for a smaller 2 lane country road. Farmland gave way to man made eucalyptus and pine tree forests for miles on end. 

*click on photos to enlarge (many are life outside the car’s window)

Swaziland was renamed Eswatini (which t he locals have not embraced) in 2018 when the king celebrated the country’s 50th year of independence and his 50th birthday. We’re told he currently has 13 wives and 35 children. He rules the country with ultimate power unlike the British monarchy.

Our driver also told us that in Eswatini a man can not buy farm land (acreage) unless he has a wife. Marinate on that for awhile…

Mbabane is the condensed capital city which rests in the bottom of an old mine. Thankfully we stayed in Lobamba in the Ezulwini Valley where the area is dense with greenery reminiscent of Asia.  Per the hotel’s write up we were tucked beneath Sheba’s Breast Mountain. 

The central and most inhabited areas of Eswatini are surrounded by 360 degrees of mountains and farm land in the Valley.

The next day we toured the high points of Eswatini and visited a homestead where Bill helped Grandma get the chicken ready to become lunch. Fetching water for their home from the tap up the hill tested our strength after being sedentary for the past month.  I was encouraged to carry a pail full of water on my head which is customary.  I barely could lift it with my hands and could only imagine my neck bones crushing under the weight.  If only he had made the suggestion when it was empty!

Upon exiting the country and going back into South Africa the border guard, with a big smile on his face, asked if we smoked ganja. He was serious and then greatly disappointed when we said no. Although illegal in Swaziland it is known to grow the best marijuana in all the region.

It was until 2:00 pm that we started our 9 hour drive to Underberg, South Africa. The roads are riddled with potholes and make driving tenuous. We were in the car 14 hours – arriving in Underberg at 11:00 pm. Our next driver would pick us up in 7 hours…

The Maasai of Tanzania

I teased Amon that I’d forgive him for not finding a rhinoceros (one of the big five) if I could stop somewhere to get a photo of a Maasai woman.

He did much better than that.  He took us to a Maasai village called an Enkang! I had to pay $20.00 for the experience (Bill sat this one out).  The money goes to buy drinkable water.

The Maasai people are a nilotic ethnic group that live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. This village sits about 6,000 feet, and as the photos show the rainy has not yet arrived. 

A finely beaded wide necklace was draped around my neck and a group of women and men serenaded and danced their welcome.  I was then encouraged to join the women as we bobbed our way into their fenced camp.

Two pairs of glasses and a camera around my neck trying to keep up:

Let the jumping competition begin.  The men and women separated, sang and competed in a jumping contest.

WOW!  The music. Dancing. Experiencing another culture. I’m grinning from ear to ear.

After the ceremony I was invited into a home to meet a young family.

Their cow dung homes are called bomas. I had to duck down low to enter and wind through the opening much like the opening of a snail shell.  The first small area is sectioned off for their calf. The sleeping area is a raised bed of dried mud with a cow hide scraped clean of its hair top.  It probably measures 3′ by 4′ feet. Next to that is a tiny area for a child. The raised beds also provide seating. In the middle a small fire on the floor.  The only light comes from a 6″ x 6″ hole in the ceiling above the fire.  There is no electricity and no running water.

Sandals are made of motorcycle tires.