Posts for August, 2013


A hot day in Bishkek, the Obama bar and grill (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Thursday 1st Aug, 2013 (day 120, miles 8751)

It was hot today in Bishkek with the maximum temperature reaching 43°C (that is about 109°F). That temperature, and no business to do, kept us pretty subdued for the day. All we really managed to do was a stroll around the center of the city, watch the local kids play in the many fountains and pools, and a visit by Nina to a local museum. Oh, yes! and re-enforce our appreciation of the wonderful trees that line many innner city streets and the plentiful shady parks that are dotted around the city.

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Visas - Part III (Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Friday 2nd Aug, 2013 (day 121, miles 8751)

There were many moments today when we thoughts that last nights anticipatory celebration (of getting our last visa) was premature. We arrived at the entrance to the Uzbek Embasy about 9:50am well in time for the 10:00am appointment that was made for us with the Uzbek Embassy by Celestial Mountain Tours earlier in the week. As we waited a bit of a crowd assembled and it became clear that the Embassy made 10:00am appointments with a significant number of people. Just after 10:00 a young landy came out onto the steps and in a very quiet voice started reading out names; these were the people who the embassy had recorded as having appointments. You guessed it our names were not on the list. We were not the only ones in this position. Seems like the Uzbekistan Embassy is not very good at keeping lists

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Lake Issyk Kul, saved from the police (Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Saturday 3rd Aug, 2013 (day 122, miles 8904)

We got an early start this morning in order to avoid the the traffic and the police as we headed east out of Bishkek towards famous Lake Issy Kul. The plan largely worked and within 40 minutes from the hotel we were out of the city and on highway A365. We did not entirely avoid the police as we passed a number of radar traps and random stop but today we did not seem to be on anyones menu.

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After effect of something; maybe the corn (Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Sunday 4th Aug, 2013 (day 123, miles 8974)

Today was a bit of a bust. I woke with a moderate tummy upset and headache that persisted all day. I put it down to the corn we bought yesterday from a roadside vendor. It was either simply too much corn (2 large cobs) or maybe the corn spiced with some local micro-organisms; though Nina suffered no bad effects.

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An explorer, torpedoes, and Polish travelers (Issyk Kul, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Monday 5th Aug, 2013 (day 124, miles 9102)

Much to Nina's relief I was back on deck this morning so we set off early for a full day of experiencing the delights and the unexpected of traveling.

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Kyrgys at play in a salt lake (Beside the A367, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Tuesday 6th Aug, 2013 (day 125, miles 9238)

A hair cut and a quick swim in our small lake started the day and then we took our leave from our new Polish friends and were on our way. A little way down the road we passed 3 convoys of Mack trucks carrying fuel and led by Ford F series pickup trucks heading to a local gold mine operated by a Canadian company. At about the same time we passed a complex of walls and buildings that were amazingly decorated. The main wall seemed to have immitation yurts embedded at regular intervals, an eleborate gate and other amazing features. Noone seemed to be at home in the structure and we could not for the life of us work out what it might be.

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Getting closer, other travelers (Kyzyl Suu, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Wednesday 7th Aug, 2013 (day 126, miles 9318)

This morning not long after getting under way we passed through Kyzart Pass (at a modest 2650 meters), a picturesque spot situated among grass covered mountains. At the pass there were some primitive dwellings providing cafe services and a group of young children that greeted us warmly. On the descent we passed many herder camps most of which comprised both yurts and a soviet style caravan (for Aussies) or travel trailer (for our American friends); we even saw a yellow one.

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A bit more altitude (Somewhere on the M41, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Thursday 8th Aug, 2013 (day 127, miles 9408)

We continued for some distance this morning along the Kekemeren Gorge with more spectacular mountain views before emerging into a wide valley with a couple of small villages and wide spread cultivation. Once into the wider valley we could see in the distance the highway M41 (the main Bishkek to Osh road) as it descended from the 3500 meter Too Ashuu Pass. Our route to Osh would take us left/south at the M41 but initially we chose to go North and climb to the pass, partly out of curiousity and partly to start our altitude acclimatization - or at least to see how we would react to some serious altitude.

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Down .. down into the Fergana (Kockkor-Ata, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Friday 9th Aug, 2013 (day 128, miles 9606)

The road continued to climb for a little while this morning before eventually topping out at over 10,500 ft and then we descended, and descended and descended eventually (by the end of the day) getting down to 2,500 ft in the upper end of the Fergana Valley.

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Other overlanders in Osh (Gul'Cha, Kyrgyzstan)

Journal entry for Saturday 10th Aug, 2013 (day 129, miles 9740)

We were up and going early this morning hoping to cover the 135km to the city of Osh by lunch time in order to have sufficient time to do some extensive grocery shopping. The drive this morning continued like yesterday afternoon. Cultivated fields everywhere, people selling all kinds of vegetables and fruits at roadside stalls. In many of the stalls people were still in bed as we passed; thats right they actually had beds in the stalls and we saw people still asleep in some of them.

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Mountains, here we come (Near Tajik Border, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Sunday 11th Aug, 2013 (day 130, miles 9846)

Today was a big day for we crossed the border from The Kyrgyz Republic into the high mountains of eastern and southern Tajikistan and started along the famous and maybe even legendary Pamir Highway. This next section of our trip to Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan) has been both alluring and forbidding since our first tentative thoughts about this trip. And today we are there, it is no longer somewhere in the future.

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Our highest point (Before Murghab, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Monday 12th Aug, 2013 (day 131, miles 9949)

Today we crossed what we believe will be our highest point on this years journey, Ak-Baital Pass at 4655 meters (15,272 feet). But equally we spent almost the entire day traveling at over 4000 meters (13,125 ft). Only at the end of the day as we neared the town of Murghab did our GPS register an elevation below 4000 m. Todays scenery was stark and spectacular. For most of our way the road ran through one river valley or another. Typically the valleys were very wide and filled with grey gravel, and surrounded by barren mountains of many colors, and then the bigger mountains topped off with snow and glaciers. The road was a mix of old pavement and stretches of gravel, but really surprisingly good considering where we were. Though like yesterday there were periodic signs that nature was fighting back and from time to time we encountered road sections that had washed away or were being eaten away by river flow. There were also signs of recent road works so we guessed some effort is made to keep this road open.

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Camping Tajikistan

Posted Monday 12th Aug, 2013

In much of Tajikistan camping was no problem, just pull off the road. However some parts of the Wakhan were a little difficult because of the narrow roads and frequent villages. On more than one occasion we packed on the edge of a small village.

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A visit to Murgab (Yashil kul, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Tuesday 13th Aug, 2013 (day 132, miles 10044)

We started the day with a visit to the town of Murgab (Mughab?, Mugharb?) just 20 km down the road from last nights camping spot. This is another of those names that is famous along the Pamir Highway but about which it seems difficult to get good information. So it was with some relief that we discovered we could change US Dollars to the local Somanis and buy fuel at one of three gas stations (only diesel and 80 octane petrol).

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A day at Yashilkul (Wakhan Road, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Wednesday 14th Aug, 2013 (day 133, miles 10090)

We spent most of today exploring the road out to, and beside, Lake Yashilkul. The gravel road that ran along the southern side of the lake gave good views and some interesting driving. Much of the day was overcast so we also spent a good deal of time simply sitting looking at the lake waiting for the sun to come out to provide better photo ops. It did sort-of.

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The Wakhan Valley Road - Day 1 (Zong, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Thursday 15th Aug, 2013 (day 134, miles 10158)

From our campsite near the junction with the Pamir Highway our route followed a heavliy washboarded road up a narrow valley, past a couple of very pretty lakes to Khargush Pass at 4255 meters before descending to the town of Khargush, a military checkpoint and the Parmir River and across the river - Afghanistan.

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Wakhan Valley Road -Day 2 (Ishkashim, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Friday 16th Aug, 2013 (day 135, miles 10223)

The title for todays entry is a bit boring but it keeps to yesterdays naming convention. I could have called todays post something like "Panj River Villages" because we seemed to spend the entire day passing through the most amazing quaint, picturesque villages. Any patch of even approximately flat ground along the southern side of the Panj River has been turned into a village and each village has extensive fields of grain, potatoes and apricot trees. The villages themselves have generally only one main street that is always lined with hugh amazing trees that often arch over the road to form a green tunnel. The houses are made from white washed mud-brick and surrounded by stone fences.The only time villages and cultivation ceases is when the river bank merges into a steep escarpment and there is no flat land.

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Afghan market (Ishkashim, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Saturday 17th Aug, 2013 (day 135, miles 10223)

We spent today in Ishkashim and went to the Afghan market. The market is held on an island in the Panj River about 5 kilometers west of Ishkashim. The island is part of the no mans land between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. To get to it tourists like us leave our passports at the Tajik end of a substantial steel bridge and cross part of the river to the island. The market area itself is simply a flat area of river stones, surrounded by a fence. There are three covered areas in the market, one used by traders for their goods, another used as a "food court" area and another one that we never did get to see inside of.

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Wakhan Valley - Day 3 (Khorog, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Sunday 18th Aug, 2013 (day 137, miles 10223)

After leaving Hanis guest house and Vali its friendly and helpful manager we set out down the Panj River valley towards Khorog. The scenery today was a bit like a combination of the previous two days driving. The Panj River valley narrowed and steepened and instead of a wide valley floor and a meandering river we had a narrow gorge (sometimes less than 100 meters wide), a raging river and steep valley sides with the road often cut into those steep sides as a shelf. Interestingly though even in this much steeper country the locals had managed to find patches of soil that could be cultivated and turned into house compounds or small villages. With the river much narrower we got some closer views of people and farms on the Afghan side.

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A pleasant meeting (Gunt River, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Monday 19th Aug, 2013 (day 138, miles 10223)

We had the usual chores to do today, get money, get groceries and try and buy a SIM card for my phone. So after breakfast and the usual morning crap we walked down the hill into the main part of the town. Our initial efforts to get some money were unsucessul as the ATM we tried swallowed our card, but thankfully a bank official was able to retrieve it for us - the problem, contrary to the signs on the ATM the machine only accepted Visa cards and we had tried a master card. Groceries also proved difficult as in this part of the world there are no large super markets and the local stores that sell grocery items are simply buildings with a normal domestic front door, so we wandered around asking directions from anyone that looked handy. We eventually got a limited supply.

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The Gunt River Valley (Wakhan Road, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Tuesday 20th Aug, 2013 (day 139, miles 10406)

It was overcast this morning and throughout the day we had periods of light rain, so it was hardly the ideal day to try and see the supposedly spectacular peaks that stand each side of the Gunt river valley. But regardless of the weather the first part of the day was a pleasant drive, on reasonably good road, through a spectacular steep sided valley. We passed through many villages and like those of previous days, harvest was in full swing with people working in the fields, piles of cut grain sheaves in evidence and people and donkeys carrying cut hay.

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Back again (Gunt river, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Wednesday 21st Aug, 2013 (day 140, miles 10491)

It is interesting how perception works. Returning over the section of bad road this morning it did not seem as long as it did yesterday afternoon. Also as the morning progressed the weather improved so that by the time we were descending from Koy-Tezek pass the clouds were breaking up and some blue sky and sun were shining through.

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An outfit for Nina (Khorog, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Thursday 22nd Aug, 2013 (day 141, miles 10529)

We had made arrangements to meet a young lady named Mehrafruz in Khorog today, so after a relaxed start to the day in beautiful sunshine we covered the last few kilometers into Khorog and parked in the main street. Along the way we passed, and were passed by, a car decked out for a wedding - in the photos below note the wedding car getting gas from a roadside vendor.

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Amazing road (M41, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Friday 23rd Aug, 2013 (day 142, miles 10618)

We were a bit slow getting underway this morning as we had to wait until our fellow campers moved their vehicles out of the way before we could manouver our monster out of the tight parking place.

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The road - again (Kalaikhum, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Saturday 24th Aug, 2013 (day 143, miles 10689)

Today was about the road, views of people and activity on the Afghan side of the border and other travelers. But before getting underway this morning we had a number of curious truckers who wanted to know who we were, what we were doing and about the truck, of course.

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Good road finally (Kalaikhum, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Sunday 25th Aug, 2013 (day 144, miles 10851)

We got an early start this morning, after saying goodbye to our Swiss friends. We were on the road by 7:00am. According to our map we would follow the Panj River for another 100 km and then finaly head away from the river cross country towards Dushanbe. It is hard to believe that we have been following this same river (except for our side trip up the Gunt) since the town of Langar and our first day on the Wakhan. In other words we have driven beside the Panj river for 4 1/2 days, and to give some indication of the state of the road we have averaged less than 20 km/h on each of those days.

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What luck (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Monday 26th Aug, 2013 (day 145, miles 10902)

The highlight of today has to be how we managed to find a hotel, and parking for the truck, in Dushanbe. Our plan was to find the Sheraton Hotel as our base in Dushanbe, and on paper this looked easy. It was marked on our GPS map and was mentioned in the LonelyPlanet. So we go underway at a good time from last nights camping spot, and successfully jousted with the crazy traffic all the way into Dushanbe confident that we had a place to stay - the only issue would be (we thought) the price. And indeed we managed to get to the right place andpark right across the street from the hotel - BUT it was still (and is still) under construction. No guests yet - and it seems not for a while.

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Oil change (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Tuesday 27th Aug, 2013 (day 146, miles 10902)

So the main task for today was to get the truck an oil change (and replace oil and fuel filters). This exercise did not get off to a very promising start as the local company that is supposed to be the local Mercedes dealer (as told to me by an official list of Mercedes/Unimog dealers) only sells and services VWs. the fall back strategy devised by the hotel manager (and yesterdays taxi driver) was in turn, go to a friend of the managers to have the oil changed, which quickly transformed into

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Markets (Dushanbe, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Wednesday 28th Aug, 2013 (day 147, miles 10902)

A much less active day. It seems that Dushanbe has a number of "specialist" bazzars or markets and today we decided to visit the "clothes" bazzar and the "car parts" bazzar (the one where we got the oil yesterday). The clothes bazzar turned out to be a huge complex of narrow covered walkways. Also it was not exclusively clothes and we managed to buy a hand powered egg beater (Nina wants to make a soufle), and some coat hangers.

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The Anzob Tunnel (Yanghnob River, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Thursday 29th Aug, 2013 (day 148, miles 10972)

This morning it felt like we were starting a new chapter of this trip. The mountains of Tajikistan are (almost) all behind us, and we are headed into the heat, lowlands, and bureaucracy of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran. Once we enter Uzbekistan our days of relaxed travel and pulling off to camp whereever we feel like it will be over, at least and maybe until Iran. As in Both Uzbekstan and Turmenistan we have to nominate where we will be almost every night and in most cases have to have a hotel booked.

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More river canyons (Urmetan, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Friday 30th Aug, 2013 (day 149, miles 11019)

Our route North this morning along the M34 was more spectacular canyon, and thankfully good road. We noticed electrical transmission towers situated high up on the steep walls of the valley and we spent some time discussing how they would have been erected.

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Another tunnel (Shahriston, Tajikistan)

Journal entry for Saturday 31st Aug, 2013 (day 150, miles 11053)

On our way back to the main road this morning we stopped a couple of times to buy supplies from the small villages and to "chat" with the locals. The return journey was slow due to the rough road but again it is interesting that miles and time seem to pass more quickly when the road is familiar.

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