I haven’t wrote anything in 2 months and I don’t particularly give a fuck
To catch everyone up, after nearly 100 days on the road, a complete circle of the globe, thousands upon thousands of kilometers flown, driven, biked, hiked, floated and boated, and some unforgettable as well as hilarious taxi rides, countless meetings of some of the most amazing people on Earth that I’ll never forget- both of course among locals and other travelers, about 15 stitches in my leg, a wrecked motorbike, many lost possessions, a new-found dislike of mutton and a new love for kicking it with goats, weird scars and weirder tan lines, ….I’m back in Alaska.
Where did I leave off last? Oh yeah, that’s right, I wrote not even half of my adventures in the Pamirs (pinky promise, I’ll finish them up!) before I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and type not even for a second because I was having so much fun.
I really did have grand intentions of writing while I traveled to let everyone know what’s going on… But I didn’t and I’m not really sorry about that. But now that I’m on hour 31 out of 70 traveling home, I’ll give you guys all a brief overview….
Ha! Brief? Yeah right
Country 1: Tajikistan
Of course, I did tell you guys a little of my travels in Tajikistan. I’ve traveled a lot. So much that the more places I go the harder it is for me to actually be impressed. Not that I’ve seen it all and not to downplay certain destinations but the bar has been set incredibly high at this point.
Few places truly amaze me. Tajikistan, you’re one of the few.
I don’t fall in love with too many locations, but Tajikistan, my lust for you is stronger than my relationship with pizza and mangosteen… and no, not them together.
It’s the one place that has rivaled Yemen for me and I’m not sure which is my favorite. Thanks for making me question everything about what I thought I knew. I can’t wait to get back, and yeah, I daydream about you’re Carib-colored lakes and jagged mountains on the reg.
In Tajikistan I solo trekked the Fann Mountains (with the help of the amazing Munira over at ZTDA), fell down the backside of Chimtarga Pass (don’t worry I was only scraped up and ripped my pants) and into a stream which walls were smooth on the inside, so I sorta luged down it), was kinda kidnapped off a busy street and brought into a family’s 6 hour long Eid-al-Qurban feast in Dushanbe, visited the remote Wakhan valley butted up against jaw-dropping views of Afghanistan (yes, I’d love to now visit Afghanistan) and made friends with surely every kid in Langar village, survived the Bam i Dunya aka The Roof of the World or best known as THE Pamir Highway, fired a man in broken RussjikiLish, was introduced to the dish called qurutob, was taken into countless homes in the Pamirs and the Fann Mountains for bread and tea (so much that sometimes I had to say no!), and chased Marco Polo sheep in the remote outpost of Jasty-Gumbez.
Yeah, I’ll be back without a doubt.
Country 2: Kyrgyzstan
I ended my Pamir highway adventure in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. Osh is located in the geographic swirl that is, the Ferghana Valley. Look at a map of where Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan all come together. It looks like someone grabbed the tri-border and gave it a purple nurple.
I mean, what could go wrong? It won’t cause ethnic tension and occasional fighting will it?
Of fucking course, it will. So there sits the Ferghana Valley, purply-pink in all its nurpled glory.
All in all, I didn’t love Osh. It’s a kind of strange place, I didn’t hate it though and under the burning late September sun it’s stifling.
From Osh, I chose to fly to the capital- Bishkek. Turns out the flight and a shared taxi ride between the two cost nearly the same. Although the flight wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns.
I was stampeded by people trying to get on the plane (I just happened to be walking past the check-in counter as they made the first boarding announcement, so naturally I was pushed up past the desk and out the door). WE ALL HAVE TICKETS PEOPLE!
Patiently waiting in an orderly fashion isn’t a thing for patrons of the Osh Airport. It was so bad a flight attendant had to act as a human shield to segment the mob trying to shove itself up the ramp and prevent the ensuing riot from happening in the plane.
I spent a couple of days in Bishkek just kind of aimlessly wandering and checking out Lenin statues and wondering why people put scales (yes like the self-esteem killing on ones you measure your weight on) on the sidewalks, then I took note of the piece of cardboard next to one saying ‘5 som’. I wish I had a photo of one, but I kinda forgot to take one. Oops.
There’s not a whole lot to Bishkek, but with that said- it’s not a bad place. I felt like it was a good place to recover for a few days. From here I traveled on up to Kazakhstan for a few days before returning to Bishkek…. So we’ll return to Kyrgyzstan.
Country 3: Kazakhstan
I wasn’t planning to come here in the first place, only because Kazakhstan is massive. But I had a free week, and given Almaty’s proximity to Bishkek, I made my way up/over there.
For the most part, I explored Almaty. I liked Almaty, it’s a nice city. I also made my way over to Charyn Canyon with some people at my hostel who rented a car.
I had intentions to see some more of the surrounding areas but on the account that I ended up meeting some fun people in the hostel and a couple of crappy weather days I ended up not. I’m not going to lose any sleep over not thoroughly exploring a country that I wasn’t even planning to hit on this trip, but I do plan to set aside the time to properly go see it one day.
Annnnnnd back into Kyrgyzstan
Night one included puking all over myself and into a beer mug in a vodka-beer-shisha fueled blaze of glory at a Bishkek club with a cover that sang Jason DeRulo songs better than Jason DeRulo can himself in the presence of new people that I just met that day.
Anyone that was there on my final night of the overland trip in 2014 will love the irony in the fact that I essentially did the same thing there, i.e.: puked down the front of myself at dinner. I know, I ooze class. I’m allowed to have fun from time to time people.
The rest of my time in Kyrgyzstan included stops in Chong Kemin Valley for some river rafting and a bike ride, Altyn Arashan to hike and sit in some hot springs, spent a couple of nights in Karakol, a quick swim in frigid Issy-Kul, a day trip to Jeti Oguz, a crazy Dungan-style dinner i.e.: the speed-eating dinner Olympics, hiked a strange Utah-esque canyon (fairytale canyon), played with felting in Kochkor, ate some bullshit dumplings (not my words, I thought they were quite good) in a little village perched at the bottom of a stunning valley, and had a debaucherous evening under gale force winds and pouring rain next to an undetermined lake in remote Kyrgyzstan before making a return to Osh for a night before crossing into Uuuuuuzbekistan.
*I’m sure undetermined said lake has a name.
Country 4: Uzbekistan
Whoever told me I was wasting my time in highschool going to punk shows and metal concerts was dead wrong. And clearly, none of them had ever crossed the Fergana Valley border of Dostyk from Kyrgyzstan into Uzbekistan. Mosh pit expertise are most beneficial here.
That is the closest real-life comparison I can think of when describing what that border crossing is like, well until they opened the side gate where the rest of my group crossed through that weren’t in the first few of us fording the way through a sea of humans. Pure unadulterated sweaty hell for the most part. Okay, it was a little fun.
The first night was spent in Fergana City before making way for Tashkent, where I’d spend my 30th birthday, which was actually one of the most fun ones I’ve had and also included the kidnapping of a kitten. Which only later to find out the kitten pretty much lived at our hotel…. of course after our breakfast beers, and smuggling food in to feed him.
From Tashkent, I crossed Uzbekistan and at this point, it’s really just a blur of blue tiles. Lots and lots of blue tiles. Stopping at Uzbekistan’s famous*, if you will, Silk Road city stops- Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva where I saw all those blue tiles, many a mausoleum, encountered the most hilarious taxi ride of my life- really I nearly died laughing and got an inadvertent tour of Samarkand, that acted as a hop on/off tour where we kept picking up locals and dropping them at various locations and then got traded to a new taxi, went to a belly dancing bar, seen so many carpets (and carpets being made) that I think I only want hard floors for the rest of my life, spent the night under the stars at yurt camp between cities, learned about the life of Timur from an amazing Uzbek guide and drank copious amounts of terrible Uzbek wine. I still have a liver-ache.
*This IS Central Asia after all, not many make it to the region, period. Even though Uzbekistan is one of the more visited in the area.
The last of the journey through Uzbekistan happened in the ‘Stan within a ‘Stan- the region of Karakalpakstan. This was bonus time: with Turkmenistan’s fuckery with the LOI and thus preventing my group from entering the country until the 30th of October rather than the 27th.
We spent a couple of nights in the town of Nukus- which Lonely Planet (or known as the ‘Lying Planet’ in Uzbekistan) described as desolate and hopeless. Clearly, their writer has Nukus and Moynaq confused- I didn’t find Nukus to be hopeless and desolate at all, quiet yes, but not hopeless.
Moynaq on the other hand I thought is exactly that. This of course because of the environmental disaster that is the dried-up Aral Sea and the subsequent fleeing of the area. A few of us spent some time out there visiting the ship graveyard which was interesting and well, pretty sad.
Country 5: Turkmenistan
Finally, we crossed into Turkmenistan and traveled its bumpy roads down to the bush camp near Dashoguz. Okay, guys, the roads aren’t THAT bad. Or apparently, anyone I met that had traveled them before me in the region has never felt the wind beneath their tires as they’ve left god’s green Earth after launching off a good ol Alaskan style ice heave*.
It did make our wine drinking that day more eventful with all the holes, dips, and bumps- the Turkmen wine challenge was born… Okay, okay it was actually a horrific bottle of leftover wine from Uzbekistan, but nonetheless, it did take a marginal amount of balance and a steady hand to keep the wine in your glass.
*Some Canadians will understand this one too. I’m sure Russians from the barren north get it as well, but I haven’t been to assess their heaves.
Then finally I got to see what I came to Turkmenistan for, Darvaza- or better known as the door to hell- the accident that keeps on burning. It really was the best way to end my time in Central Asia.
And the strangest of it all is that with the LOI getting messed up it pushed our visit to Darvaza to the 30th of October- which was my Aunt Ronna’s birthday. She used to always laugh with me and say I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, let’s go to hell when we die… It’s where the fun people are gonna be, and it’s warm I hear.
I am an atheist (and no, not one of those buffoons that get all offended when someone mentions religion and God) so I don’t believe that my favorite Aunt is cheersing beers with the fun people in hell basking in the eternal heat, but the odds of me happening to be there on her birthday unplanned is quite the coincidence. And yes, it was warm and the fun people were there on the edge peering down into the fire.
…. I forgot the marshmallows
In the pitch-black around the gas crater, I managed to trip and fall so quickly and so hard that I didn’t even have time to put my hands out. So what happened? Oh, well my Rokinon 14mm lens was on my camera and slammed into the ground.
What I didn’t know until I got home and loaded my photos onto a large screen is that I broke my lens. It wasn’t focusing correctly. And what did I use to take the majority of the photos out there after the fall since I couldn’t tell when looking at the viewfinder? The Rokinon- so most my photos of Darvaza are blurry. I guess this gives me a pretty good excuse to go back.
The next morning we were on our way to Ashgabat- the strange white marble and gold adorned Turkmen capital. People I had met that had been (same peeps that told the tales of a nearly undrivable death highway) really made it out to be weirder than I actually thought it was.
I mean it was by no means a normal city. It felt sterile. Everything is clean and perfect.
The buildings are all actually white marble and adorned with gold- which I thought made it a beautiful city (Confession: I love white and gold together). And there were very few people around (this was also the case in Tashkent).
The parks, monuments, and streets seemed near empty- then again someone did point out that we were exploring the city mid-day when most people are at work. My last day was spent trying to find a new lens for one of my friends I made on the Turkmenistan tour- who actually that same day booked a ticket to Oman to join Dan Flying Solo and me on our upcoming adventure.
I love people that make last-minute decisions on a whim.
Finally, I left Central Asia for Muscat from Ashgabat’s strange billions-upon-billions of dollar bird-shaped airport. Yeah, you read that right- the airport is in the shape of a giant fucking bird. And in case you wondered the outside was…. White and gold.
Let me end my little blurb about Turkmenistan (I will write in-depth about my couple days there later) with this: They have a Ministry of Carpets.
Country 6: Oman
Ok, I’ll just share Dan’s video from Oman here so I can be lazy and not have to describe how beautiful a country it is.
Or you can read Dan’s post, 10 Reasons to Visit Oman. Click it…. you know you want to, and btw his photos are absolutely stunning and dat video doe.
The biggest mistake I made here was not having enough time. Dan, Jeremy, and I packed a lot into 7 days (I was robbed of my extra day due to a debacle with a flight cancellation) but I am most definitely coming back.
So behind the scenes though- I drove us around Oman and probably the wrong way down every one-way street in the northern half of the country.
Of course, Oman was wild and provided some memories that should give me abs of steel from all the laughs.
From a completely obliterated tire to wild beach camps, kicked around in the ocean at night and felt like fairies with glowing phosphorescent plankton washing up on the shore all around us (I’ve seen it numerous times and it will never get old), saw tons of baby turtles, and a massive one digging to lay eggs, spent quality time with goats, swam in the clear teal waters in Wadi Shab and Wadi Bani Khalid, Splashed around in the unreal Bimmah Sink Hole, wandered around numerous a fortress, saw the stunning coastline, stargazed out in the Wahiba Sands, slept in a weird construction yard next to what we think was a goat sacrifice, trekked into Wadi Ghul aka: the Grand Canyon of Arabia and slept right on the edge of said canyon with a view straight out at the Jebel Shams as daylight broke, traveled windy-narrow dirt roads only to stumble across a small village that can only be described as looking like Oman’s very own version of Cinque Terre, and had a propane tank convert itself into a flame thrower and nearly lit the Landcrusier ablaze.
Of course, this all culminated into me and Dan dropping Jermey off at his hotel (he flew out the morning after us) and then proceeding to get so lost in our attempt to get to the airport that I barely made it to my flight.
Country 7: The Philippines
I had intentions of seeing a bit more of the country than I actually did, but of course no plan of action. I ended up flying to El Nido and spending the entirety of the time I had in the country down there.
The town of El Nido isn’t exactly striking itself, you need to get out and away to see all those natural wonders you see popping up on your Instagram feed. Luckily the first night there I met Ivan and Dimple- who may be two of the coolest people I’ve had the chance to come across. They own Ape Tours and if you plan or are planning to visit El Nido, whatever you do, book your boat trips to island-hop with them.
I ended up spending just about every day I was in El Nido with these guys and I had a blast doing it. Ok, so there was the one day I wrecked the motorbike on the way home from Nacpan Beach and the following day that I had to go get stitches, but the next day I was back out. Oh, and they do have an office/restaurant/bar near the Eco Hotel. Dimple makes the best food, just FYI.
Country 8: Palau
My final true stop. Since I was unable to do the dive portion of my PADI cert in the Philippines after the wreck I had intentions to get it done here in Palau.
Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I failed to do it! I found so many things to do there that I just got sidetracked and ran out of time. I swear one day I actually will finish the certificate.
The real highlight for me was the scenic flight over the country. Yeah, it’s a little spendy- $180 for a 40 minute flyover with the door open, but good god damn just do it. If you’ve spent the money, and the time to get out there don’t half-ass it. I did my flight courtesy of Pacific Mission Aviation.
My second favorite was spending my last few days out there on the lovely and nearly deserted Carp Island. The rest of the time I spent in Palau I did some trekking waterfalls, snorkeling, aimless road trips, and the whatnot.
Country 9: Guam
Ok, I know it’s a US territory, but it is half a bazillion miles from the mainland USA and has its own culture. I had 15 hours to kill, but I didn’t do much on account that it was a VERY rainy, stormy day. Oh well…
you have a little update on everything I did and where I went. One day I’ll get around to writing more useful info on these places… But then again I said that about South America (July) and the Caribbean (February), so don’t hold your breath as you will without question, die.
Aside from that, I’m not really sure how I’m going to adapt to going back to real life, and I can’t really picture myself adulting in 3 days. (I’m actually adulting now that I’ve actually posted it. Spoiler alert: It sucks).