Mark: Have you done your visa application?
Mark: Have you had your visa photos taken?
Mark: Have you got the reference number for your visa?
Mark: What have you been doing?
Me: I don’t know.
I’ve been rather quiet on the blog. This has been for a number of reasons. Some are technical (I’ve moved to a new web host…blah blah yawn) but also, we’ve slowed our travelling right down.
For the past 3 months I’ve been in countries I’m familiar with (Australia and New Zealand) as well as staying with family. I don’t quite feel I’m ‘travelling’; even though I am. It’s been an odd feeling. Sort of familiar, yet unfamiliar at the same time.
Oh yeah….and this has been happening. A lot.
At the moment, we have the incredible good fortune to be staying in a house that belongs to a member of my extended family. It’s a gorgeous place. It’s in a lovely community. It’s a train ride from the city of Wellington, New Zealand, yet right by the sea. There are amazing sunsets and, allegedly, equally stunning sunrises. Every day I can’t believe our good fortune. It’s inspirational. If I was going to be productive, surely it would happen here. Wouldn’t it? Surely. Surely? I have all the time in the world. Continue reading →
Turkmenistan, particularly the capital Ashgabat, is a very odd place. I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City.
I kept expecting to see Toto pull the curtain back and reveal the former self-endorsed ‘President for Life’ Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov (deceased) pulling levers and gears and bellowing into a megaphone.
He was known by his self-given title ‘Türkmenbaşy’, meaning Leader of Turkmen. Bold.
As vain dictators go, he’s pretty high up the list. There’s an enormous gold statue of him that revolves so it’s always facing the sun.
A picture of it is above. To give you an idea of size, if you click on the photo, the two small sheds you can see at the front? They contain a guard each.
Uzbekistan is one of only two* double land-locked countries in the world. Hands up who knew this? I didn’t until our guide told us. Shame on me. It is surrounded by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan. It became independent from Russia in 1991. We arrived here in May 2014, entering on the overland truck from Turkmenistan, which is one of the strangest countries I think I’ve been to. I’ve written a bit about it here and here, a longer post will follow, soon. We visited the main towns and sights in the two weeks we were here, crossing west to east. These are Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, finishing our time in the lush (yet conflict-prone) Fergana Valley. Crossing west to east meant we did them in this order, and I’m glad we did. Each town/city offered something new and increased in size and complexity and the Fergana Valley gave us a good indication of the changing landscape we were soon to encounter when we entered Kyrgyzstan. Continue reading →
The Uzbeks like their tea sweet. Very sweet. You see hunks of crystallised sugar for sale wherever you go. You see it in huge, tumbling piles in bazaars, or in deep filled boxes in shops.
It seems that by middle age most adults have a set of golden gnashers. It’s not uncommon to see them on younger people too. I think partly it’s the sugar, but it’s also a status symbol. When speaking, I found it hard not to be mesmerised by their golden mouth. When you’re used to seeing white teeth, the gold makes the mouth seem very dark.
Many of the women in Uzbekistan, particularly in Samarkand, wear wonderful, colourful dresses. Sequins and diamanté are stitched into the pattern, it shimmers in the sunlight, dazzling your eyes. I felt very dowdy and underdressed in my quick-dry t-shirt and walking sandals. Not at all feminine.
Some women sport a fetching monobrow. I asked our guide, Bek, about it. It’s Tajik fashion and apparently it’s drawn on, though on some it looked very authentic.
I even saw one on a two year old girl. I’m assuming it was drawn on…but you never know!
This time round, we spent just over two weeks in Malaysia. We needed to kill some time before heading up to Chiang Mai for a month. As you can only get a 30 day visa for Thailand (we can’t be bothered with the hassle and expense of a visa run), and as we want to arrive in Sydney just before Christmas, we needed to get our arrival and departure times right. Continue reading →
Our style of travel seems to be panning out as budget-luxe. Sadly, ‘luxe’ with a lowercase L, not upper! We seem to mix it up quite a bit and our expenses (mainly food) vary wildly from one day to the next.
One day we spent 60p on two, yes TWO, delicious bowls of what I can only describe as a spaghetti Bolognese style soup (tasted much nicer than it sounds, honestly) yet other days we’d spend nearly £10 on coffee and cakes and then dinner on top.
Activities: By our standards we did a fair few activities in Indonesia – a cooking class, spa treatment, and a day out with our own driver in Bali. In Java we did sunrise over Mt. Bromo, and visited Prambanan and Borupudur. These came in at just over £200 between us. Continue reading →
The wonderful roads around Ashgabat soon ran out and we spent many, many hours driving on bumpy, dusty, pot-holed roads. It turned out to be like this for a number of weeks, all the way through Uzbekistan and beyond. We weren’t to experience smooth tarmac for any great length of time until we entered China.
Eight weeks previously I had undergone significant abdominal surgery. I still had a gut full of internal stitches and the bumpy roads for weeks on end caused me significant discomfort. But there was little I could do about it, I was still happy to be there. Bumping along. Day after day, after day. Continue reading →
We set off at midnight from Malang to watch the sun rise over Mount Bromo, an active volcano in East Java. It sits in a ‘sea of sand’ and is part of a national park. The last eruption was in 2011.
There were four of us travelling in (what looked like) a vintage Toyota Jeep. It was good to have some additional company. Since our overland trip ended, we’ve not socialised with other people – travellers or locals – as much as I hoped we would.