In the footsteps of Ghengis Khan and someone called Boris
Ever since Ghengis Khan and his descendants popped over the hill from Mongolia and killed about 1/5th of the world’s population, people in Central Asia have had a very jaundiced opinion towards visitors. Nothing much has changed. Admittedly, there have been a few invaders since, including the Turks, Greeks and Russians, who have abused the hospitality and one tends to sympathize. But only up to a point. That point is the one I made when I said, “My names not Alexander, Khan or Boris, I’m not freighting armaments nor do I have any intention of taking advantage of too many women (in spite of their expected demands). All I want to do is drive through your dusty neighborhoods while throwing money at those who look friendly and leave well within the time usually required to set up a tyrannical guvmint.”
Planning to travel through Central Asia is problematic enough even if you intend to take an organised tour. Backpacking is pretty tricky and requires plenty of time and a willingness to rough it or spend lots more loot than expected. Driving your own car is just silly – don’t even think about it. I wish someone had given us this good advice a year ago. Fortunately, help is available. Flypaper & I had previously travelled in Russia & Mongolia with the help of Silk Road Adventures (NZ) Ltd - a small specialist travel company in Greymouth New Zealand with a big reputation. Don’t consider talking to anyone else – anywhere. Murray & Pats principal advantage is that they have my Swiss Bank A/c number to pay for this glowing recommendation … NO … that’s not true. (I never give out my Swiss Bank number). The fact is, there are few people in the world as experienced or helpful as Murray & Pat hiding away in Greymouth, New Zealand. All their clients will tell you the same thing. We simply told them where we wanted to go and when. They were extremely diplomatic (unlike the Chinese) in suggesting some better options and never once said “Do you think, at your age, you should consider a Caribbean Cruise”. The time may arise when I talk to them about that oversight.
Most of the ‘stans’ require confirmed hotel bookings before issuing a Visa. I suspect that’s for our own safety and wellbeing – buts it’s not what we set out to do. We wanted to rough it in Yurts and local dos houses and generally prove that we were still able to be tough like 20 year olds. However, while our traveling companions read abundant books about the history of the region and the culture and stuff, Flypaper studied the cuisine (which hasn’t changed much in 2000 years – don’t expect food that will settle in the gut without a struggle), I studied the important stuff. I did an ‘in depth’ study of Cimex lectularius. You probably call them bed bugs at your house. Bedbugs are attracted to their hosts primarily by carbon dioxide, secondarily by warmth, and also by certain chemicals such as those contained in antiperspirants and makeup (I’m safe). Most species feed on humans only when other prey is unavailable. The only sure way to beat them in some of the places we will be staying is (a) don’t breath out, (b) sleep in the refrigerator, (c) sleep with some fresh road kill and (d) rub oneself all over with whisky favoured whipped cream. The team are lucky I‘m on their case.
During the ‘prep’ phase one should consider the potential for trauma and even illness. We delegated the woman to undertake a ‘First Aid’ course and they are now the qualified nurses to be summonsed whenever I’m leaking. They consider themselves a cross between Florence Nightingale, Sister Maria Theresa and my old Auntie who reckoned Epsom Salts sorted out most problems. Not to be outdone or considered to be dragging the chain, I have assumed responsibility for administering the coup de grâce and the last rites. We all must have our responsibilities. Each of us are currently undertaking a long and painful course of multiple injections to guard against the effects of mad dogs, snakes, immoral women, high altitude, bird & swine flue, contaminated water, bad breath, bubonic plague, infections of unknown origin, bowel disruption and bureaucratic corruption. My mate who is a chemist has given me a barrel of stuff called Betadine for everything else. He said to mix it with donkey poo and rub it on the sore bits. I expect to set up a Clinic in most towns most nights and receive the No Bell prize for kindness – not to mention a few Kazakh Tenge and Uzbek Sum which will be invested in a mobile donkey farm to guarantee supply of the raw material.
You can see that this organising stuff is pretty complex … not to mention surprising. Blog 2 covered our China phase. Blog 3 has educated you on the middle bit known as the ‘stans’ (mostly because no-one can spell the whole country names). The next chapter, which I have with some difficulty calculated, will be Blog 4, is all about our vehicles and getting them to the start line. The subsequent blogs will get right on into the traveling bit - some actual experiences and how we escaped.
You can read a lot better blog about our experiences at http://silkspin.travellerspoint.com/
Thats written by our travelling companions in the backup car. They'll be humming along to Classical Music while Flypaper and I will be learning Russian. So far I know "Здравствулте! Борис. Вы терпите от люмбаго?" There's a few early teething problems with the program. I thought I was saying, "Good morning Sir, do you have any more toilet paper?" However, my tutorial suggests that I'm saying, "Hello Boris. Are you suffering from lumbago?"