Kyrgyzstan 1 – July/August 2014

March 2, 2018

Leaving our scenic camp on Lake Karakul, Tajikistan, we climbed up to the Kyzyl-Art pass at 4,336 meters, (14,226 feet) and crossed into Kyrgyzstan. This friendly country did not require a visa for Swiss nor American citizens, so after a quick look at our camper and a stamp in our passports, we were on the road. By comparison to the countries we had been driving through for the past few months, (Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan), the paved highway to Osh was super. OK, there were a few rock-falls. No big deal. Somewhere near the top of Taldyk Pass, 3,615 meters, (11,860 feet), we stopped to help a Dutch couple who were trying to fix a broken fan belt with duct tape. It was not going to work. About that time a guy came on horseback and insisted that Monika take a short ride. It was snowing (July 30!) so she didn’t get far, but it was a beginning for what we came to realize: Kyrgyzstan is a horse country!

These two friends insisted to have their picture taken and of course, they wanted to see it in the camera.

These two friends insisted to have their picture taken and of course, they wanted to see it in the camera.

Remember, we were following the Silk Road, and aside from silk, gemstones, pottery, and spices, one of the important things that was traded along this historic route were horses. Kyrgyzstan horses were famous and probably led to the successful conquests made by Genghis Khan.

Were these the descendants of the famed ‘celestial horses’ sought after by the Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty (July 30, 157 BC – March 29, 87 BC) in order to reinforce the Chinese army against northern nomadic tribes? Was this the horse breed in the Ferghana valley southwest of today’s Kyrgyzstan and southeast of today’s Uzbekistan, a horse known for sweating blood? Well, that could have been a phenomenon caused by a regional parasite, or, a better story, as Marco Polo told it, Genghis Khan’s warriors often had to ride for days without stopping. On such occasions, the rider would cut the horse’s veins and drink the blood that spurted out. Marco Polo reported, perhaps with some exaggeration, that a horseman could, by nourishing himself on his horse’s blood, “ride quite ten-day marches” without eating any cooked food and without lighting a fire.” Because their milk offered additional sustenance during extended military campaigns, a cavalryman usually preferred a few mares among his mounts. The milk was often fermented to produce kumiss, a potent alcoholic drink liberally consumed by the Mongols. In short, as one commander stated, “If the horse dies, I die; if it lives, I survive.” Well, after a good shot of kumiss or vodka.

I needed a hat so one of the boys loaned me his Ak Kalpak.

I needed a hat so one of the boys loaned me his Ak Kalpak.

As we headed downhill, a manner of speaking, a road sign announced Kyrgyzstan with an elevation of 3,550 meters, (11,646 feet), reminding us that the average elevation of this country is 2,750 meters, (9,022 feet) with the Jengish Chokusu peak towering at 7,439 meters, (24,406 feet). The mountains in the distance said it all. Homes were a mix of yurts and Russian style block houses. Kids waved to us as we passed. Horses on the highway were more of a danger than the herds of fat-tail sheep.

We stopped for the night near a small village and were quickly surrounded by friendly boys, all excited about the strange truck. We had to give them a peek inside. One young boy insisted I needed a hat and loaned me his Ak Kalpak.

One of the things the area is famous for, aside from apricots, are their melons, and roadside stands offer more than we could eat. Crossing the wide valleys gave spectacular campsites. The only foreigners we met on this section were a couple of brave Germans on well-equipped road bikes doing the Silk Road the hard way.

This friendly melon vendor was happy to pose for a picture.

This friendly melon vendor was happy to pose for a picture.

Arriving in Osh there was the usual turmoil of city traffic. Following our trusted GPS and a tip from road friends, we headed toward a bridge that would take us through town. To our shock, and no doubt to others, the road narrowed and led us right into the backside of the local market. By the time we realized that we were driving into a can of worms, it was too late to turn around. Backing up would be a disaster. People were scrambling to get their awnings out of our way and helping us inch through the maze of fruit and hardware stands. Well, it could have been a great video, but as is often the case, we had no time to take pictures. Monika was walking ahead to clear the “land mines” and lift overhead ropes. Oh, and the bridge? It was closed to traffic.

Since Gary had owned a burro when he lived in Mexico as a young boy, he always has a soft spot for these work animals of the world.

Since Gary had owned a burro when he lived in Mexico as a young boy, he always has a soft spot for these work animals of the world.

Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, located in the Ferghana Valley. It is the oldest city in the country (estimated to be more than 3,000 years old). We could have come straight across from Uzbekistan, 5 km away, and bypassed Tajikistan, but that was out of the question. Osh is known for having one of the largest and most crowded outdoor market in Central Asia. It was a major stopping point along the Silk Road and has been named the Great Silk Road Bazar in reference to its historical importance.

No doubt we could have spent days wandering through the Osh bazar, but the clock was ticking. It was the end of July and we had to cross the border into China on August 28—etched in stone. We sped north on good roads toward Bishkek where we found safe but noisy overnight parking at the Togolok Moldo Park. It was close to shops where we could buy a sim card for our cell phone and have the passport photos made that were required for our Chinese visa. (A special size of course. This was China.) We had learned of a can-do visa specialist who assured us a Chinese visa was not a problem. What a relief!! Local busses made it easy to reach another amazing market, interestingly also called the Osh Bazar.

Very fresh chicken and even fresher lamb.

Very fresh chicken and even fresher lamb.

Like all of these sprawling markets, it was a spectacular place to see the local life and culture while shopping for everything from fruit, vegetables, clothing, carpets, cleaning products, bread, flour, seeds, meat, hardware. It didn’t take long to restock our pantry, including some fresh chicken and lamb. We even found a while-you-wait seamstress that sewed a cover for the pad on our third seat which we needed in our truck for our Chinese guide and a sidewalk shoe repair man who was happy to alter the seat belt strap we needed. Monika had fun selecting some silk scarves, unique because wool designs were worked into them. Gary had to buy a coffee cup with a map of the Silk Road on it.

Business taken care of, our Chinese visa would take several days to process, so we headed west to camp on the beautiful Ysyk-Köl lake and to attend the famous Sunday Animal Market in Karakol, the second largest in Central and Western Asia.


Along the Pamir Hwy 2 – Tajikistan # 9 – July 2014

February 17, 2018

Just as we were packing up and getting on the road to Khorog, a young girl and her brother came to invite us to visit their home just across the highway. We really wanted to move on, but how could we refuse? The mother was a delightful lady who insisted we stay for lunch. As we sat in their modest house, her three children gave us some great “I love you Mom” photos. Even grandma welcomed these strangers. The hostess was a talented knitter. Using a unique slip stitch crochet technique, she made beautiful traditional socks for sale. They are called “jurab”.

Our lovely hostess and her daughter in an intimate moment.

Our lovely hostess and her daughter in a tender moment.

Meanwhile, mom stoked the wood-burning stove that appeared to be their only source of heat and cooking. In this treeless land, wood was precious. We had seen one man carrying a load to the village. Fresh whole-wheat pasta was made, rolled and hand cut into noodles. It was cooked in a creamy sauce that was seasoned with goat cheese (we think). It may have been a special dish the way the kids dove into it. With cooking chores done, grandma was back at work spinning wool. Dishes were taken outside to wash. Their only source of water seemed to be a small spring out behind the house.

The experience reminded us that although Tajikistan is one of the poorest countries in Central Asia and the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, (GBAO) is the poorest in the country, these people were happy and generous. Obviously, “poverty” is often in the eyes of the beholder. We gave the kids little stuffed bears named Bertrand, the mascot of Eberspaecher, the company that manufactures our diesel-powered air and coolant heaters. Bertrand brought smiles to everyone.

A short distance down the road we spotted an interesting bridge crossing the roaring Gunt river. Of course, Swiss mountain goat Monika had to walk across and I watched from a safe distance, hoping it was stronger than it looked as it bowed under her weight. Was it really built for people, or maybe just for goats?

Obviously, the kids love their grandma.

Obviously, the kids love their grandma.

As we slowly dropped a little altitude, wide floodplains showed the path of winter storms. One section of the highway had been washed away by spring melt. We had seen very few foreign travelers since we left Uzbekistan, so it was a real treat to meet a Swiss couple in their Mercedes van, (now on their second transmission), two motorcycle adventure riders from Sweden and three Swiss mountain bikers all at once. We all dug our maps out to share information.

The traffic of Khorog was a shock after days on the Wakhan Corridor and the Pamir Highway. We made use of the great market to restock our supplies, including a little fresh yak meat. The internet was welcome at the American Corner and we even found a car wash and convinced the owner that we would rather do it ourselves.

Khorog is the capital of the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region. Situated 2,100 meters, (6,889 ft.), above sea level in the heart of the Pamir Mountains on the border with Afghanistan, it is a beautiful town with a clean river running down the center. Some have called it “the valley of trees” because groves of popular, alder and other deciduous varieties line the streets and walkways. With a population of 28,000, it is the center of the trekking and home-stay tourism, and not the easiest place to get to. Though there is an airport, flights are very dependent to weather coming from the capital of Dushanbe. A 14-hour 4X4 road trip is the alternative.

Swiss mountain goat Monika had to cross this bridge - twice.

Swiss mountain goat Monika had to cross this bridge – twice.

During our visit, and we don’t know why, half the town did not have running water.  Every morning and evening, people were lining up to fill their buckets from faucets along the main street. Sometimes the water was pretty sandy. The locals dressed traditionally but we were just as likely to see girls in California tight jeans and men with the standard baseball cap. Weather permitting, slip-off sandals were the norm. Most homes have a no-shoes tradition. With trucks coming in from China, the selection of cheap everything was interesting. I guess we can see the same collection in Dollar Stores or Walmart back home.

Clean and fully stocked, our last stop was at the gas station to top up all the tanks. At $4.60 a gallon it was a bite, but when you consider the cost of getting it to Khorog, well, it was a seller’s market! We had driven this route just a few days before, but the snowcapped mountains were equally impressive from a new direction. The highway had not changed. After crossing Koitezek Pass and the eastern turn-off for the Wakhan Corridor there were good parts and horrible potholes. In places the asphalt had been pushed up into a six-inch center ridge by the overloaded Chinese trucks. Villages were few, sometimes just a couple of yurts and a repair ramp where vehicles could drive up for an underside inspection.

Majestic scenes were changing at every bend in the road.

Majestic scenes were changing at every bend in the road.

The treeless land had its own stark beauty and finding places to stop for the night was easy. Clear running creeks were great places to refill our water tank, one bucket at a time and wash a few clothes before crossing the border. Some crazy Swiss guys saw our camp and joined us. We are still not sure how they all slept in their little van.

Crossing the Ak-Baytal Pass at 4,655 meters, (15,272 feet), we camped near Karakul Lake and prepared for our crossing into Kyrgyzstan on top of the Kyzyl-Art Pass at 4,336 meters, (14,226 feet). It would be all downhill from the Customs & Immigration post. We still needed to get our Chinese visa in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, over 1,000 miles away.

Along the Pamir Highway 1 – Tajikistan # 8 – July 2014

February 11, 2018

As we left the village of Morgh we had to wonder what would happen to Sheroz. This young boy, mute & deaf, was so intelligent but so handicapped. He knew how to write. What if he could learn brail and sign language? 

As you travel overland through third-world countries, you most likely don’t have hotel reservations and you have no idea which fast-food restaurant you will stop at for a burger. Using our standby motto, (from John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charlie), “We don’t take the trip. The trip takes us”. A lot of that is about feeling, like, this is a good place to camp for tonight. Why? Because it feels right. That’s just how we felt one afternoon in the middle of the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan when we stopped where we did—or maybe it was convenience — or maybe it was something else beyond explanation. Maybe destiny?

The Pamir Highway was finally better so we could enjoy some of the majestic views.

The Pamir Highway was finally better so we could enjoy some of the majestic views.

The Pamir Highway was definitely better now and we could take time from concentrating on the road to marvel at the glacier clad peaks on both sides. As we entered a wide valley we saw the perfect place to have a late lunch on a grassy spot just off the road. No sooner had we stopped that some people from across the highway, (I use the term loosely), came over to see what we were doing. Everyone was very friendly and fascinated by the world map on our truck. It was afternoon and we decided to camp in this idyllic spot. There apparently was a village nearby and it felt safe. The shallow stream in front of our camp widened out, a perfect place to back into and wash off some of the dust from the Wakhan Corridor.

We had just started to wash the truck when this young girl walked into the water, took the brush from my hands and started to help. We were amazed.

We had just started to wash the truck when this young girl walked into the water, took the brush from my hands and started to help. We were amazed.

We had just started the process when one of the young girls who had been studying the map on our truck, walked out into the water, took the brush from my hands and started washing the truck with me. Monika and I looked at each other in amazement. What did this little girl think she was doing? We were total strangers from a strange country in a strange vehicle. We would later learn she was only 11 years old.

We both knew immediately that there was something different about her. She had a look in her eyes that said, “No fear! I can do anything”, “Who are you?” Her angelic smile, full of wonder, was captivating. She wanted to talk to us, but we had no common language and yet, she had found a way to communicate without words. It worked!

Kids are crossing a crude bridge over the side creek.

Kids are crossing a crude bridge over the side creek.

Later we were invited to her family’s home for chai which in this country usually includes more than just tea. We crossed the bridge and wandered up the dirt path. Villagers were bringing the goats back from their daily grazing and some boys were playing soccer in a dirt field. The house of the girl’s family was very simple, an example of the classic style homes we saw throughout the Pamirs.

Monika was presented with a traditional pair of socks fashioned with a hook and not a set of needles.

Monika was presented with a traditional pair of socks fashioned with a hook and not a set of needles.

In case you wondered—I did—the Pamiris profess to the Nizari Ismaili Shia faith. They are followers of His Highness Prince Shah Karim al-Hussaini, Aga Khan IV. More about him later. Ismailis are seen as a reformist sect and more liberal in their interpretations of the Qur’an than other strains of Islam, guided in part by a tradition of tolerance embedded in the injunction of the Quran: There is no compulsion in religion. They have no mosques, minarets nor calls to prayer. Their house is the church. In 2015, His Highness, the Aga Khan IV, made it optional for women to cover their hair in public though many women still wear a beautiful scarf out of tradition, practicality and style.

The oldest sister studying to be a nurse insisted on a photo with Gary. He was flattered.

The oldest sister studying to be a nurse insisted on a photo with Gary. He was flattered.

The inside of their home was clean and tidy with beautiful carpets on the floor and built-in benches along the sides where people sat or slept. Two uncles showed up with a bottle of vodka to accompany the tea and plates of cookies, candies and fresh vegetables that were offered. Mom and the kids all joined in the party. Monika had brought her computer and some non-verbal children’s games and everyone was entertained. In the background the young daughter with the mysterious smile was still absorbing everything and wondering. (We have avoided using her name at this point to protect her security as you will understand later.) The next day we wandered across the highway to watch the father working on a small addition to his garage. His technique was similar to that we had seen in other villages along our way, basically one handful of mud at a time on a framework of sticks and rocks. Sorry, no Home Depot or Lowe’s home improvement centers nearby.

Monika’s laugh was contagious for mom and dad.

We took some family pictures outside the home and made prints with our portable printer back in the truck. (This is a wonderful way to share and repay kindness since country folks seldom have the opportunity for getting a photograph of them or their families.) It was interesting that these people, like in many parts of the world, don’t usually smile for pictures, but we managed to get everyone in the mood. Monika’s laugh is contagious. Now we were no longer strangers. We were connected in a strange way. Yes, it felt good. People are such an important part of overland travel.

There was no escaping the magic of this smile of wonder, of confidence and self-poise, and only 11 years old!

There was no escaping the magic of this smile of wonder, of confidence and self-poise, and only 11 years old!

This young girl had magic in her eyes. Only she, of all her family, wanted to sit in the truck. With a sly look, she seemed to know our hearts had been captured. As we drove away, the spirit of “The Magic Girl of the Pamirs” followed us. We had heard of a wonderful private school in the city of Khorog, three hours away on a road that is often closed by rock falls or snow. And even then, could her poor schooling to-date even allow her to pass the entrance test in math, writing skills, English and Russian? And where could she live for 10 or 11 months of the year so far from her family and friends? There were many problems to solve and we were thinking as we drove. There will be a lot more to this story.


Pamir Mountains – Tajikistan #7 – July 2014

February 1, 2018

The Wakhan Corridor had been an integral part of our dream to drive the Silk Road across Asia, and to this point, it had been nothing less than spectacular. Looking at our maps, the road we were on actually continued along questionable trails all the way to the Chinese border where it would intersect with the Karakorum Highway. It could have been an interesting adventure but we still had no Chinese visa and our mandatory Chinese guide would be waiting for us at the Turugart Pass border in Kyrgyzstan, two countries and 2,600 miles away. We knew we could not be late.

To get any higher we would need an airplane. 4,287 meters, (14,064 feet)

To get any higher we would need an airplane. 4,287 meters, (14,064 feet)

After crossing the Khargush Pass, 4,344m (14,251 ft.), we camped above a pretty lake for the night. We were now in the National Park of Tajikistan, home to over 400 lakes and three of the biggest glaciers in the region along with ten smaller glaciers.

In the morning the dirt road joined the pavement of the Pamir Highway, reported to be even more beautiful than parts of the Wakhan Corridor. It would take us back to Khorog along a route we would need to retrace on our way northeast to Kyrgyzstan. No matter. This was what we came to see.

We were following a track along Yashikul Lake.

We were following a track along Yashikul Lake.

The Roof of the World

In every new country one of the most fascinating elements are the people. We were now getting to know a little more about the Pamiris or Pamirian or Mountain Tajiks. Some live in Afghanistan, China, and Pakistan. The vast majority of Pamiris live in a semi-independent area inside Tajikistan called the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region, (GBAO), in the high valleys of the western Pamirs known as the “Roof of the World” in Persian (Farsi). These mountains are the second highest in the world after the Himalayas with several peaks over 20,000 feet (7,000 meters).

In the treeless valleys, yak dung was saved for cooking and winter fuel.

In the treeless valleys, yak dung was saved for cooking and winter fuel.

Pamiris live close to one another in small remote villages. Perhaps because of the extreme climate, often over 12,000 feet (3,900 meters), and the harshness of life, they seemed to have an openness towards strangers. Few places in the entire former Soviet Union are as remote as this. It was just a feeling.

Hitting the blacktop of the Pamir Highway, the overloaded Chinese trucks that now follow this route had pretty much destroyed parts of the pavement. On a tip from a traveler we had met in Uzbekistan, we turned off on a side road to search for a hot spring. We did find herds of yaks in a beautiful valley. Women from scattered yurts were making fresh yogurt or cheese. The obvious river crossing leading to the hot springs was a little too deep and swift to try alone. It took all of low range 4X4 with our ARB front differential locker engaged and the TruTrac limited slip on the rear to climb back up the 45° ball-bearing slope to the barren top.

The People of the Pamir Mountains

Sheroz and his cousins posed with Gary for a photo.

Sheroz (far right) and his cousins posed with Gary for a photo .

Back on the Pamir highway, heading downhill towards Khorog, we came to the village of Morgh (or Morj) and had just waited for a herd of goats to cross when we were waved down by a young boy who was jumping up and down with excitement and motioning us to stop. OK. The boy insisted we come to his home for chai, (tea). He did not speak a word of English. In fact, he was mute and deaf, yet extremely intelligent and an amazing communicator. We met his family and he proudly showed us a diploma of excellence he had received from a special school he attended in Dushanbe. The boy showed us his swing and we compared kitchens in our camper. His name was Sheroz, a name of another person that would play an important part of our lives during the coming years.

A lady from the village and her granddaughter were visiting Sheroz's grandmother.

A lady from the village and her granddaughter were visiting Sheroz’s grandmother.

At his grandma’s house, we enjoyed hot tea with cookies, bread and fresh yak butter. Her home and that of his aunt were simple, built of rock and mud, but immaculately neat and clean inside. A cousin was working outside making repairs to the mud walls, one handful at a time. Grandma was later busy in the garden cutting grass with a sickle. Firewood was neatly stacked and ready for winter.

As we left, Sheroz was waving and playing with his own handmade two-wheeled “truck”. Into the next valley there was a surprise waiting for us, one that would change our lives forever. There she was, with a knowing look as if she had been waiting for us, like “What took you so long?” “The Magic Girl of the Pamirs”.

The Magic Girl of the Pamirs

Little did we know that we would soon meet “The Magic Girl of the Pamirs”.

Little did we know that we would soon meet “The Magic Girl of the Pamirs”.


Wakhan Corridor – Tajikistan #6 – July 2014

January 6, 2018

Ever since we began planning our adventure along the Silk Road, the Wakhan Corridor had been an intermediate goal. It was part of the route that Marco Polo took on his journey across Central Asia in the 13th century. The Corridor itself was created during the Great Game era (1800’s) by the Russian and British who decided their empires should not have a joint border in order to avoid conflicts, so they created this buffer zone, an artificial finger sticking towards China.

Wakhan Corridor – Afghanistan Border

Wakhan Corridor Tajikistan #5 08While we expected the mostly unpaved route through the Wakhan Corridor could be difficult, it seldom required four-wheel drive. We had previously obtained the special permit required to enter the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.

The attraction of this route along the Afghan border was the beautiful mountains, some of the highest in the world. As we followed the Panj River and the later the Pamir, always along the Afghan border, the mountain ranges around us have been called the “Roof of the World”. On the southern border of the Wakhan Corridor, the Hindu Kush Mountains could be seen in Pakistan.

Passing the occasional village, simple homes were built of rocks and one handful of mud at a time. Patches of potatoes, wheat and other grains were cultivated by hand. People were very busy working in their fields and gardens. We couldn’t resist another half bucket of beautiful apricots at 10 or 20 cents a pound, picked ripe right off the tree. We learned that there are some 160 varieties throughout Central Asia including these delicious high altitude ones. Children, men and women waved as we passed. We sometimes stopped to give the kids balloons or stickers from our sponsors, or buy a handicraft from a lady to help supports the local economy. Our camps were often near a village and occasionally, people would invite us for chai (tea) that we usually politely declined, knowing times were tough and they often serve much more than tea.

Searching for Marco Polo Bighorn Sheep 

A Marco Polo big horn sheep skull offering on a road side shrine.

A Marco Polo Bighorn Sheep skull offering on a road side shrine.

While everyone has a cell phone, (or so it seemed), and many have satellite dishes, none of them have running water and sanitation conditions are very third world. We had hoped to see a few of the endangered Marco Polo Bighorn Sheep but all we saw were marmots in the higher altitudes scurrying around and the occasional shrine with Ibex and Marco Polo sheep horns. One of our maps showed several locations of ancient settlements or fortresses or caravanseries, but we only spotted one well off the road. Did Marco Polo stay there??? Of course, the valleys would be the natural path for trading caravans.

Following the path of Marco Polo

When the broken pavement ended in the Panj Valley outside Langar, the last village of the agricultural area, we switched to low range and 4×4 to negotiate the difficult sections more easily. But in fact, to our surprise, much of the road was quite passable although very bumpy and extremely dusty. Traffic was almost nonexistent and thankfully, the big Chinese trucks were no longer able to follow this route. Small Chinese micro vans and burros seem to be the modes of transportation in the valley. 4×4 SUV’s in the higher, uninhabited altitudes worked better. Goats and sheep occasionally crossed in front of us and we did see a small herd of camels.

Villagers along the roadside were always friendly and excited that we had come all the way from California to see them.

Villagers along the roadside were always friendly and excited that we had come all the way from California to see them.

Even at camps above 13,000 ft. we were still able to enjoy hot water and even a nice shower thanks to the new high altitude compensation kit installed on our Espar D5 Hydronic coolant heater (installed in Istanbul) that feeds our FlatPlate heat exchanger.

As we left the narrowing valley and climbed into the Southern Alichur Range towards Khargush Pass, the scenery was shockingly beautiful despite its lack of vegetation. Where sparkling creeks cascaded down from glacier-clad peaks, grass and small shrubs were growing. Even at this elevation a few flowers survived.

One afternoon we were able to assist a couple with a dead fuel pump. They had been sitting on the side of the road for hours with no vehicle passing. Temperatures were down to 5 °C / 41 °F and evening was approaching quickly. Gary had the wire and connectors needed to jury-rig their fuel pump and after an hour, they were gratefully on their way. They presented us with a fresh loaf of Nan (flat bread) and some curiously tasting mothball size yoghurt/salt balls. They were hard as a rock. Later we learned one needs to suck on these balls and it is supposed to help quench the thirst.

While there is much more to be said about this amazing section of the famous Silk Road, we hope these pictures will give you an impression of our experience. Despite the rumors of border conflicts, we encountered no problems of any kind and even the Afghanis across the river sometimes waved back to us. The biggest surprise of our entire Silk Road/Trans Eurasian Expedition was waiting for us just over the next 14,000 foot pass. We will soon introduce you to “The Magic Girl of the Pamirs”.

We posted a video on our Wakhan Corridor Travels with YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr., reddit and others. When we uploaded the YouTube link into this blog, YouTube added a bunch more videos to watch so we had to delete it for safety reasons.

To find it go to and type: turtle expedition wakhan corridor




Happy New Year 2018

December 31, 2017

May 2018 bring you Happiness, Health and Peace.
Gary and Monika


Ask less – listen more
Consume less – enjoy more
Expect less – receive more
Brood less – trust more
Criticize less – wonder more
Do less – be more
Less me – more you

Impressions from Laos, April 2017

………life in a slower lane……..



Arriving in Khorog – Tajikistan #5 – July 2014

December 29, 2017

From our view on the hillside we watched the big semi tractor-trailers inching along the side of the cliff above the river and wondered how they passed each other. The bridge over the silt-laden Vanj had definitely seen better days, but we figured since these monsters could go over it we could too—like there was a choice? The occasional turnout made it possible to squeeze past the big trucks. Glacial melt from the surrounding peaks fed tributaries to the main river, the Panj.

Check out the center support!

Check out the center support!

Whenever the valley widened we saw more agriculture. Wheat and barley had already been harvested. Bundles of straw and hay were stacked on roofs. Perhaps because of the better soil there was an abundance of wild flowers along the road. The region is famous for their apricots and we were hitting the season at its peak. Young children were selling buckets of ripe fruit on the road side.

The rule for overland travelers in these countries is, “never pass up a water source”. Most homes did not have running water. Often a pipe coming from a spring or a deep well is the communal watering hole. Using a “water thief” adapter we were able to use one of our collapsible hoses to fill up. All of our water, no matter where we get it; river, creek, lake, irrigation ditch or spring; is treated with chlorine and filtered with the dual Everpure system that removes dirt, bacteria and other contaminants and the chlorine, which has killed any remaining cysts and most importantly, viruses. It is the water “purification” system we have used for years.

Tajikistan #4 25

Everyone we encountered was extremely friendly. Guys and men alike always like cool trucks and the girls and women had a smile for the camera. The road was better now so we made good time and arrived in Khorog just before dark to find a parking place near the airport.

The next morning, we headed into town, and by chance, it was Market Day! No question about that when we saw the traffic. As with all of the markets we had been to in the last couple of months, the selection of products was overwhelming. Hardware, dry goods, clothing, vegetables, fruit, meat and everything in-between. The young girl at the tourist office/gift shop had a captivating smile. She had been an exchange student in the US and wanted to study law.

After a busy day of shopping, we retired to a relaxing tea house in the park next to the Gunt river that divides the city. Returning to our truck, a young boy approached us and invited us to his family home for dinner. Payran had learned English at the American Corner, a center, like a library, for young people to meet and practice English. As you will learn soon, the American Corner will play an important role in our visit to Tajikistan and the “Magic Girl of the Pamirs”. We were starting to like this town in the middle of nowhere.


Merry Christmas-Happy Holidays-Happy New Year 2018

December 26, 2017
Christmas 2017


May the Spirit of Christmas bring you Peace,
The Gladness of Christmas bring you Hope,
The Warmth of Christmas grant you Love.
Author Unknown


We are grateful for the Warm Relationships we share with all of you,

Our friends and Family around the World.

Let’s hold hands to promote Peace, Hope and Love!

May you celebrate a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays

And enjoy a Wonderful, Healthy and Happy New Year!

Warm wishes,

Gary and Monika


Christmas 2017



Following the Afghan border – Tajikistan #4 – July 2014

December 18, 2017

After airing down our tires a little we made an early start, not to draw more attention to the Afghan border patrol. Since leaving California our Michelin XZLs had not had even a single leak, but potholes in deteriorating asphalt were bone jarring. Unlike a hole on a dirt road that you can roll through, holes on asphalt have a sharp edge on both sides. Sometimes it felt like dropping into a toilet bowl. Lowering the pressure down to 35psi significantly softens the ride.

Big trucks – narrow roads

Traffic was light but BIG, and there were few turnouts if we happened to meet one of the double tandem Chinese semi-trucks around a narrow blind corner. The river dictated the path along the cliff, and its muddy rapids did not look friendly. Where the canyon widened there were small villages on both sides. Anywhere half flat could be a home or a field. Hand-built rock homes were mixed with third-world adobe houses with straw roofs. Neat fields of wheat and vegetable gardens were the obvious sign of a subsistence life. There were no tractors or mechanical harvesters, and even steep mountain sides were cultivated.

Locals sat in the shade to watch the truck parade.

Locals sat in the shade to watch the truck parade.

Parking areas near villages offered truck drivers a place to rest and do repairs. We saw more than one transmission or differential on the ground, no doubt waiting for parts. Herds of cows on the road were replaced by herds of goats and sheep, perhaps a sign of the increasing altitude. The country is home to some of the highest mountains in the world. Topping out at 24,600 ft., (7,500 m), the average elevation of the country is about 10,455 ft. and 50% is over 9,800 ft., (3,000 m). Glacier-clad peaks glistened in the distance.

By afternoon, we were excited about the amazing scenery but tired of potholes and dust. Wondering what was coming around the next corner, we came upon a major bridge crossing. It had been washed out at least once and looked like it was on its last leg. We pulled off on a side trail and made camp. It was an interesting show, watching the big trucks negotiate the bridge which required a 90% turn at the far side. If the bridge held we were hoping to reach Khorog tomorrow.





Tajikistan #3 – July 2014

November 17, 2017

Following a relaxing two days at beautiful Lake Iskandar, and having survived our exciting drive through the Tunnel of Death, we truly felt we had arrived in the magical country of Tajikistan, the most remote and poorest country in Central Asia, but also one of the most beautiful.

Locals were transporting themselves and their goods on donkeys.

Locals were transporting themselves and their goods on donkeys.

We blitzed Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, after a quick stop at a burger joint with free Wi-Fi. Along the way we had learned from fellow travelers that the road on our Michelin map to Khorog and the Wakhan Corridor was permanently closed but there was an alternate road the Soviets had built in 40 days before their invasion into Afghanistan in 1979. The road was excellent at first and the tunnels looked like they had been built recently by Europeans. But then, after passing Kulyab, when our map showed no more road, it quickly turned to what we had anticipated. The next 40 plus kilometers were horrid. At one point we passed a road construction crew from Turkey. Then the road was partly paved, partly dirt but still very bumpy. There were some security checkpoints along the way.

Road repair was frequent which left open patches waiting to be filled with new tar. When the asphalt ended it was pure dirt and dust. The wandering herds of cattle were easily negotiated but the huge Chinese semi-tractor trailers were a constant concern. Turnouts were few where the road had literally been carved out of the cliff above the river, actually the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. We never knew for sure what was coming around the next bend. In several villages, in particularly tight spots or hair pin corners, locals were hanging out alongside the road amusing themselves while drivers labored to inch by each other.

The dirt track (read major highway) led us high up into the mountains.

The dirt track led us high up into the mountains.

Our first impression of the people was that they looked much more European than those we had met in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan. Though this was a Moslem country, we saw no minarets nor mosques and were never woken up early by the call of prayer by a muezzin. Perhaps there were some in the capital of Dushanbe but we didn’t tarry long enough to visit or hear them.

We had been stopped at the Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO) border to make sure we had the appropriate permits to enter this special area. Except for the big trucks there was very little traffic unless you count locals on their donkeys. Homes were handmade of mud and stone. Carefully stacked piles of cow pies were obviously being saved for winter fuel or fertilizer. Given the lack of trees in the area they were probably used for cooking and heating in the winter. We were surprised to see several large groups of painted beehive boxes, but still no sign of honey sales.

It had been a very long hard day so we started looking for a campsite by early afternoon. We first stopped on a flat place in a village named Zigar but it turned out to be a helicopter pad for the resident military and we were asked to move on. A few miles later we found a little grassy clearing on the edge of the river just off the highway. We were home. Directly across from us was Afghanistan. We were just relaxing outside enjoying the evening light when an Afghan border patrol stopped his motorcycle across the river from our camp. We waved and he waved back but later, he was talking on his radio and then frantically motioned us to move away. We prudently obliged and found a safe place out of view behind some abandoned storage buildings for the night. Later we heard, there had been some fire exchanges across the Panj river in that area. It had only been a couple of months since an uprising ended and the border to Afghanistan was still closed.