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.

SEMA Show 2017 #2

November 10, 2017

The 2017 SEMA Show has come to its usual dramatic end. For those of you who are automotive fans, it was another extravaganza of everything that rolls and a few things that don’t. The numbers are not in yet, but if the attendance of the 2016 SEMA was 160,000, you can bet this year topped 200,000 when you consider all the people that came in from the street and those who visited SEMA IGNITED on Friday night. We weren’t able to spend too much time at our truck during the day, but conversation was challenging. Being next to the drift track, the sound of full-blown 750-horsepower Cobra 427’s was music to some peoples’ ears, it was deafening as they burned around the asphalt in a cloud of smoke.

Inside the halls things were a little tamer with some of the most beautiful works of automotive engineering you will see anywhere, from lifted trucks to restored classics to hot 4X4s that will never see dirt. We were busy walking the aisles and saying hello to our many sponsors who have participated in the building of our five expedition trucks over the past 45 years. We did take a short break for a test ride in one of those 4X4 go-carts that are now plaguing the backroads of Baja. They are undoubtedly fun, but if we ever meet one of these wanna-be-racers coming over a hill at high speed on one of our favorite two-tracks, we hope there won’t be a loud “SPLAT” with blood running off our windshield.

Mothers sponsored a box of cleaning products for every vehicle entered in the SEMA Show.

Mothers sponsored a box of cleaning products for every vehicle entered in the SEMA Show.

Friday night was sort of the grand finale. All the cars and vehicles inside and all the specialty vehicles outside like our own Turtle V slowly wound their way out of the show and across the street on the official “CRUISE” to the Gold Lot. Bleachers had been set up and what felt like thousands upon thousands of people were lining the streets to watch the millions of dollars’ worth of sheet-metal roll by. The main thoroughfare of Paradise Road was blocked off completely and it was quite a procession to say the least.

Paris by night...Las Vegas style.

Paris by night…Las Vegas style.

Arriving in the Gold Lot for the start of SEMA IGNITED, there were side-by-side drifting competitions, two or three live bands, a few dozen food vendors, and of course, all of the vehicles that had just participated in the “CRUISE” were lined up and parked everywhere for people to walk around and visit and take a closer look. We didn’t get out of the show’s Gold Lot until after 10 o’clock and it was 1 o’clock before we actually went to bed, exhausted but happy that another SEMA Show was behind us. By rough count, we have attended SEMA for 32 years and running.

We decided to take it slower going home and managed to stop in a few places we hadn’t visited in the past. Our favorite camp at the deserted military housing tract just outside of Hawthorn waited for us. We turned down a little side road just to watch the odometer turn over 200,000 miles. As luck would have it, we snuck over Donner Pass on dry roads, just missing the first snowstorm of the year. Let these pictures tell you a little bit of the story in case you missed the 2017 SEMA Show, undoubtedly the largest display of aftermarket automotive products in the world.


SEMA Show 2017 #1

November 3, 2017

Just to give you a break between the Tunnel of Death in Tajikistan and our continued travels along the Silk Road, here is a little current information about the amazing SEMA Show in Las Vegas. This is probably the largest automotive aftermarket parts display in the world and many of our sponsors are here. With over 2,400 exhibitors in four separate halls and numerous large tents and outdoor exhibits, and over 1,500 amazing specialty vehicles including our own expedition truck, The Turtle V, we couldn’t possibly see all of it in four days. In fact, if you walked every aisle in every hall and looked at all displays, you’d cover about 23 miles. Attached are a few pictures just to give you an idea of what’s going on. Our expedition truck, The Turtle V, is on display at the north side of the drifting track in front of the Central and North halls. If you’re in the area, stop by and say “Hi”. We’re usually there early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and yes, we will be at SEMA Ignited in the Gold lot across the street from the convention center tonight. Hope to see you there.

Iskandar Lake & Tunnel of Death, Tajikistan #2 – July 2014

October 20, 2017

Tajikistan! Certainly, this was one of the most magical and beautiful countries along our Silk Road path, literally following in the steps of Marco Polo. We had gotten our visas and our special permit to enter the Gorno-Badakhshan (GBAO) region and the city of Khorog, the entry point for the Wakhan Corridor. This mountainous region surrounded by the Hindukush Range, the Karakoram Range and the Wakhan Range is sometimes called “The Roof of the World”. Bordering China and Afghanistan, most people who visit this part of Central Asia don’t drive their own vehicle. We didn’t have that choice.

With auxiliary driving lights and fog lights aimed low we could anticipate holes and other obstacles like protruding rebar from the sides.

With auxiliary driving lights and fog lights aimed low we could anticipate holes and other obstacles like protruding rebar from the sides.

Not that we were worried about “The Tunnel of Death, otherwise called the Anzob Tunnel, (well, maybe a little bit), but its reputation did give us pause. According to reports, it was a 3-mile, (5,040 m), unvented tube with big deep holes, one-lane in places, (no traffic control), exposed rebar and no lights. Carbon monoxide accumulation had claimed the lives of people delayed in the tunnel. In any case, we needed an excuse to visit the beautiful Iskandar Lake. At 7,201 ft., (2,195 m), its turquoise color comes from its glacial origin in the Gasser Range in the Fann Mountains.

(click on our YouTube video link below!)

The border crossing at Patar was easy and the highway was good, with normal third-world traffic and long lines of overloaded Chinese trucks crawling up the steep grades. Villagers were drying apricots and we even scored a little fresh yak meat from a roadside vender, most likely not USDA inspected. Local kids were fascinated by our truck and the large map on the side of the camper was an easy way to tell them where we came from in the world in relation to where they lived.

The beautiful Iskandar Lake gets its turquoise color from the glacial origin in the Gasser Range in the Fann Mountains.

The beautiful Iskandar Lake gets its turquoise color from the glacial origin in the Gasser Range in the Fann Mountains.

After spending our first night in Tajikistan in the village of Ayni, we soon found the junction leading up to Iskandar Kul (Alexander Lake named after Alexander the Great). Not really knowing what to expect of the quality of Tajikistan’s diesel or the weather at over 7,000 feet, we stopped to add Amsoil Diesel Injection Clean and Diesel Cold Flow. Now leaving the payment, we also aired the tires down to 35psi, which aside from preventing most flats, also smoothes the ride. Winding our way up the canyon walls above the Iskandar Darya (river), the dirt road had some great views and some interesting hairpin corners.

Signing in at the guard station, there were cabins and what looked like campsites, but we continued around the lake and found a perfect place to stop next to a bubbling creek flowing out right of the rocks. The caretaker told us the complex across the road was the president’s retreat but he seldom used it. It was so peaceful we stayed a second night.

This boy spoke English quite well. He told us he was visiting from Dushanbe, the capital.

This boy spoke English quite well. He told us he was visiting from Dushanbe, the capital.

The next morning the “Tunnel of Death” waited for us. We had a plan. We aimed our PIAA auxiliary driving lights really low at a spot about 30 feet in front of the truck. PIAA Extreme White fog lights were aimed to the sides and low. Regular headlights were mostly off to avoid the glare in the dense smoke. Windows closed and AC on recycle. In 4X4-Hi we nosed into the black hole. Diesel smoke billowed out in our faces. We had planned to cross in the morning in the hopes of avoiding some of the truck traffic. It was weird. The tunnel was very dark. The road was pretty bumpy at times. There were a few deep water-filled holes and in places, rebar was sticking out like shards ready to puncture a tire. At one point it was a one-lane road. There were no safety turnouts. There was no ventilation except for one fan in the middle that sounded like an engine off a DC3 warming up for takeoff. All in all, not as bad as we had heard but we both had to be on guard at all times. It was an intense 36 minutes. As we popped out the far side we were met with blinding light and spectacular views of the snowcapped mountains Tajikistan is famous for. We took a deep breath of mountain air and headed for Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan.

Click on The Tunnel of Death video (6 min.) we posted on YouTube!

According to Wikipedia, in 2014 the Iranian government signed an agreement to finish the tunnel they had started in 2006 and it was reopened in late 2015. Guess, we were lucky to get through before it was closed for repairs.


Ferghana Valley, Uzbekistan – 7/2014

September 15, 2017

If you had been herding a string of stinky smelly ornery camels over the desolate nearly impossible high passes of the Pamir Mountains through Tajikistan, or the Qurama Mountains out of Kyrgyzstan, the fertile Ferghana Valley would have been a welcome sight. Silk Road caravans would find ample grazing for their animals across the flood plain of the Syr Darya River that twists its way for nearly 200 miles. This had been the breeding ground for the legendary Dragon Horses, the blood-sweating steeds renowned for their great size and speed. Well, they didn’t actually sweat blood, but the warriors of Genghis Khan are reported to have ridden day and night while making small slits in their horses’ necks to drink their blood.

We had just parked when this young girl, her brother and his friend arrived to welcome us with a bowl of fruit.

Leaving the relatively comfortable air-conditioned environment of the last hotel room we would stay in for months, we left Samarqand and headed northeast towards Jizzakh on M39. Traffic was varied from typical third world style to absurd. Not being too concerned about our camels, finding a place to camp for the night was simply a matter of turning off on a side road, driving over the hill to find a grassy spot. On this particular evening, we were joined by a small herd of fat tail sheep that have always fascinated us.

In places highway construction was obviously underway but we had to wonder about the huge amount of manual labor it took to cover the unfinished roadway with plastic, held down by carefully placed rocks, one rock at a time. This region was famous for its melons and there were plenty of road side stands to tempt us. We had no reason to visit the busy capital of Tashkent, so we stayed to the south on secondary roads.


Hotdog, hamburger, cheeseburger and a coffee, what else do you want?

Keeping an eye on our Auto Meter mechanical gauges we climbed a long series of steep switchbacks out of a deep canyon into the Qurama Mountains and over the Kamchik Pass, 7,441 ft., (2267 m). The pass has long been a strategically important trade route between the Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, bypassing neighboring Tajikistan. Circling back south, we bypassed the city of Qoqand to reach the town of Rishtan, home of the ceramic workshop of the father-and-son team of Rustam and Damir Usmantov. Looking for a quiet place to camp for the night, we saw a large vacant lot behind a small weekend market and store. The gentleman who owned the store assured us there was no problem spending the night. No sooner had we parked that a young girl arrived to welcome us with a bowl of fruit. We ended up taking pictures of her family. It didn’t take long for friends and neighbors to find out. They too showed up with their own welcome gifts so we printed photos for all of them. In the past we had always carried a polaroid camera and but now we carry a small printer in the truck. They were as delighted as we were.


The beauty of these Rishtan ceramics created by the Usmanov family was striking.

The Usmanov family migrated to Rishtan from Russia to add to the region’s rich tradition of pottery. The beauty of the Rishtan ceramics is the ishkor glaze which gives it its brilliant blue-green sheen, bringing alive the colors of the earth and the sky. Of course, we couldn’t resist bringing home a couple samples.

Continuing on a loop, we headed towards the town of Marghilan, famous for its silk factories. Marghilan is one of the most ancient cities of Uzbekistan. It was well known already in antiquity because it produced  the best silk in Central Asia, able to compete in quality and beauty with that of the Chinese. Caravans with Marghilan silk traveled along the Silk Road to Kashgar, Bagdad, the Khorasan region and all the way to Greece.


We were fascinated with the exquisite patterns the weavers at the Yodgorlik” Marghilan Factory produced.

The unique Uzbek Khan-Atlas silk fabric is almost completely handmade. For hundreds of years the Ferghana masters managed to develop their own technique and technology of tie dying thread and weaving it into beautiful cloth, from a cocoon to the finished product, which makes the Marghilan silk one of the best in the world. The “Yodgorlik” Marghilan Factory may be the only one that has preserved a manual method of silk production. During a very educational tour we were able to see the whole silk manufacturing process, ending with tea and a visit to their showroom where visitors can buy various silk fabrics and mixed-silk fabrics.

Spending a little time wandering around the town of Marghilan, we smiled at the long overhanging canopies of grape vines that shaded sidewalks in front of homes. Roadsides were lined with mulberry trees to provided food for the all-important silkworms. More than in any other town we had seen in Uzbekistan, the art of making fresh bread had reached its pinnacle.

This baker was happy to pose with his son.

There were several bakeries in town, each with its own unique design of obi-non, the circular local bread. Right across from the Yodgorlik Marghilan Showroom a friendly baker was just in the process of scooping the wonderfully smelling obi-non out of the hot oven with his long handled pan. He was happy to let us peak into the oven and take photos. With a warm loaf in hand, we walked straight to the truck to enjoy a piece with butter.

Heading back west, we camped near the border crossing into Tajikistan. What we had to fear now was the infamous Tunnel of Death. As one overland traveler had recently posted:

The Tunnel of Death, Tajikistan

Visibility reduced almost to zero thanks to large sections with no lighting. Useless headlights which fail to penetrate the fumes. Carbon monoxide accumulation which has already claimed the lives of people delayed in the tunnel. All vehicles must have windows up and airflow on recycle. Potholes which seriously challenged ex-military trucks in permanent 4WD. Exposed reinforcing bars in the remaining concrete road surface had punctured the tires of 2 trucks whose drivers were changing them in the tunnel. Along the length of a mid-tunnel section there are holes as deep as 1.5 meters which are full of water. No roadworks signs and no traffic controls in this single-lane section or anywhere else.

Sounds like fun huh?





Samarqand Bazaar, Uzbekistan – 7/2014

September 9, 2017

While we had been fascinated by the temples, minarets, mausoleums and madrassahs in Samarkand, back in the 8th century the area that is today’s central market was the center of activity. Merchants from China, India and Iran congregated here to buy and exchange goods. There were craft workshops, trading stalls, warehouses and caravanserais, chai-khanas, (pavilions for drinking tea), and traditional bakeries for the characteristic Samarkand bread, called “obi-non”, a round loaf that looks like the sun’s disk. They are famous for their special taste and originality of their decoration.

Monika was having fun trying on traditional Uzbek hats.

We poked our heads into one of the bakeries. The owner was happy to give us a quick tour, showing us how the bread was kneaded, formed and decorated with sesame and poppy seeds and literally slapped to the walls and ceiling of the round brick oven. He insisted we take a sample. It was still warm when we smeared butter on it back in our camper. Given the outside temperature between 95°F and 105°F, it would’ve never cooled off.

Next to the mosque and mausoleum of Bibi-Khanum, the market today no longer has its old buildings, but it still keeps alive the spirit of the ancient trading culture of this great city. We found dried fruit and nuts, traditional sweets, honey, dairy products and a selection of vegetables that rivals the best supermarkets in California. We even found one shop selling wonderful salami, only beef of course because this is a Muslim country. One lady insisted that Monika needed a traditional wedding hat. Something that was probably not available in the 13th century: Ice cream cones. In these temperatures, you have to eat it fast.