The Silk Road 2014

December 26, 2015

Exploring the special places of Western Europe for over a year was wonderful. Of course we couldn’t see all of any one country in a month, but we had picked some of the highlights in Germany, Switzerland, France, Spain, Portugal, Monaco, Italy and Greece. Now as we prepare ourselves for what will be the most exciting part of our Trans-Eurasian Odyssey, following the Silk Road, some might wonder, what’s it all about?

Roads like this crossing the Gobi desert in Mongolia was dedicated on our detailed map as “national highway”.

Roads like this crossing the Altai Gobi in Mongolia was dedicated on our detailed map as “national highway”.

Actually, The Silk Road is not a single path but a huge network of trading routes that historically began in Xian, China and ended fanning throughout Europe, India and North Africa. The route had its beginning in 1000 BC. Later, in the 13th century, Marco Polo traveled from Venice, Italy overland all the way to China and opened the eyes of the Western World with his journal. The name “Seidenstrasse” or “Silk Road” in English was actually coined 600 years later by the German adventurer Ferdinand von Richthofen.

The magic material called Silk along with jade and porcelain came from China while East bound traders brought glass & spices from Europe and North Africa, and heavenly horses from Central Asia. In reality, perhaps the most important function of the Silk Road was the exchange of philosophies, science, technologies, cultures, religions, and unfortunately diseases.

By the 15th century, Portuguese and Brits had established the sea routes to Asia and the importance of the Silk Road faded.

This is not a camel you want to stand in front of.

This is not a camel you want to stand in front of.

The Caravans did not travel all the way from China to Europe and back. More typically, they journeyed short distances from one major trading point to another. The routes they took with caravans of perhaps 100 camels, yaks or horses by necessity had to have various stops where food, water, grazing and safety from bandits could be insured. This was complicated by the geographical roadblocks which included huge inhospitable deserts and high mountain passes often snow bound for more than half the year.

In the deserts, there were established oasis trading centers like legendary Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, Kashgar and Turpan. In-between there were small fortresses called Caravanserais that were safe havens. The Great Wall of China was built in part to protect these important trading routes.

Our goal of the Trans-Eurasian Odyssey was to travel from Cabo da Roca in Portugal, the most western point in the Eurasian landmass all the way to the Pacific Ocean in China. Reaching Istanbul, we will be able to zero in on some of the ancient Silk Road tracks and stop at some of the old Caravanserais.

Some day this girl may be president of Tajikistan if she can get an education.

Some day this girl may be president of Tajikistan if she can get an education.

As you will experience in the coming blogs, the real treasures of overland travel along the Silk Road are the people, their cultures, their foods and the spectacular landscapes. The people, without exception, were friendly, hospitable and genuinely excited and amazed that we had come all the way from California to visit them. Food was as varied as you could expect from country to country and the selection in the market places was sometimes overwhelming. While the various cultures were influenced by religions, mainly Islam, we never felt any resentment or disrespect for our own believes. The roads varied from good paved highways to boring toll roads in China to horrible broken pavement to six-inch wash board and bathtub pot holes, mud, water crossings, and amazing two tracks in-between. In the coming months, we hope we can give you a feeling of what it is like to travel overland through the next twelve countries that many of us, including ourselves have as little knowledge as a young girl in Tajikistan has of United States or Europe. Quick!! Picture the exact location of Kyrgyzstan on the world map. And what the name of its capital? See what I mean? Fasten your seatbelt and keep arms and hands inside the windows.

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