While in Bishkek, we visited Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Kyrgyzstan bureau where they report and broadcast under the name Radio Azattyk. During our visit, we were asked for an interview regarding our travels, why we are taking this journey, and more specifically our observations thus far of Central Asia. Continue Reading »
Our travels in Kyrgyzstan overlapped with Ramadan this year (13 September – 12 October). For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a month of fasting, reflection and renewal. While the majority of Kyrgyzstan’s Muslims do not appear to strictly adhere to the fasting requirements of the holiday, it still plays an important role in the country’s social and cultural landscape. The timing of our visit there offered us a unique window of insight into Kyrgyz culture…and a few challenging moments of discomfort.
We had just completed a beautiful two day journey on horseback and arrived on the shores of Song Kul Lake. Within 15 minutes of dismounting our horses, our horse trekking guide quickly switched gears. In what appeared to be an honor for him as a newly arrived guest, he was given the task of gutting a goat for the evening feast. Continue Reading »
Though you might think that each day on a journey like this is blessed by beautiful fairy tale scenery, gourmet ethnic food, impeccable accommodation, comfortable transport and the best that humanity has to offer, the reality is often different. We thought it might be interesting to share what a “perfect day” looks and feels like to us.
While waiting to extend our Kyrgyz visa in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan, we opted for a getaway to Manzhyly, a shepherd’s outpost on the southern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul, the second-largest alpine lake in the world. Continue Reading »
Ashgabat has been adorned by many beautiful buildings, which made unique architectural ensemble.
– A quote on the reverse side of an “official” postcard of the main drama theater named after Turkmenbashi.
One part Las Vegas, another part Pyong Yang, Ashgabat springs up out of the middle of nowhere in the Turkmen desert. You wonder how and you wonder why. Continue Reading »
No less idiosyncratic than its architecture, Turkmenistan’s laws are the stuff of laughter and legend. Though locals may plead ignorance or flat out deny that some of these laws ever existed, here’s what we discovered about some of the more notable whacky entries conjured up by the former president, Sapmurat Niyazov (otherwise known as Turkmenbashi, Leader of all Turkmens).
What’s true and what’s Turkmenbashi urban myth? Here’s the scoop based on our peek inside Turkmenistan. Continue Reading »
Before this journey, our experience with the disputed regions in the Caucasus – Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh – amounted to a few news articles and flashpoint body-count news tickers drifting across the bottom of our television screens.
Something bad had happened, people had died, but we never truly appreciated or understood the details. Continue Reading »
Given that Azerbaijani culture and language is Turkic in origin, it’s not surprising that its cuisine also carries a strong Turkish influence. Doner kebabs are so prevalent on Baku’s streets that you’d swear they were Azerbaijani by origin.
One thing is certain though. Azerbaijanis like their meat, with shashlik (barbecue) as the style of choice. One meal took us on the tour of the animal kingdom with seven different types of shashlik Continue Reading »
Lahic was the last of the Caucasus hill villages we visited and it reaffirmed that hill villages often have the most to offer in terms of scenery and real life experiences. They are generally hard to get to and usually involve boarding a Soviet-era school bus that should have been retired 20 years ago.
Winters in these remote villages are difficult – roads get snowed out and access to the rest of the world and its goods is limited. Locals reflect their accumulated years of difficulty with an outwardly rough exterior, but they usually soften quickly upon engagement. Even a “hello” in the local language will bring smiles, invitations for tea (or vodka), and possible induction into the extended family.
While visiting the village of Kish just outside of Shaki, the Azerbaijani long weekend getaway of choice, we struck up a conversation with a newlywed couple – a young dentist and his wife – as they gave us a ride back into town.
“How could you afford a car like this on $30 per month?” Audrey asked, as she sank back into the deep plush seat of his Mercedes sedan. Continue Reading »
Sometimes quotes are the best way to describe a place. Here are a few from our friend, Yahya, about Azerbaijan’s capital Baku.
Posing as Estonians
The influence of Azerbaijan’s current oil boom (its second, the first occurred in the early 1900s) can be felt just about everywhere, not least in the price of accommodation which happens to be geared more towards oil executives with large expense accounts than independent tourists. Based on our research, hotels were out of the question. Baku didn’t seem to have a network of homestay families as in Tbilisi and Yerevan, so we opted for a short-term apartment rental.
“Don’t speak English when the woman comes. I told her you were Estonian. We get a better price this way.”