Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Five Stans - she's done it!

Posted by Hippo Bean at 11:49 PM
It was unusual and very nice of the Ak Keme hotel to provide us breakfast at 4am. But I still could only have bread and tea. This tummy bug just wont leave me alone. Jonathan was there to see us off. He's the best tour leader I've had. Although Janko from Patagonia was excellent too. At the Manas airport, a guard with a riffle stood in front of the terminal entrance and checked every one before allowing them to enter. One more time going through metal detector and x-raying our luggage. At the passport control again another round of metal detector and x-ray. Then one more time before entering the gate. The Hippo must be emitting radiation by now. The monitors at the waiting area didnt display any info. There was no gate number on the gate. In fact it seemed there was only 1 gate. Then someone got up from his seat and approached the counter and suddenly everyone jammed the gate and boarding commenced. Back at SVO, we had 4 hours layover. Memories came back as we've all been there before. I walked the entire terminal F and D to kill time and to see it since I didnt spent much time there during the first time. Others were pretty sick of it because they've spent 10 hours there on their way to start the trip. We all ate the TGIF, the only American joint and the only place that accepted US dollars. When I ordered french fries, the perrrky Russian girl asked me in perfect English what sauce I wanted. Huh? It took a few seconds for me to realize what she meant. Ketchup of course. Everything tasted very authentic TGIF! The 10 hrs to JFK was this time without rowdy babies. I had the same seat as on the flight coming over. A couple sat between me and Mike on the front row. Sylvia was on the right and Judy and Karel on the left. So this time I had people to chat with. I even saw X-Men First Class again. The food again wasnt bad and I was finally able to nibble something. JFK was rainy and we had to wait at the tarmak for half an hour for an available gate. I only had a little over an hour to go through passport control and get my luggage and then custom and race to the Delta terminal. My luggage turned up and I was pleased that through all the flights it didnt get lost. It was raining when I stepped out of terminal 2 and ran to the Delta terminal. By the time I reached my gate, it was already boarding. I was totally knackered being up for over 24 hours now. The final flight home was totally uncomfortable. Couldnt read, couldnt sleep. So very freaking tired of flying by now. Should have stayed overnight at NYC and have dinner with the Goose or something. Finally during the last 10 minutes of the flight, I played the onboard trivia and noticed this person on seat 22F who kept winning. Not matter how fast I entered my answer, he got it correctly first. I've looked around but could not see 22F. Ah well. Then familiar lights appeared below, the San Mateo bridge, cars on 101. And this meant home!


It took many months of planning, many weeks worrying, hassle to get all the visas, a long tiresome journey to get there, long layovers, through roomie problems, tour leader switching, long waits at the border crossings, too many internal flights, hotel room fixtures that didnt work, tummy aches, but at the end, all was worth it, for the sights I've been seen wow'd me beyond my expectations, and travel companions that had character and energy, some annoyed me to the point of laughter, others so sweet it made me believe there's still hope in humanity. The border crossings, the soviet style hotels, an educational experience.

Each Stan has its own peculiar character, history, and speciality and yet the culture is not that much different, having similar costumes, food and music. Uzbek had the most Silk Road cities. Turmen had the most beautiful traditonal costumes and hats. Tajis people are the most beautiful looking. Kazak had stunning mountains. And Kyrgyz had the most serene lake resort. What appeared at first to be strange because of their geographical boundaries, it had a reason. Stalin drew the lines for his own reasons. Wanted to punish the Tajis, he gave Bukhara and Samarkand to the Uzbek causing a whole bunch of Tajis to trap in a different country. Thus the result was, like says:

Border Bemusement: Turn your brain into scrambled eggs by pondering this...

In the Fergana Valley, the borders of Central Asian nations are the most confusing in the world.

Parts of Tajikistan are north, south, east and west of Kyrgyzstan
Parts of Tajikistan are north, south, east and west of Uzbekistan
Parts of Uzbekistan are north, south, east and west of Tajikistan
Parts of Uzbekistan are north, south, east and west of Kyrgyzstan
Parts of Kyrgyzstan are north, south, east and west of Uzbekistan
Parts of Kyrgyzstan are north, south, east and west of Tajikistan

If you go, don't forget your multiple-entry visas and a good compass -- or better yet, Ferganaboutit!

This was probably one of the best trips I've ever taken. The Persian Islamic architecture was a wonder I didnt expect. The camaradies of the group was great. There was energy in the group and we got along and bonded quite well. We had a few characters in the group which actually made the trip interesting, unforgetable and fun. I remember each one of them well. The variety of sites was superb. Refreshing historic Islamic architecture mingled with new soviet block apartments, gorgeous ceramics with competing designs, and then sublime mountains. The food was good, the soups I just couldnt get enough of.

So the travel bug is still on and next the Caucasus, to finish the last leg of the Silk Road!



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