(Back to Part 1)
How quickly things change.
I’ve been hesitating about buying that Kyrgyzstan ticket. Buying now locks in a low price, buying later gives me greater certainty and flexibility around travel dates.
Many things aren’t certain in the wake of the just-imposed state of emergency in Turkey, one of the main gateways to Kyrgyzstan. I spent hours on the phone trying to find an open Turkish consulate in Europe: I wanted to make sure travel to and through Turkey hadn’t suddenly become difficult or impossible, or that new paperwork was needed, or travel restrictions imposed. This kind of hitch along the way could land me significantly short of my destination.
Relief! I got the green light. Well, greenish.
“We have not been informed that anything has changed,” a Turkish consular official told me.
Now I don’t mind the unexpected – in hindsight, it’s often the most memorable part of an adventure and plenty of lessons can be learned as a result. I’ve been caught in an attempted coup (Philippines), shot at (Beirut) and lost in the rainforest (Amazon) and in a minefield (Mozambique). I make as few plans as possible and then see what happens, because something usually does. But getting caught up in a state of emergency is pushing adventure a bit beyond my comfort zone.
What about… a potential change in destination? That would fall somewhere between adventure and unexpected, wouldn’t it?
And there I was, busily juggling dates and checking prices, when… Uzbekistan happened.
The two countries are neighbours so during my initial Kyrgyzstan research, Uzbekistan hovered in the background. But two countries in a month seemed excessive for someone who loves slow travel.
Still, you can’t throw words like ‘visit Uzbekistan’ at me and expect silence.
And those two words appeared on my screen today, an unexpected (here we go again) opportunity to go somewhere unplanned.
I could ignore it. Or not.
No, I couldn’t pass this up. The Silk Road has always held magic for me, visions of turquoise mosaics and camel caravans laden with bolts of cloth. More than two millennia ago, the Chinese and Central Asians traveled along it, trading silks and rice for furs and cattle (and slaves). Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan had strong links with the Silk Road and shards of its history are to be found in both.
The two countries would be perfectly complementary.
In Kyrgyzstan I could enjoy the natural beauty and nomadic culture. I could visit ancient walnut forests, walk along (the valleys of) the soaring Tien Shan mountains that border China, stay in a jailoo yurt and (not) try mare’s milk. I could attend the Nomad Games (and undoubtedly be upset by them) and visit the animal bazaar. I could
trek amble around the edge of crispy mountain lakes and take extraordinary photographs with my iPhone 6 because the scenery is so breathtaking I couldn’t possibly mess it up.
In Uzbekistan I could marvel at extraordinary Islamic architecture and experience a fascinating mix of cultures. I could walk through history and enjoy the wonderful carpets and crafts fashioned by women (of course). I could eat shashlik and explore fortresses and ride the trains, my favourite form of transport.
Two weeks in each country…
None of it makes much sense yet. I’m in touch with tourism companies on both sides of the border but communications aren’t always clear and it’s too early for any firm planning. I may end up with something highly structured, or I may land in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, with only my first night reserved.
It’s a gamble. Nothing organized, no plans, and plenty of anticipation. I’m feeling excited, the kind of energy that starts to whirl when a trip is in the offing and I begin coping with the unexpected.
Time to run out and get some guidebooks.