Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Caucasus Mountains: A slideshow

Bullet points

We've ridden another around 700km through Georgia and are now on the Black Sea coast.

In more detail but not much more!

After nine days of riding in Georgia we now find ourselves relaxing at a seaside resort, well kind of relaxing, as much as one can with bass heavy techno pumping loud into the night and neon lights flashing wildly! Our flight to Tbilisi was successful, bikes and us arriving without glitch. The Georgian countryside has been dramatic, we've ridden through lush flat lands covered in grapevines and all manner of crops. We've ridden on roads covered in all manner of cows and of course the effluent they leave behind! Our path has lead us along the most scary and crazy autobahn, which is much narrower than any autobahn should be, where two lanes are used as four. In contrast we've also rolled along a narrow and rocky alpine track with only the occasional small villages and next to no traffic. We climbed up through deep valleys into the Caucasus Mountains in the north of the country into a region called Svaneti. This was a fantastic adventure through a remote and rough mountain region. Our last days dropped us back down onto the plains and out to the Black Sea, a much anticipated occasion. So now it's time for a rest before we head on to Southern Georgia and in about one week we plan to cross the border and enter Armenia. Here's a little taster of the adventures of the last nine days. Enjoy!


ollie_yeoman's Georgia Svaneti region album on Photobucket

Riding on in Georgia

Day one in Georgia we discovered the rack mount on Anna's forks had snapped off. Day two it was repaired by these good chaps spontaneously on the roadside. The appearance of the grinder did have us a little nervous!

Our favourite Georgian cuisine has been Hajapuri, a wonderful fried flat bread filled with strong cheese. Oooohyaya!This guy gave us lots for free. As we were mid-ride we were relieved that despite pouring from a two litre beer bottle he was in fact just serving us chilled waters.

It's official, this is the yummiest food since departing NZ! Hajapuri Ageria. A hot bread boat filled with egg, melted butter and oodles of strong cheese, crispy on the outside, soft on the inner. Culinary perfection. Served only on the Batumi coast of Georgia, sadly. We better savour it!
Atop our high pass (2700m) through Georgia's Svaneti region we met a lovely bunch of Isaeli's on a 4WD journey. Stoked to see this guys cap. We connected!

The georgeous town of Ushguli  and it's distinctive ancient towers. Locals claim Ushguli is the highest village in Europe (if Georgia is classed as Europe?!). In summer an alpine medow, in winter it sits under metres of snow.

After nine days from Tbilisi we reached the Black Sea, our first seaside in over four months. That's a long time for us coastal Kiwis!I must have gotten a little carried away with the sun soaking on the beach and earned myself a sweet new t-shirt!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

30 years: A birthday in Bukhara!

On the 7th of August I counted myself extremely fortunate to celebrate my 30th birthday in Bukhara. For quite some time we had thrown about the question of where we would be to celebrate this auspicious occasion. To be in a desert town with the rich history of Bukhara was simply fantastic.

The day was begun with a mighty breakfast feast, many emails from home (thanks!!) and some fun presents. Best present - at the bazaar Anna had found me a bike horn that literally could be mistaken for the horn of a large truck. Once I've figured out how I'll mount this great mechanism on my handlebars I shall cycle on in safety making my presence obvious to any stray cars.

Another generous present was the cash Mum and Dad deposited into our bank account. Aren't they sooo generous!? Needless to say Uzbeks get VERY quick at counting their great wads of cash.

Feeling the need for something a little novel to help mark the day we set about climbing the local water tower. To our dissappointent we found the access gate securely locked with no way around it. With the help of an enthusiastic dentist on holiday from Tashkent and a couple of US dollars we gained the key from the local Mosque and up we went for a splendid view over Bukhara. Perhaps this might be considered bribery but in Uzbekistan it is a blurry line defining what is bribery and what is payment!

Later in the day we enjoyed spending some time with a bunch of local lads burning off some of their energy. While they did acrobatic acts some workmen continued shovelling away this pile of sand without batting an eyelid.

As the day drew cooler we met friends Lulu and Michal, whom we'd enjoyed the company of several times across Central Asia, and our newest mate Hugh a cylist from Ireland. We found a beaut rooftop restaurant and enjoyed beers and fries and toasted this good life!

View from the rooftop- Bukhara sunset.

We found ourselves another classy restaurant to enjoy our mains. Thanks Mum and Dad for shouting a great meal for us all! The kebabs certainly did not disappoint. And yes, we were surrounded by more dancing water fountains and dazzling fluorescent lights.

Bithday boy, Hugh, Michal and Lulu. Along with Anna what wonderful company to share my 30th when so far from family and kiwi friends. To my surprise Michal and Lulu had arranged this beautiful cake for me. Thanks!! A memorable day filled with such fun and huge amounts of love sent from afar and in the people surrounding me. Cheers!!

Our Life of Leisure in Uzbekistan

The good life at Eric and Tiffany's

Dushanbe: statues and water fountains

Firstly, a big thankyou must be said to Eric and Tiffany for their wonderful hospitality during our time in Dushanbe. With visa challenges and imperfect health their apartment was a haven and their friendship made for many good times during our two weeks there.

The ex-soviet cities that we've visited specialise in huge open spaces, great monuments to old heroes, and an excess of dramatic water fountains, added to by their psycadelic neon lighting after dark.

Preparing for the journey. Any car in Uzbekistan can be your taxi.

On August 1st we finally escaped the clutches of Dushanbe and made our way over the border to Uzbekistan. Our first experience of Uzbek kindness occurred when the locals bumped us from the back of the border queue to the front, saving us literally hours of waiting in 40 degree heat. The border guard proved nice enough despite their fearsome reputation for beauracratic tyranny.

Triumphant arrival in Samarkand, place of much anticipation.

While we like to call ourselves cycle tourists the truth of the last month is that our cycling has consisted of 10km here or there (definitely no longer than that!), moving ourselves from the bus or train station to our next guesthouse. I'm sure we always look impressively epic on arrival or departure though, we also probably look impressively fresh and energetic. Public transport in Uzbekistan sometimes consists of train travel but between smaller towns we've had to resort to strapping bikes on the roof of cars and anxiously hoping they survive the ride intact.

Local artrist. Nice to be able to buy something not mass produced.

Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Bibi-Khanym Mosque

Siob Bazaar. Uzbek bazaars have been much more orderly than those of their Central Asian neighbours.

Samarkand skyline.

Some scenes of Samarkand. Beautiful old Mosques and Medressas, local artwork and fun at the Bazaar. We really enjoyed the relaxed vibe of the city, the fun night life filled with families and our  very hospitable B&B. After two days we caught a train from Samarakand to Bukhara. Again we were happily surprised by how easy this was and how helpful the locals were. Our carriage guard had a feeble attempt at trying to convince us extra money was required for the bikes, she gave in easily however and was then our best mate and very keen to practice her english language with us.

Unloading bikes with our newly befriended carriage guard.

Cameron the Aussie. Enroute from Almaty to Europe.

We bumped into this Aussie guy Cameron enroute. After a while of figuring each other out he and Anna realised they had crossed paths before. Back in January they'd had a conversation in passing as they cycled opposite ways near Nelson! Now seven months later they were staying in the same B&B in Samarkand!

Bukhara backstreets

Arriving in Bukhara we got ourselves totally lost amongst the alleyways of the old town. After eventually stumbling across our accomodation by good luck, we had three fun days exploring the famous sites (more Mosques, Medressas and Mauseleums), ducking around the back streets, wandering the local bazaar, eating big breakfasts and generally living a life of leisure.

This may be the Turki Jandi Mauseleum but we don't know because we were thoroughly lost!

When in Rome. When in Bukhara.

Bukhara's sparkling centrepiece: Kalon Mosque

View of Bukhara from a water tower we climbed. Kalon Mosque and Kalon Minaret. A bit grim to think of all those poor folk in history who have come to their end after being thrown from this 47m high minaret.

Thursday, 1 August 2013


Is this the same man? Look carefully at these two photos. An obvious impostor, or simply a hair cut since the passport was printed in 2004?  

Does adding this piece of evidence change your decision? The identification details are identical to the passport, but the hairstyle matches the more recent photograph supplied. Is this the same man??

If you answered “Yes” to this question, I am thankful for your trust, but I am sorry to inform you that you would not be given a position in the Visa Issuing Office of the Republic of Turkmenistan in Ashgabat. (With what I’ve heard of the recent job cuts in New Zealand, I hope none of you were holding this possibility dear).

With what we had heard of the legendary bureaucratic hoops, quirks and absurdities of the Central Asian nations, we had been mainly quite pleasantly surprised with the success of our travels here so far. But yesterday it happened. We fell on the wrong side of the quirks. The authorities in Ashgabat sent back their response to our Turkmenistan visa application: Denied. The helpful man in the Embassy here in Dushanbe gave us the news, although it stretched his English to the maximum. “Oliver. Problem.” And resorting to mime, he gestured the differing hair lengths. The problem, we gathered, is the hair. Or the current lack of it. “Ashgabat...” he said, and raised his crossed arms in a decisive “X”. It was a no go.

Yes there was cause for disappointment, but not for absolute surprise. After all, this was a country led from 1991 to 2006 by a man who demanded to be always addressed as “Turkmenbashi” (Leader of the Turkmen), who erected giant gold statues of himself in all the cities and plastered buildings with his image, who changed the Constitution so that he could remain President for life and renamed the months of the year after members of his own family. Even though his successor is allegedly more moderate, and has lifted the ban on ballet and car stereos, maybe he does not approve of shaving one’s head? Or of dramatic hairstyle changes of any sort? A person capable of such dramatic changes of appearance must surely pose a threat to the stability of the nation, and even the generous five-day visa granted to most foreign travellers would in this case be much too risky to allow.

I had had high hopes that even a short visit to this mysterious nation would furnish a wealth of fascinating and absurd stories, observations and pictures that we could report to you all. Instead, we are to have only one astounding story to tell, this one. Our one run-in with Quirkmenistan. Brief as it is, it is still enlightening.

Oliver is considering applying to the Human Rights Commission for redress of this discrimination based on (premature) age-related hair loss. Meanwhile we have booked flights from Tashkent Uzbekistan to Tbilisi, Georgia, and will continue our cycling in these fascinating parts of the world as we head through the Caucasus, Iran and Turkey.