My friends call me Juane, I am from Spain and I used to work as a system engineer. However, my feet were so itchy that I quit my job in 2013 and started travelling the world.
This blog is about a motorbike trip from Caceres, my hometown, to Asia. The exact destination is still undecided but I hope to find it by following the direction of sunrise.
Sunrise will guide my travelling soul.
Warning: this post is different from all previous ones.
It is not about what happened but about who was there. It is an introduction to the Pamir Highway Adventure and what kind of people I shared it with. They come from different countries but have many features in common, most importantly their wanderlust and desire to undertake new challenges. And challenges we did find, as you will eventually get to know...
The name of Samarkand still evokes smells of exotic spices and images of camel caravans across the desert but, unfortunately, that is quite far from current reality. Many travelers choose this city as the destination of their long-distance journeys across Asia and I just hope they know that camels and spices are long gone...
Leaving Turkmenistan was a sort of relief... the levels of hospitality there were just amazing but corrupt police and army officers make life very difficult for travelers. Apart from that, I had a four day transit visa and did not really like the idea of overstaying in the country. Across the border from Dashoguz lies Uzbekistan and I was leaving a police state to enter... another police state!
Turkmenistan is shrouded in mystery, as it is one of the least visited countries in the world. North Korea gets a lot more visitors a year, most of them Chinese, and certainly much more media attention. But what do you know about Turkmenistan?
Let's start with the facts: it is a country in Central Asia, part of the former Soviet Union, whose name indicates a Turkic heritage... maybe these are the real Turks and not the ones who live in Turkey?
My friend Ghazal lives in Semnan, a mid-sized Iranian city two hours east of Tehran. After I got my Uzbek tourist visa and applied for the Turkmen transit one at the relevant consulates in Tehran, I continued my trip eastwards. I was looking forward to visiting Ghazal and her family in Semnan because part of the idea of this trip in Asia originated when I met her a couple of years before in Yerevan and we talked about seeing each other again in Iran, so that she can show me her country.
Yazd is a city in the middle of the desert. To be precise, in the middle of two deserts... the Dasht-e Kavir and the Dasht-e Lut. Those are the two biggest deserts in Iran, northeast and southeast in the country, respectively. Nowadays, Yazd is famous for being a very conservative city, where religion plays an important role in people's lives. This is nothing new in the area and not necessarily linked with Islam, since Yazd has been the center of Zoroastrianism for many centuries, way before Mohammad and Christ developed their religious systems.
When I said in my previous post that I would write about Shiraz, it was not totally accurate. The city of Shiraz lacks great sights, in my opinion, and the most remarkable attractions are the shrines of Shah Cheragh, mostly off-limits to non-Muslims, and the mausoleum of Hafez, a great Persian poet that has a national hero status but who did not mean much to me. I focused mainly on eating faloodeh (frozen corn starch noodles with syrup and lime juice, sounds horrible but it is delicious) and would have tried the famous local wine if it had not been totally illegal.
So why do travelers come to Shiraz? The answer is simple: Persepolis.
Is Iran an evil country? Certainly not, despite the efforts of western propaganda.
However, it does have a government that most Iranians do not support, it can be complicated to obtain a visa and travelling in the country has some difficulties, mostly derived from Islamic laws and international sanctions. But anybody who visits Iran will definitely have those stereotypes changed and will mostly remember how nice, welcoming and educated Iranians are, how developed the country is in many aspects and how much history and culture this region contains.
The Armenian trilogy is about to finish, five weeks of travelling and having fun are not easily condensed in a few paragraphs and pictures... but I did my best. Still reality was much better than the tale, as it usually happens. And to be honest, I am a bit pushed to catch up with the current events in my trip since I do not want to finish writing in 2018.
Have you ever heard of Nagorno-Karabakh?
Those who are old enough might remember a war somewhere in the Caucasus, soon after the Soviet Union collapsed. It involved a territory that was part of Azerbaijan SSR and that has a majority of Armenian inhabitants, who saw the collapse as an opportunity to become independent from Azerbaijan and get closer to its neighbor Armenia. It was an important historical event that involved Russia, who supported (and still does) Armenia, and Turkey, who provided military support to Azerbaijan. It was a political but also religious war and visiting that area is key to understanding what is going on in that part of the world...
Sorry for the radio silence!
Blame filtered internet access in Iran that did not let me access my pictures in Google+, a government-sponsored virus that deleted all my pictures from Iran in my memory card (I managed to recover most of them later), a crazy three-day transit in Turkmenistan without any access at all and lately very poor internet connection in Uzbekistan. And yes, I'm already in Uzbekistan but let me ask you to travel back in time and space to one of my favorite countries: Armenia.
Tbilisi is a nice place to rest if you crash at the right spot and we definitely did.
I found the Green House hostel by pure chance, while I was looking for a totally different place. I was a bit lost in the traffic and saw a graffiti-style sign on a metal fence that read 'HOSTEL ->'. I gave it a try and we ended up at this nice little hostel owned by Nana, a very attentive and welcoming Georgian lady.
After my five hours journey from Ushguli to Lentekhi over the Zagaro pass, I realized I was quite exhausted and would not be able to ride my bike for a couple of days. Strong enough reason to continue driving further to Kutaisi and then Tbilisi... at least there would be many things to do in the capital while resting and stretching my sore muscles. I met Natalia again there and, when I had sort of recovered, we decided to spend a couple of days in Kazbegi region.
Svaneti, one of the most inaccessible valleys in the Caucasus.
For centuries, its higher villages used to be the safe where Georgians hid their most valuable religious artifacts to keep them away from Turks, Persians or whoever was invading their country. Nowadays, there is one paved road up to the village of Mestia but that will be just the start of an unforgettable adventure...
Turkey is over and Georgia is ahead of us. A rather significant border crossing with changes in religion (Islam to Christianity), culture (Asian to European), language (Turkish to Georgian), landscapes (highlands to 5000m peaks), food (kebab to khachapuri), drinks (raki to chacha), etc, etc. As a matter of fact, the Caucasus was the former Soviet Union's southern border and Moscow's fingerprints are still visible everywhere in the country.
Mount Ararat is a powerful symbol and a beautiful mountain, which currently lies in Turkish territory but is firmly claimed by Armenians as their homeland. The biggest town in the vicinity is called Dogubayazit and that is where most travelers sleep when visiting the region. I was not an exception and stayed in that dusty border town for a couple of days enjoying the uniqueness of its setting.
East from Urfa is where the real East starts.
East from Urfa means finally leaving the Anatolian plateau and entering the Armenian highlands, far away from Europe, mass tourism and Western influence. This is the most interesting part of Turkey due to the cultural heritage it gathered over the centuries: Kurdish, Armenian, Persian, Syrian, Russian...
Let me introduce Mr. Hasan from Sanliurfa to you. How did I meet this guy?
Well, I was riding my bike into the city, late in the evening, trying to find a certain guesthouse in the old town. At some point, when I was getting very close to it, a guy on a scooter blocked my way and told me to go with him. He said something like 'friend, come, motorbike, house' and of course I ignored him... he stayed there for over a minute telling me to go with him and I started getting angry. I was tired after a very long ride and dying to check in and take a shower.
As promised in my previous entry, my adventures continued around Cappadocia. The main touristic town in the area, Göreme, was invaded by hordes of hot-air balloon riding Asian tourists and there was little left of Turkey in the atmosphere... but once you start walking in any direction outside the urban areas, there is hardly anybody and the landscapes are just amazing.
Still in Western Turkey, famous holiday destination for many Europeans and Asians alike, one of the most visited sights in the area is Pamukkale. Literally translated as 'cotton castle', due to white carbonate minerals left on the hills by the flowing water, this is a place that few people miss on their tours around Turkey. Crowded but still worth the visit, not only for the healing waters but the ancient ruins of an old Roman spa town.
Warning: this will be a short post, just to let you know that I am alive and my trip goes on. And actually to try and catch up with my journey since I am blogging a couple of weeks behind current events... travelling is such a hard work!
... some people commonly referred to as Turks, originating from Central Asia, came to this part of the world and decided to stay for good. Through the centuries, different nations and empires rose and fell, leading to the present Republic of Turkey. But this region is far from being a homogeneous boring place due to its rich history and the variety of peoples who lived and still live here. Greek and Roman civilizations belong to the ancient times but Armenian and Kurdish links are still present. Such a big mess... but isn't Spain a mess as well? Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Castilians, Vasques, Catalonians...
Athena, the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, law, justice, warfare, mathematics, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts and skill. Quite a complete girl, I would say, and all inhabitants of one of the main cities in the ancient world were crazy about her. Nowadays people tend to worship more banal features like big breasts and long legs... are development and evolution a lie?
Crossing the Adriatic sea and arriving in Greece was a change for good. I love Italy but this time I was not lucky: rainy days and empty hostels spoiled my week there. At the same time, I could not meet the kind of people that you would like to keep in touch with later and that makes up a big part of my adventures.
There is a certain amount of cheating in this post because I did not drive straight from France into Italy... I went to Switzerland first and even Germany. But since I consider Switzerland a second home after having lived there for two and a half years, was just visiting friends and did not take a single picture, I decided to skip blogging about the country. Germany is a different story since I just crossed the border and stayed for a couple of hours to buy cheap organic tofu. I swear!
If you guessed from the title of the entry that it has some relationship with France, you are totally right and I have to congratulate you for having an extremely sharp eye for languages. Spain neighbors two countries and since Portugal is in the opposite direction to Asia, I had to drive to France. I heard it is a very exotic place full of nuclear plants, cheese smell and people wearing crocodile logos... but what did I find? Volcanoes! Lots of countryside! And cheese smell, of course.
Finally, this is my new blog!
Thanks to the setup done by Grant from Horizons Unlimited, I will be able to keep my friends in the know of what on Earth is going on with me. And literally where on Earth I happen to be, which can be anywhere from Caceres to the Far East.
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