Adventures: winter/spring 2019
Whew, it’s been a wild winter-spring. Our main season is yet to start, but we had two amazing tours of Kyrgyzstan, one of Bulgaria during the winter mummers, and one of Uzbekistan.
We travelled extensively across Armenia and Georgia, Siberia twice - all the way to Kamchatka and Sakhalin island - and around Uzbekistan. We saw spring quite a few times: in Uzbekistan first, early March, then again in Kyrgyzstan in later March, a third time in Armenia in mid April, and a fourth time in Bulgaria in late April. Every time we saw spring, with all the trees in blossom, flowers and birds, the next day we went back to winter, with all the blizzards and freezing cold. It has been a long winter-spring!
In the summer we are to explore Mongolia and Romania, have another quick dash to Armenia, and have a look at the insular North Caucasus - with Kabardino-Balkaria, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Chechnya and Dagestan on our radar. We will report on this journey in our next letter :-)
First of all I can’t tell you how amazed I am by Armenia. I think the country is as fascinating as Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan, combined. There is everything there: friendly people, stunning old villages, ruins of old civilisations, amazing food, great lodgings and glorious nature everywhere around. I think Armenia will be our third home in the years to come. The first one is, of course, Bulgaria, and the second one is Kyrgyzstan where we just established a company and have plans to develop and expand.
By the way, we have our first formal tour of Armenia in September, 14-24. So far seven have signed up, and we still three to four spots empty. It will be a terrific tour, including experiences like meeting the Nagorno Karabakh women responsible for removing landmines from their land, a concert inside a large, abandoned 164 foot Soviet telescope, and more. No one has done an Armenia tour quite like this one. If you get this letter, we really, really believe you would be interested in this tour.
We also have four spots on our Tajikistan-Pamir Highway adventure, starting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s green capital on Aug 27, and ending in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on Sep 4. It’s quick, exciting tour along thousands of years of history, and some of the world’s highest, most glorious mountains. We are travelling during harvest, and there will be fields of apricots, figs and pomegranates. Join us if you are curious how locals make walnut oil and pikht, mulberry flour.
By the way, I was so amazed by Armenia that I forgot to mention Siberia. We will have a tour to the north of Lake Baikal and the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) at some point next winter or the winter after. I really want to do it in February 2020, but Armenia took all my mind away, and I haven’t been thinking about Siberia since, although I should.
I went to Siberia twice this year - once in the height of winter, January, and once at the end of winter, in April. You may be wondering why winter, why not summer? Well, I am not too fond of summer in Siberia. There are way too many annoying insects, including clouds of mosquitoes and ticks, and travel can be a challenge. Think fording rivers and going through thick mud. Winter’s cold, but clothes, vehicles and houses are warm, and the famous Russian zimniks, or ice roads, make travel possible to even the farthest settlements. Plus, I find fascinating how local people adapt to the most inhuman living conditions on the planet. And not least, lake Baikal’s ice is stunningly beautiful. And the north of Baikal is truly pretty, surrounded by mountains on all sides. While the south has been overrun by tourists, mainly from China, the north is still wild and remote. And it has so many interesting, welcoming people! Many of them came as volunteers during the 1980s, when the Soviets were building the Baikal-Amur Railway. Construction brought unusual, wacky young people who were not particularly pleased with their life elsewhere. Many of them stayed.
We are already looking forward to an interesting 2020, with great tours to Kyrgyzstan for Nawruz (the Persian New Year, late March), Bulgaria for the Orthodox Easter (in April) and the Koprivshtitisa Music Festival (in August). We also have a super interesting Uzbekistan tour in the spring. On this one we explore everything from Nukus and the Aral Sea in Karakalpakstan, to Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent: Aral Sea’s last fishermen, ruined Zoroastrian forts, old avant-garde art, shabby pontoon bridges, fascinating Japanese, Russian and Kazakh graveyards in the Kyzyl Kum desert, forgotten shrines, and roads less travelled in an otherwise booming tourist land. Yes, we do visit Samarkand and Bukhara’s big sights, but the focus is more on places and sights we will be the first to visit.
Where are your travels taking you this and next year?
And some last good news from our office: Dinara Kanybek kyzy is now working for us, full time, from Bishkek, and from elsewhere, too.
She’s an economist by education. She was new to tourism, but was not new to travelling and appreciating the world and its oddities and curiosities. She’s got a big heart and an eye for things creative and unusual. She’s really the motor behind much of what’s happening in Central Asia. She was also the motor behind our last year’s renovation of our office in Sofia. And not least, she’s behind all our cool, fancy art work for each of our tours :) She’s now feeling at home with us, and is no longer a stranger to the travel industry. We can’t to make some amazing tours together!
Take care. From Sofia, but soon heading to start a Danube and Black Sea journey.