All posts by Wanderer

I love to travel and would like to share my experiences and tips with you. I'd love to hear your tips and experiences, too. I've lived in 3 countries besides the US and have traveled to 17. I'm trying very hard to increase that number. So many places, so little time.

My Life in Hiking Boots

Let me first say: I love hiking.

The first time I hiked in hiking boots and not some other footwear was a week long trip into the Grand Canyon with my church group. I was 14 and wore my stepmother’s boots.
In the late 1990s I bought a pair of leather boots at Ross Dress for Less for $15. At that time I was not an avid hiker and those boots lasted for years and years! I felt so cool when I wore them. I took them to S. Korea in 2007. S. Korea is 70% mountainous. Those mountains are steep and the trails are without switchbacks. S. Koreans are avid hikers. Opportunities to hike abounded and I took advantage. There was a small mountain behind my apartment. It took about an hour and a half from the time I left my apartment, climbed the mountain and got back to my apartment. I did this climb several times per week. Once after a long, heel jarring hike I went directly to the shoe store and bought a new pair of boots.


By now I was hiking more often. I joined two hiking groups in my US city. We hiked the urban trails and mountains in the Pacific NorthWest several times per month.

I took the S. Korean boots to Kazakhstan in 2015.
Kazakhstan is mostly flat steppe. But my boots were getting worn. I replaced them that June with a pair of @Salomon’s. I love those boots! Comfortable, waterproof, plenty of toe room, comfortable. Astana is the second coldest capital in the world and I spent most winter weekends outside snowshoeing in -25C (-13F) weather. After a while in this extreme temperature my boots cracked.

No longer waterproof, I kept wearing them. I wore them hiking in the Himalayas, back in the Pacific NorthWest, and Tajikistan as well as Kazakhstan.
On the last hike in these boots, I slipped off a boulder and face planted in a creek. No harm done except to my ego. I had known they needed to be replaced, but now I could delay no longer. My wonderful @Salomon’s had 2 broken eyelets, a broken shoelace I tied back together, worn down heels and almost no tread. How many miles in 3 years had I put on these boots?
Last month I bought a new pair of @Salomon’s recommended by @BackPackerMag gear guide. Now, in Tajikistan, instead of hiking in extreme cold, I’m hiking on dusty, rocky roads. I like these boots and have started keeping a boot diary, logging miles. But I can’t throw the old boots away. Too many memories of great hikes with good friends.

Is anyone else super attached to worn out boots?

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“Street food”

Street food is in quotes because Dushanbe doesn’t have street food like other places. You can’t stop on the street and get meat on a stick or a waffle or takbokki. But you can get ice cream.

I arrived here in August and it was hot. Ice cream stands were on every corner. But now that the temperature has dropped to 70 F in the afternoon, who wants ice cream?

This man had a roaring business a week ago. He had a big, bright umbrella and sold ice cream non-stop. I’m told the ice cream stands turn into popcorn stands.  Like this:

I stopped at a hole in the wall to see what was to eat. This is a literal hole in the wall. A smooth black wall with a square door in it at about my eye level.

 I didn’t want to be obvious about taking a picture, so this isn’t as good as it could have been. Next to the man’s head is the hole in the wall. The proprietor had a menu printed up. This is a hot dog joint. I ordered a hot dog nonie or khot dok noni in Russian (?) Tajik (?).

Well, it was more like a salad on a bun than a hot dog. Not bad for 33 cents.

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Dushanbe at night, a pictorial

Independence monument with Somoni arch                           in the background
                                          National Palace
                                           Waterfall

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Sangalt Valley

One reason I was excited to move to Dushanbe was the mountains that surround the city. After living on the steppe, I was excited to see mountains. The notification for this hike said:
Route: Goes along Sangalt River with clean blue waters, through the picturesque canyons. The path is very mild and crossing the river is by the wooden bridges, also visiting the local shepherd’s dwelling.

Hmm. Sounds interesting. Doesn’t sound steep or dangerous.

I’m not a mountain climber

“We’ll go up there,” says Denis. “Or you can go by the river and rest.” Again Debbie the Glum One looks at the trail going straight up and says silently, “No. Won’t do it.” When Denis calls on me by name, however, the words, “Yes, I’ll go” come out of my mouth.
Apparently we took the wrong path, which turned out to be a blessing.

This fabulous view awaited us

Wow! Three hundred sixty degree views of mountains with snow on the peaks. Great! Just look at that sky!

These are the houses the shepherds live in for summer high pasture.

With views like this, I wouldn’t mind going to the high pasture for the summer.
We returned by a different way, making a loop back to the main trail. It was a very steep descent along a ridge. We figured if goats could do it, we could, too. These steep descents make me very nervous. I was clutching my walking stick so tightly I got a cramp in my hand!
I’m kind of getting used to hiking in Tajikistan. It’s going to be a steep ascent with beautiful, fabulous views from the top.

I think this is where Sangalt Valley is. We could see the Anzob Pass across the valley.
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Hiking the Contraband Trail

Hiking in Tajikistan is different than hiking in any other country. For instance, the trailheads are not clearly marked. The road to the trailhead looks like this

The road to 7 Lakes

Or this

A random photo that perfectly captures the roads I’ve been on recently

Never like this

Whenever I get on one of these roads, I swear I will never hike in Tajikistan again. Often the road is straight up mountain on one side and straight down cliff on the other.  If you fall off that cliff, you can’t get back up even with 4WD.

But then I get a notification of a hike and I forget the Rocky Road to Trailhead (and they’re ALL rocky) and say “I’m in!”

This weekend the hike was to Timur Dara Lake. Two hours drive, then 15 km of rough road. We were in 2 minivans, which it turns out was not suitable for this road. We had to stop for minor repairs.

Taking a breather while the driver fixes the belt. This was before the really rocky part of the road.

We passed a swinging bridge. Little did I know.

I jokingly said, “There’s the bridge we’re going to cross!”

We were told to bring both our passports and a copy of our passports. As we bumped down the road in the middle of nowhere, one of the other hikers asked, a bit humorously, where they were going to inspect our passports. Soon we stopped at the military station, where we had to give them a copy of our passports. I asked the hike leader why there were military here. He told me smugglers often use this trail to transport drugs from Afghanistan. It’s only a 3 day hike to Seven Lakes. Ah… the Contraband Trail.

We crossed the swinging bridge

which does not appear to swing much, but was a bit of balancing act when we were actually on it. Then a pleasant little hike to the ridge.

Doesn’t look like much, but was quite steep.
Enlarge this photo and you will see a tiny little figure in white on the right side.

Denis, our hike leader said we won’t go straight up, we’ll zigzag. His idea of a zigzag and mine are two different things. I’ll try, I thought glumly.  It was only 150-200 meters. It was difficult for old folks, but the younguns practically ran up it.

The view from the top of the ridge. Gorgeous, yes?

Way down there you can see the military post. An easy hike from the ridge to the lake of only about 2km, but it was a slow incline, which really made me tired. I was behind this couple. The husband carried their child all the way up and down in the backpack. I carried water in my backpack.

Timur Dara was created by an earthquake that blocked the river.

Spectacular views all around!

Back in the valley. That way to Seven Lakes

No one lives out here. But there is a coal mining site. Someone picked up a rock and the hiking geologist told us about the geology of the region. The hike was good, but the people were better.

The road back felt about twice as long as the road in. Then we encountered a Chinese truck going to the mining site. One lane rocky road, one big truck, one small minivan. We in the minivan reversed and tried to pull over so the truck could get past. It was a little like this

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic, but we did have to back up on the one lane road with no pullouts. I said “a little like this”!

All in all it was a good hike and I slept all night afterwards. I guess travelling the Rocky Road is worth the views and scenery. And when I get another email notification of a hike, I’ll probably go!

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Dushanbe, Tajikistan

When I tell people I’m going to Central Asia later this month, I am frequently asked “Where is Central Asia?” To which I reply, “Central Asia.” Yes, Central Asia is a place. It is an area, like Europe. Europe is comprised of different countries and so is Central Asia. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan are all in Central Asia.

This large area is bordered by China, Russia, Iran and Afghanistan. During the Afghan war, troops were first sent to Manas Air Base (now closed) outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

“Stan” simply means “people.” So these countries are the lands of the Kazakh, Uzbek, Turk, Tajik and Afghan peoples.

Tajikistan was part of the Silk Road that included movement of ideas and cultures as well as goods from east to west. Later it was part of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the USSR, competing factions caused a five year civil war. Emomali Rahmon won the presidency in 1994. In 2016, a referendum changed the constitution to allow Rahmon to be president for life.  He is the third president of Tajikistan. In May 2017, he shook hands with Donald Trump while Trump was visiting Saudi Arabia.

Dushanbe, the capital, is nestled in a valley at the confluence of two rivers. Dushanbe means Monday in Persian. In the past, the city was the place of a bazaar on Mondays. Dushanbe is a large modern city.

There is shopping, site seeing, museums, and tea houses. Dushanbe is sister city to Boulder, Colorado. The city’s gift to Boulder in 1987 was a beautiful teahouse.

 

I plan on drinking tea in a teahouse in Dushanbe later this month. I look forward to exploring this little known country, it’s mountains and villages and updating this blog.

Please leave a comment, so I know someone is reading this. Thank you!

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Hanoi

I grew up with the Vietnam War on TV every night. It was a frequent topic of conversation. Eventually it became a trendy thing to say, “I’d like to vacation in Vietnam. I really would!” It was meant to shock and it did. Decades later, many Americans do vacation in Vietnam, as I did. Hanoi was chaotic and noisy, with a vibrancy I liked.

Motorcycles are the predominate way to get around Hanoi.

But you can still catch a glimpse of the old ways.

One afternoon a group of us rowed to the Perfume Pagoda festival. We were told a few people would be there celebrating.

Less crowded was the houseboat tour of Halong Bay. Beautiful boat, lovely people, and beautiful scenery.

And in case you forgot something, you can stop at the floating mini-market.

As much as I like Hanoi, it was also nice to get out of the city and see more of Vietnam.

 

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Packing for Your Exciting New Journey

Packing.

Yes. How do you get everything you need into your suitcase? First of all, do you need everything? You won’t need a coat if you’re going to the beach, obviously. But do you really need 6 pairs of shoes for a weekend trip? To paraphrase what they say at the buffet: Take all you need, but use all you take.

Suitcases come in all sizes, weights and wheels. Most of them are expandable, too. So you can stuff right up to the weight limit.

There are many, many web sites that address packing issues, and I don’t want to re-invent the wheel. See  this site. It pretty much sums it up for me. Rolling, bundling and packing cubes.

I would like to talk about packing cubes. I have had compression packs in the past. They’re ok, but with expandable suitcases I don’t feel they’re valuable. Also they don’t remove any weight, which is my main concern.

I recently bought Eagle Creek packing cubes. I bought the set made from lightweight fabric, so I add as little weight as possible. Wow, do I love these things! Now I know right where my socks and underwear are. I don’t have to take everything out of my suitcase to find something. And, as an added bonus, Eagle Creek put large letters on the outside of the cube so you won’t mistake the extra- small size for the medium size. Hm.

My advice: use packing cubes. Don’t be surprised by your suitcase!

 

 

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Should I Travel with Friends? Or Solo?

 

 

                                                 Himalaya Range, Leh, India

I work abroad where the cost of living is low. My company pays for my housing. I pay for utilities, phone and food. If I were in the US, my pay would be considered low, but because of the low cost of living, I can live fairly opulently. I go out at least once a week for dinner and drinks. I go to the theatre or to a movie, I attend special events and travel. In the last two years I have traveled to 6 countries, not counting the US.

Two things help me to travel. 1) Airline flights are much less expensive. I don’t have as far to travel, so it’s much easier to find cheap flights.  2) I have friends and family I can stay with, which means I don’t pay for a hotel.

We stayed in InterHouse hostel ($15/night) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. It was clean and bright. The staff was friendly and helpful. In Almaty, Kazakhstan, we stayed in a really awful “hotel” that was more like a hostel. Due to an unscrupulous landlord, we had no choice. Lake Balkash, Kazakhstan had a nice hotel that charged us almost by the hour. Leh, India has many guesthouse to choose from in all price ranges. I chose a guesthouse that included 3 meals a day.

I traveled to Vienna, Istanbul, Bergen, Norway and Amsterdam and stayed with friends and family.

Should you travel alone or with friends? There are advantages and disadvantages to both.

Let’s say you would like to go to France and tour castles. No one you know is either interested in this trip or can afford it. Should you just stay home? I say NO! Find a tour group if you don’t want to travel by yourself. But if you want to go, go!

One of the advantages of traveling alone is that you are the master of your time. You don’t have to wait for your pal to wake up, you don’t have to spend 2 hours in the gift shops if you don’t want to, you can spend as little or as much time as you like where you like. One disadvantage is there is no one to share a memory with. “Remember when we…?” Also, sometimes traveling with a friend can be a stressful, contentious experience. Not all friends travel well.

Traveling with a friend or group of friends is can be more enjoyable. Your friends may notice something interesting that you didn’t. Eating alone doesn’t compare with sharing a meal. Perhaps your friend is more outgoing than you and can make friends with the locals, something you would never do, but this makes for a memorable experience.

What about safety? Surely there is safety in numbers. No necessarily. Pickpockets like crowds. Accidents happen whether you are with people or not. Be aware of your surroundings when you travel, whether traveling alone or with friends.

It comes down to you. Would you prefer a shared experience or solo travel?

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5 Things to Do in Leh, Ladakh, India

Five things to do in…Where? Leh? Lay? Le? What?

Leh (pronounced lay) is in northern India. It is in the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. The Zanskar range of the Himalayas acts as a rain shadow for the region, making Leh a desert. Average elevation is 11,000 feet.

Leh is very popular with Indians. In 2009 a movie called 3 Idiots in Pangong was released. Because of the popularity of the movie, Indians are clambering to holiday in Ladakh. Consequently, during the high season (summer), it can become quite crowded.

Pangong Lake is a five hour car ride from Leh. So what is there to do in Leh?

Number 1.

Sightseeing. Likir Monastery, Alchi Monastery are close by. Likir is a large monastery, while Alchi is an archeology site in which monks still live and work.

20160704_103728 20160704_103926 20160704_105202Likir Monastery

 

20160704_115321 20160704_115754

Alchi Monastery

Shanti Stupa and Leh Palace are in the middle of Leh Town. They are both very crowded with taxis carrying tourists.

20160703_165844 20160703_175226

Number 2.

Trekking in the Himalayas. You don’t need a guide to do this. The trails are well maintained and used. Reservations are required with the homestays, however. The trailhead is at Zingchen in Hemis National Park. A fee is required to enter the park. There is a village called Rumbak that has 8 or 9 homestays. The next stop is Yurutse. Yurutse is not a village, just one large house. After crossing the Ganda La pass at 15,900 feet, and descending into the Markha Valley, the trail leads to Kaya and another homestay. The homestay hosts are wonderful and it’s great meeting other trekkers.

Number 3.

Shopping. Leh does not lack for shops. Pashminas and jewelry are big items, as are souvenir shops and hiking shops. Bargaining is allowed. The shopkeepers will tell you a high number. You can decide if you want to pay that or bargain.

Number 4.

Motorcycle tours. Perhaps when you think of kicking up dust, you’re not thinking of dust on your shoes. There are many places in Leh to rent a motorcycle. You can go your own way or have a guide.

Number 5.

River rafting. The Indus and the Zanskar rivers both pass near Leh. The Indus has grade 1, 2 and 3 rapids. Tour companies offer day trips or longer trips of several days with sightseeing and camping.

I used an organization called Overland Escape.   One low, low price covered 4 days in a hotel with 3 meals a day if I wished, a guide on the trek, homestays and 2 days of sightseeing with a driver. Don’t miss the Stok Palace Museum and the Hall of Fame. The Stok Palace Museum chronicles the royal family when Ladakh was a kingdom. The Hall of Fame is a military museum. The Indian military is quite impressive. The museum showcases the military’s history, as well as equipment. Hemis Monastery is a short drive away. This is the largest monastery in the region. This monastery also has small boy monks.

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The Dalai Lama is revered in this area, as most people are Buddhist. He has several homes in this area. There are two mosques in Leh and one church.

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