The Silk Road and Pamir Highway

Fann Mountains

The silk road conjures images in the mind of exotic faraway lands, eschewed by the crowds, with a blend of Asian and European cultures combining under the backdrop of bustling bazaars, spice markets and beautifully tiled mosques, well, it’s kind of like that. In truth, in Uzbekistan at least, there are crowds, hordes of older bus tours roll around these plains, and bazaars that may have once traded in exotic goods now sell post cards and cheaply made souvenirs, the spice markets still exists, although it’s unclear exactly where the spices end up, because it certainly isn’t in the local food. As we moved through from Uzbekistan to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, the crowds dissipated, the true wonders of this part of the world revealed themselves; friendly locals, dramatic and diverse landscapes, and a place untouched by mass tourism. While modernity has long since touched down in Central Asia, local culture and customs still endure, there is still plenty to discover.

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Turkmenistan: A Peak Behind The Curtain

One of the least visited countries in the world possesses a number of world records, most of which are so obscure as to be completely redundant. The country’s enigmatic leader Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow’s list of credentials for the job appear to consist solely of the fact that he was the dentist of the previous, now deceased, also inscrutable leader. If you’re not impressed by the world record high density of white marble buildings the capital of Ashgabat has to offer, you should probably at least look like you are, you’re possibly being watched, and they are proud of that record. Welcome to Turkmenistan! As far police states go, at least this one has nice parks and has a place to get a flat white, and mercifully, our first beers after being in Iran for nearly a month.

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Iran: More Than Meets The Eye

Iran has a complex place in the modern world. Its reputation proceeds it as a country replete with incredible ancient architecture, huge lively bazaars, colourful spice markets and genuine local hospitality. At the same time, at a governmental level at least, it has carved out a fairly unconverted position of serial antagonist and global pariah. Thankfully while spending nearly a month in the country we encountered only the former. While the complex world of geopolitical wranglings continues unabated, you’ll be welcomed with nothing less than a friendly smile, a handshake and a “Welcome to Iran”. It’s a pleasure to travel, and with a black market exchange rate of more than double, it’s a pretty reasonable price to do so.

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Georgia: Hiking, Wine and Mark Becomes a Wedding Photographer

It’s been a while since the last post. We were on a hiatus of sorts in Europe. Landing in London we had a week in the old city catching up with friends, concerts and cricket. Moving on to Belgium to Rock Werchter, which was a truly amazing festival, then making our way to Switzerland by way of Antwerp and Aachen, where, you guessed it, we caught up with mates. Another 2 weeks in Switzerland, Mark popped to London for the ill fated Cricket World Cup Final, where NZ lost by zero runs, but mercifully for Martina, he couldn’t dwell too long, as we had to turn attention to the next phase of our journey, Georgia and further, into Central Asia.

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Overlanding Africa

As the big yellow truck pulled away down the streets of Swakopmund, Namibia, people were hanging out the window, thumping “Hooked on a feeling”, with inside jokes being yelled to and fro. It was an emotional goodbye, culminating in our final act of the tour being Mark bounding down the street like a springbok. As we’d mentioned previously we had initially felt conflicted about signing on to a tour, but it didn’t take long for us to feel at home with an awesome group of people, and 4 weeks miraculously melted away with Absolute Africa. As the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun”. It was also nice to not have to organise getting from A to B squashed in vans of questionable safety, with drivers with even more questionable driving credentials, finding places to stay and having arguments about the cost of a taxi into town, and to actually have bed mats in our tent after prematurely giving ours away in South Africa. But above all, it was the people that made the trip what it was.

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Moz, Malawi and Making Tracks West

A lot has happened since the last edition, with our trip taking us through 4 countries culminating in trading the local transport for an overland truck. Starting from Mozambique to Malawi, bouncing through Zambia and into Zimbabwe. And, like any part of our journey it started with another interesting border crossing, from South Africa into Mozambique.

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South Africa: The Rainbow Nation

On May 10, 1994, South Africa emerged back onto the world scene, as the man known as Madiba, stood atop the dais, waiting to be sworn in to become the first democratically elected African president of the Rainbow Nation. He was a man that captured the world with the way he carried himself as much as by what he said. We’d learned a lot about South Africa in history class, the good, the bad and the ugly. Mark had watched the All Blacks go toe to toe with the Springboks since he was a young tike, and there feels a kinship has been forged between the 2 countries as a result. We both had heard so much about the country, we were both aflutter about the opportunity to explore Africa’s Southern land.

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Kruger National Park

“There’s nowhere like Kruger!” affirmed the owners of our hostel, just outside the gates, and to be honest it’s hard to argue. We say this not just because of our African game reserve novice status, but because the scope of the park and the fact that you can explore it on your own are truly remarkable. Whether it’s the immaculate roads, of which they have a purported 6000kms, or the fact you can get a reasonable priced cafe breakfast whilst overlooking Sabie river. While you’re sipping your flat white, elephants sip water at the banks, all at the same price as you’d pay anywhere else in South Africa, they even offer craft beer in the park!

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The Long Road South

Long bus trips are part and parcel with travel, but we were looking forward to the “freedoms” i.e. ability to stand up, and go to the restroom when you have to, that train travel offered. With this in mind we boarded our bus in Kigali, bound for Dodoma, the sleepy capital of Tanzania from where – supposedly – a train runs to Lusaka. So started a fairly tortuous journey towards South Africa, where a ‘no train situation’, border crossing issues, surprisingly good coffee, and a chance to catch up with friends coalesced to an interesting journey southward.

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Rwanda & Some Gorillas

Rwanda, it conjures memories of one of the darkest chapters in recent history, when the world forgot, or worse, ignored, the absolute horror that was taking place in the heart of central Africa. While the UN condemned what was going on, in the same breath they pulled back. The maundering Interahamwe went on a 100 day reign of terror, killing an estimated 1’000’000, mainly Tutsi, but also moderate Hutu civilians. After the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), led by current president Paul Kagame, moved in and took control in 1994, modern Rwanda has emerged from its tumultuous past as a beacon of how to pull a country back from the brink.

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