If there is any way to brighten the grey winter of London, it’s to spend a Sunday with your girlfriends eating Beigels (the grandpa of bagels) and wandering the vibrant Columbia Road flower market.
“This was a townscape raised in the teeth of cold winds from the east; a city of winding cobbled streets and haughty pillars; a city of dark nights and candlelight, and intellect.”
It’s been a dream of mine to visit the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Since it’s January and far too windy and frigid to cross the choppy waters to Skye, I settled on visiting Edinburgh instead. Plus tickets from London are only 40 pounds–that might be because WHO goes to Scotland in January. Freezing!
We’ve only driven 20 minutes outside of Tashkent and it already feels like a different world. The soviet style apartment buildings and lush parks dissipate into dusty villages and farm land. When I first moved to Tashkent, I felt like I had stepped as far away from the familiar as possible. Now when I return to Tashkent from other regions of Uzbekistan, I feel like I’ve stepped back into the modern world. This time we were off to spend the day in the unfamiliar of Zaamin National Park.
On our way to Khiva, we visited Chilpik or the “tower of silence”. Dakhams are circular walled structures built on the top of hills. The dead were left inside the walls to be exposed to birds which eat the flesh. The bones are then dried in the sun and put in a central well. In an arid climate like Uzbekistan, they disintegrate into a powder. This Zorastrian burial practice pre-dates Islam which arrived in the region in the eighth century.
From Nukus we were able to find a shared taxi to the former fishing village of Moynaq. The 220 km drive took 4 hours and was far less bumpy than one would expect for being so remote. As the 6 of us snuggled close in the tiny car, the clouds hung low threatening us with rain. Passing through the small villages we could see first hand how shaped the land had become from irrigation canals siphoning water from the Aral Sea to the cotton fields.
Spring break draws to mind images of toned bodies, fruity drinks with pretty straws, and an endless escape of soft sand and blue water. I’ve never had this idealized spring break, and this year was certainly no exception.
Sitting in an old propeller plane I gripped tightly to my seats’ armrests as we set off across Uzbekistan and its vast desert to the small city of Nukus, in the western portion of the country. “Will the propellers still work if we run out of fuel?”, I stupidly spat out. My mind was filled with irrational thoughts of hurdling towards the earth in something called a plane, but looked more like a small rusty tin can. “WHY is there black stuff on the wing!?” Breath. The older I get, the more terrified I get of flying. The best part, I’ve been skydiving 4 times. Let’s figure that one out.
After a few days in the desert, we caught a cheap bus to Wadi Musa (Petra) from Wadi Rum. The bus travels down the picturesque King’s Highway. Once in Wadi Musa we went for a coffee where we found someone to drive us out to Little Petra and then to Banda. Little Petra was deserted and there wasn’t an entry fee so we wandered around and then had the usual, tea.
Passing through a military style checkpoint, our cab driver pointed ahead and to the left, I gave him 30 JD, we took our bags from the trunk and took our first breath of cool, dry desert air. Cool, as it would later be discovered is a bit of an understatement as temps hovered around 50 with no wind and below freezing at night. With inadequate clothing, we hopped into the jeep with our 20-year-old guide Muhammad and into the desert we went.
The bus system in Israel is efficient, relatively cheap, and they even have free wifi (which is a hot commodity in Uzbekistan and you better believe I used every minute of it). After a few relaxing days in Tel-Aviv we boarded the Egged bus for the southern resort town of Eilat.
We took the bus on a Sunday so it was nearly filled with soldiers going back from their weekend leave. I’d recommend keeping this in mind when planning your trip. The landscape going south was dry and arid. As we reached closer to the border with Jordan, it looked like some sort of lunar landscape. Although we had boarded a bus to the Israeli town of Eilat, we had our sites set on the small town of Aqaba on the Jordanian side of the Red Sea.