Today is October 10, 2019. I’m ten days late!
I’ve just arrived in New Delhi, India, and I’m typing this from Madpacker’s Hostel – my first real hostel on this trip!
Places Visited Since Last Update:
For the majority of September I was on a twenty-three-day group tour across Central Asia. The “main” places we visited were:
- Kyrgyzstan – Bishkek, Chong Kemin, Song Kul, Karakol
- Kazakhstan – Almaty, Saty Village
- Tajikistan – Dushanbe, Iskanderkul, Khujand
- Uzbekistan – Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva
As well, I started the month in Istanbul, before my tour began, and I had a few solo days in Tashkent at the end of the month, after the tour was finished.
The Good, The Bad and the Bizarre
I’m bringing you all of the updates on the best, the worst and the weirdest experiences on the road since I last checked in.
The Best Destination I’ve Visited
I think that I was most impressed by the ancient cities of Khiva and Bukhara in Uzbekistan. It was lovely to be immersed in such amazing Islamic architecture without being crushed by crowds of tourists.
The Best Thing I’ve Eaten
I lucked out on this one. Unfortunately, the food in Central Asia was not vegetarian-friendly (nor was it particularly stomach-friendly). I’m sure if you live in the region you can cook light, healthy foods for yourself, but when you’re on an organized group tour and eating at restaurants and guesthouses every day, it adds up. In your stomach. Constantly.
However, for the sake of this post, I am able to share this plate of mezze that I had at Ciya Sofrasi in Istanbul, since technically I ate there on September 2nd. It’s a lovely restaurant that is still as great as it was when I first visited in 2010, and that I was happy to eat at both on my Istanbul food tour and on my last day in the city.
The Most Amazing Experience I’ve Had
Did you hear about the time I got stuck in a freak blizzard in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan? Yeah, we had to traverse this 3000-meter mountain pass the morning after an unexpected snowstorm. We passed cars that went off the road, cars stuck in the snow, cars that had given up on the drive and one huge mountain eagle flying along right beside our van as we drove up, up, up, stopped for an hour figuring out what to do, then drove down, down, down to the safety of the valley below. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was amazing.
Something Else That Made Me Smile
This month, I discovered that group travel is not for me. So, it seriously made me smile when my tour was over and I had free time to do whatever I wanted in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. I spent my days wandering around the city, sitting in parks eating ice cream and photographing the cool metro stations (where photography was previously prohibited until 2018!). Freedom!
The Worst Place I’ve Visited
In general, the quality of museums in Central Asia is quite low, and my group tour made us stop at more than a few museums that had me wishing I was back home at work (yes, they were that bad). In particular, the Nikolay Mikhaylovich Przhevalsky Museum in Karakol was not a good use of our time… sure, I don’t mind hearing about this explorer for five minutes (especially the part where he might actually be Stalin’s father!), but a one-hour monotone guided tour of the museum celebrating his life was too much.
The Most Questionable Thing I’ve Eaten
Fortunately, as a vegetarian I was able to skip out on most of the seriously questionable foods in this region (in particular, I recall one restaurant that served “abdominal fat and rectum of a horse”). Instead, I want to highlight the limited variety of vegetarian foods in this region. Although the markets are full of beautiful fruits and vegetables, they are rarely served in restaurants. Instead, it’s tomato and cucumber salad. Day in, day out. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Tomatoes. And cucumbers. And tomatoes. And cucumbers. What I would have given for a bean. Or broccoli. Or even a sweet potato.
The Most Frustrating Experience I’ve Had
Easy. Traveling with a group. I hated it. There were two things I really disliked about my tour. First, there was the fact that we had almost zero freedom, over twenty-three days, and had almost no opportunities to explore anything of personal interest. I did not expect group travel to be so restrictive. Second, my tour group in particular was almost entirely senior citizens. Unfortunately, they were not always able to keep up with the pace of activities that were planned in our itinerary, and the whole group wasted a lot of time waiting for them. I am working on a post about my experiences on this tour and hope to have it published before November.
Something Else That Was Really Unpleasant
Sharing a yurt with a bunch of snoring senior citizens.
The Most Random Place I’ve Visited
The community hammam in Bukhara was appalling. I’ve been to public baths all over the world, and I am willing to overlook a little grime or a shared scrubber here and there, but this place was something else. In particular, the part where everyone lays down on the floor naked, shoulder-to-shoulder, occasionally face-to-butt or face-to-breasts (if someone has been placed perpendicular) right beside the drain where they’re rinsing the water off other people’s bodies… and drink tea… was a memory I can’t soon enough forget.
The Strangest Thing I’ve Eaten (Or Seen on a Menu, Or Been Served…)
Same as above – “abdominal fat and rectum of a horse”. (Seen only. Thank God.)
Something Else That’s Totally Unexpected
Your reward for reading through all the way to the end is the single most WTF thing I learned on my tour of Central Asia.
Look at this photo. Do you see the white plastic tubes (on the left) and the wooden tubes (on the right)?
Do you know what those are?
No, they are not pipes.
They are not musical instruments.
They are not cooking utensils.
Those are Uzbek baby pee tubes.
According to both my tour guide and our local guide of the market in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, those pipes are used in place of diapers when Central Asian babies are sleeping.
The plastic ones on the left are for baby girls. The wooden ones (ouch!) on the right are for baby boys.
These tubes are placed over the baby’s genitals while they sleep, and theoretically, if the baby pees in the night, the pee will drain out of the crib and into…
… okay, the guides never exactly explained where the pee goes.
They also never explained exactly how the tube stays in place.
We were all a bit doubtful, but our guides seemed to be telling the truth (and they seemed a little surprised that we were so surprised?).
Seriously, we learned this on the last day of our tour, and everyone who was still left in the group at that time was like, “Hold up! This is what we’ve been wanting to hear about this entire tour! Real life! Not just history, not just statistics and demographics, real stuff about how people live today.”
Do people use baby pee tubes in your country? Respond in the comments. Seriously. I need to know.
But don’t click through until you’ve commented about the baby pee tubes.