Three days in Kyrgyzstan's capital are barely time enough to recover from 44 hours on planes and in airports. I'm 12 time zones away from the California cabin and 10 from Destin's beaches. Years away as well. Is this 1950's Soviet Union? A pioneer outpost of Tsarist Russia? A 13th Century Silk Route stop?
Yes to all, just add cell phones and designer jeans.
Unlike my usual solitary mode of travel, this time I'm joining a group. We'll see how that works.
Overlanding began in the early '70s as companies formed to assist incompetent (and occasionally unconscious) hippies to travel from Europe to India. Turkoman was an early player. Today it offers trips ranging from a week to three months across 6 continents.
Our vehicle is Aziza, a fully equipped 16 ton Mercedes truck. There are 17 of us, ranging in age from late twenties to, well, me. There are doctors, farmers, teachers, B&B owners, University administrators, government workers, entrepreneurs and retirees. Some are aboard for a two week segment, while 5 will travel from China to Istanbul.
All are native English speakers (except the Scots and English:)) and most have traveled extensively. Jazz celebrated his 100th country when we reached Turkmenistan. There was a lot of discussion over which list to use and what counted as a visit. I felt an immediate kinship with people who share a passion for travel.
Jodie and Paul are our driver/organizer/pros. Organization is loose, activities are optional, even the itinerary is flexible to accommodate changes in weather or politics; we're expected to shop for food and provide meals for all when we're rough camping. Tasks are allocated for all. We'll be in tents for 10 nights, home-stays for 3 nights, yurts for 1 night and the rest of the time in hotels.
Our local guides were great - Said, Jalol, and Matsat. And given the time of year and the remote areas we reached, the locals were intrigued by Aziza and its passengers. Lots of interaction.
Bottom line - Going as a group allowed me to get to places I couldn't have managed on my own. It also pushed me more than I'd anticipated. All in all a positive experience. I'll go over-landing again when security and difficulty warrant. And I hope each journey brings as interesting and pleasant a group of companions.
Here are some photos of the crew. Double-click to see the photos full size.