Wednesday, August 31, 2005


To all the People back home!!
First of all it's nice to see white teeth again. Not many people look like pirates with gold teeth or the Terminator with silver teeth anymore.
I love backpackers!! They're instant friends. We all have this special bond. It's like long lost family members. We all help and watch out for each other. It's so cool and easy to get along with everyone. It's pretty funny because we all manage to have the same ridiculous sandle tan lines. People swap a lot of things usually clothes, books or anything they don't need anymore. Bodily functions is a common subject in the backpacker world. ahahah
Passport checks are great fun. It's the only thing we can really brag about to each other. I'm already obsessed with how many stamps and visas I get. Sometimes in the day we have a sudden urge "PASSPORT CHECK." I love hearing other stories. I get a good laugh out of them. It's fun because we now have our own stories to tell. One poor soul dropped his passport in a pit toilet and of course he had to go fishing for it. That has to be everyone's worst nightmare. I mean, you can't wash a passport so what do you do with it after it gets rescued. OOOoooo that's too nasty. The small dorm rooms are great. I'm having a lot of fun with all this. I love the yogurts, they're so good. Back to drinking a lot of tea. This is a little hard to explain but usually
back home you would see people sitting on benches, standing on the side of the road, chatting with a friend etc where as here they "SQUAT." Everywere. This was a shock at first. It doesn't look too comfy. The Sunday market was fabulous, I even picked up a goat head. Way beyond a butcher's shop. You don't see the balls hanging off of sheep and cow carcasses back home. Not exactly a delicasy.
I'll leave you now so I can see what else I can find out here.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Homework Assignment

Okay, folks! A few days ago Ammon gave us all a challenge. He said " Write a poem starting with 'slowly' and ending with 'The world turns......slowly'". We all got involved and each of us has written a poem or 2. Even mom. It's up to you to figure out the meanings and who's poem is who's!! comments are always welcome!!! Have fun reading.......

(1) Slowly

Slowly, the realities of life unfold
Everything that was is now a lie
It's a whole new world before my eyes
To remain innocent forever is impossible
One choice can alter everything
Burried truths discovered
What other secrets lay in the dark
Crumbled spirit, shrunken soul, completely let down
The tightest bonds unravelled rapidly
Memories of the past have new meanings
Decisions of another can affect many lives
Why mine at such a cost
Shocked and fully crushed
What a sudden impact
Drying misty eyes
Looking forward mending ways, facing life's obsticles
Choosing paths to follow
Learning, creating, waiting
Time will always tell
The future remains a mystery
As the world turns........slowly

(2) Slowly

Slowly, changes are made
In life upon itself
The sun will rise
The moon shall fade
Choices make differences
But in the end
Everything is revealed
Until then
The water flows
And the world turns......slowly

(3) Slowly

Slowly, change is effected
Slowly, an era begins
Wind swept remains of an earlier age
Silent observers of time
Reminders of gloried days
Rise above the feasts of union
To celebrate future's pact
As enemies of a forgotten past
Renew an ancient sorrow
The name of another
Lends strength to the small
Terror finds its muscle
Mercy all but lost
Tears of grief, the empty stare
Victory at all cost
With a sudden flash
All disappears
In the view of desolation
The dust settles
And the world turns.....slowly

(4) Slowly

As the dust settles
Light renews itself
Colours form majestic thoughts
Brilliance defines adventure
Direction becomes lucid
With another path to follow
And the world turns.......slowly

(5) Slowly

Slowly, an error begins
That darkens your skies
The smallest temptations
Are cracks between lives
The slightest indulgence
Makes them grow wide
Little things start adding
Then exponentially multiply
'Til one day eyes finally open
And you realize
A lifetime of building
Can't bridge the divide
Regrets and self-loathing
Bring tears to your eyes
And in your frustration
You wish you could die
All alone in a new world
Make the most of your side
But beware the temptations
In case you decide
To relive all the horrors
And repeat all the lies
Don't let yourself become
What you once despised
I know you have fears
But there's no need to hide
For life is a circle
But if you are wise
You'll find all your answers
And then you'll know why
You have a new beginning
You have a new try
Though you have lost us
Someday you may fly
And reach your potential
So come now arise
Get yourself started
And waste no more time
Pick up the pieces
Of your shattered pride
'Cause the end hasn't come yet
The pain will subside
For hope lasts as long
As there's day and there's nigh'
And the world turns.....slowly

(6) Slowly

Slowly, the sun melts
Shadows form and darkness swells
The stars have alligned!
Fate shows its past
When pieces seperate the earth
Life dissolves,
And crumbles at your feet
But the dust will settle,
As the world turns.......slowly.

P.s. As you can see a couple of us got a little carried away!!!
'Til next time......

Sunday Like No Other

I think this has topped off everything chaotic I've ever seen in my life!!! It was insane! All I can tell you is that you'd never find this at home!! As Ammon would say " And we have Costco, haha! This is way more fun!" The even crazier thing is that this is a normal weekly job for these people. Load up the sheep by the dozens into the back of the little truck then unload them and tie them to ropes. Most of them were in the process of being sheered. Knowing China there isn't an easy way of doing anything! Instead of the usual tool for sheering they take two knives and use them like scissors. Lines and lines upon rows of rows of sheep. I mean, honestly, how do any of the people sell their sheep when there are a hundred other guys selling them too. Anyways, you get the point of how many animals there were, I'm sure. If you look at the scene as one big picture it all looks the same but when you look closely everyone has there own little problems. Stubborn sheep, skitsy, whiny, horny donkeys, men whacking donkeys with their canes, dragging sheep through puddles, chasing the escape artists etc. etc. Always so much more character in these kinds of places!! Donkey wagons everywhere, decorative horses covered with bells, ribbons and lots of colour to test and prepare them for city chaos, unloading and chucking sheep like bags of rice, old men carrying animals in their arms, and donkeys hee hawing in every direction!! It's great amusement!! Then there were the meat stalls........ whole bodies (minus the heads and hooves) and slabs of meat hanging every where! Lonely, drifting heads and hooves on the sidewalks that look like garbage scraps but turn out to be for sale, at a reasonable price might I add. Still I don't understand how you can pick out a good head! Is it like, " Aaaw, this ones cute!" or " Oh this ones nice and ripe!" Haha, eeew! Wagons full of goat heads and people picking them out by the horn and putting them into bags. It's not a pretty sight! They do it with such ease as if going to safeway and buying a loaf of bread. The gross thing about it is that you guys probably don't picture the blood, spinal cord and brain hanging out the back of its head. I'd hate to get change from the guy selling the heads because he's got blood every where on his hands and the money........This is real life, man. Then a few stands over you've got sales of sheep head soup and people gnawing at the jaw bone.....pleasant!
Not much to say about the Sunday market except that it's overly big! Croweded like the nights after firworks in Vancouver!! Except at home they don't run you over with bikes, donkey carts, buses, motorcycles and green taxi's!! It's still China in the sense that it is busy and active but has the architecture, feel and more of the Middle Eastern culture! Oh and did I mention that the women here think it's fashionable to have a unibrow and if they don't have one they'll draw it on!! The people here are really nice and friendly and the kids smile and laugh alot. Having a great time so I don't understand why you guys aren't here yet. You're definately missing out!! Tata for now.....

Monday, August 29, 2005

Kashger Sunday Market

In a word, Wow!!!
This was an amazing experience I won't soon forget.
To start let me just say that Kashgar does not feel like China at all. The Chinese are in the minority and while there are Chinese areas and a giant statue of Mao in people's square, the old city and language here is predominantly Uyghur. There are also large numbers of Pakistani and central Asian traders in town especially around Sundays when the market gets underway. This market is perhaps the largest and most active of the silk road markets still in existance and although a lot has changed, to think that something similar has been going on here for at least 2000 years just blows me away.
Markets are markets and sell everything you could think of from hardware to fabrics, fruit to electronics (you should see the out-dated TV's and stereos they are selling). But this one is special because of the size and scale that it operates on. It's huge! I just don't know how to describe the sights, sounds and smells involved.
Before we went to the sunday market proper we went to the outskirts of town where we saw the sunday livestock market. Now this is where it's at! Livestock markets are much harder to find when you're travelling around and there is no way they will harrass you to buy a cow so you are left solely in the position of observer and for that alone it is a more special experience.
How do you describe it? It's a huge, open but walled-in area with little trucks bringing in sheep, cows, donkeys and horses to be tied up in different areas to be inspected, test ridden, and argued over. On one side is the food area with giant slabs of meat hanging around or lone sheep heads laying in a pile waiting to be put in the soup pot. I want to pose a question to you guys because it completely baffles me. Why would someone buying a sheep head, fresh from the slaughter, inspect it's teeth?!?!
It's definately a man's world down here, all the locals are Uyghur men, wearing faded and dirty black suits and shoes, white Muslim hats and many with long white beards pulling, whipping and chasing animals into position. Sometimes it would take 3 or 4 people just to pull a pair of sheep around a mud puddle! Such epic struggles reveal so much about local life. It was great just to climb up on the stone wall for a bird's-eye view of the action and watch.
Mom was followed around by a 16 year old local girl (I was shocked because she looked 60) for a while getting her to say the letters "I" and "R". Never thought about it before but I guess they are similar when you think about it. She told us that it costs about 1000Y for a donkey, 2000Y for a horse or cow and 300Y for a sheep. Divide by 8 for $US. We wanted to buy Savannah a baby cow.
Got some great pictures of the day, but they'll never show the atmosphere of the place. Oh well, if you are ever in China you'll have to go for yourself and it is truly another one of the wonders of China and shouldn't be missed.
The old city itself is great to wander around, with all the little shops, craftsmen and artisans at work in their little booths. Women wear traditional garb, with hair covered and long colourful dresses to completely cover themselves, sometimes even their faces are covered by a thick brown gauze. Like I said, it's not really China out here at all. I love the mosque and "middle eastern" style of architecture too. We've had no problems with the locals, just the usual curious stares. The children love being photographed and will run over to you and demand that you take their picture while they pose with their friends. Such a pleasant change from some areas where everyone bolts at the first sight of a camera! The older people generally don't mind being photographed either but I still feel uncomfortable asking as it seems such an intruding thing to do.
The girls are mostly better now but because of transportation difficulties around here right now and a current freeze on tourists being allowed into Tibet we will continue to rest here for another few days before continuing on to Turpan, another silk road town farther north.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Osh to Kashgar

Well guys, here we are right in the middle of the silk road. Very different from everywhere else we've been, lots of big markets and high mountains out here. Our drive down to Osh was a very scenic, but dusty, 12 hrs ending with a fight with our taxi driver in Osh. I told you taxis were evil.....
Osh is within spitting distance of the Uzbekistan border so the population is a mix and there is lots of trade between them. Osh has one of the largest markets around, stretching for over 1 km along the river. Equally impressive is its 2000 year trading history. There is a very strong muslim influence in this area as well with numerous mosques and much more conservative dress codes, despite it being in the mid 30s or more during the day. The girls were not too thrilled about "covering up".
The road from Osh to Kashgar in the far west of China is very beautiful with numerous mountain passes to climb and great views of the Pamir mtn range in Tajikistan. At 7000+ meters these are by far the tallest mountains I've ever seen. For now.... Unfortunately the road on the Kyrgyz side is horrible and the girls were really sick that day to start with. We had to overnight at the border in Irkeshtam. I can only describe it as trucker's purgatory. The border only open a few hours a day and nothing to do but wait and nothing around but dust, more dust and huge trucks carrying scrap metal across the border. This border is by far the most messed up I've crossed. I don't know what system they think they are on but we must've passed a dozen passport checks in a stretch of 7 km, each time with them recording our info. Sometimes we'd only walk a few feet before they'd do it again! As there is no other transport crossing the border and the border posts are 7 km apart, the border guards force the truck drivers to drive us backpackers in between. Anyway, weird but very scenic anyway.
We are now sitting in Kashgar. Haven't seen anything of the town yet but've seen enough to say that the government has obviously poured tons of money into this area recently and that it is nice to be somewhere organized again, even if all the noise and people were a bit overwhelming at first. Don't know that you can really call it China out here though. There is a huge muslim presence and the chinese are almost a minority. Signs are even written in Chinese and what looks like Arabic script though I'm not sure what language it is.
As an interesting side note, even though China is the 3rd largest country in the world it is all on 1 time zone. I guess Beijing doesn't want to deal with it but the land itself stretches through what should be 4 I guess. Needless to say, way out here in the west the time makes no sense so they operate on an unofficial time 2 hrs behind Beijing. This can be a little confusing as officially things are still on Beijing time and it is easy to miss buses and trains if you aren't sure which time people are talking about.
I feel perfect but the girls are still sick so we will just sit here until our health is no longer an issue. I guess Kyrgyzstan didn't agree with their stomachs.... With it being the end of summer all the Chinese are heading back to university so there is a problem getting transport out of here anyway until next week. Oh well, we'll be lazy then for a while. China is definately the cheapest country we've been to so far.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Northern Kyrgyzstan

Okay, after all our heavy traveling of the last week or two (as outlined in my previous post), we made it to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan has been a welcome relief as it is the cheapest of the central Asian countries and yet still very pleasant. Anyway, we arrived and immediately ran into a serious motivation problem as a group. We had only planned on a day or 2 before heading off to the countryside but it took us 4 just to get out of town. On one day we got up, packed, looked outside, saw it start to rain then sat back down and played cards for the rest of the day! Oh the joy of laziness!
Bishkek was a bit surprising. It is very green, with tons of parks in the center. It almost seems to be more park than anything else. I don't know where the commercial center is (or if there even is one). In the center they have the parliament building, big museum and ex-Lenin square, the odd shopping center, tons of outdoor cafes and blocks and blocks of parks. There's not even much traffic on the streets. For the first time since Mongolia we were able to sit in a restaurant and eat too.
Don't know what it was for but they had a big military parade rehearsal going on while we were running around one of the days. The only problem has been the thunderstorms that keep coming by all the time but they are entertaining so we won't complain too much.
Intercity traffic here is a bit whacked too. They don't really have buses like we think of them but just minibuses that leave whenever they are full (or feel like it) which can mean long waits or you have to get a long-distance taxi. From Bishkek we went to Song Kul lake for some more R+R in a more natural setting. Kyrgyzstan is almost nothing but mountains (so far they've all been devoid of vegetation) and our lake was up at 3000m (10000ft) so we froze our butts off (it was 5C) playing cards in our yurt (like a mongolian ger) waiting for all the thunderstorms to pass. Things are very basic and not as well set up for tourists like in Mongolia. Mongolians always live in gers. Only kyrgyz shepherds live in yurts and that is only during the summer months when they take their herds up to the high pastures. Thus the yurts are much more temporary and LEAK when the rains hit. Spent 3 days up there (1 of which we just sat around watching Bre be sick) others by the lake or riding.
I need never ride a horse again. Savannah explained it perfectly, it doesn't get any better. We are now back in Bishkek again but are heading south tomorrow to Osh for a few days then on to Kashgar in China.

It's True. It's All True!

If there is one thing that I love it's to ride full out on a horse! Especially with all the land you could dream of and having no guide. It's true that it will never be as good as that.
This statement only goes to a certain extent! It's all good and fun up to the point where you get a psycho horse that simply will NOT stop! I may be the one who can control horses the best But I swear this horse must have been kept in a cage all its life, looking at all the other horses roaming free. The second it was released it decided to take advantage of his only opportunity, break free and never stop. It ran up and down hills, jumped over anything that could be jumped over, took sharp turns for no reason, chased wild horses and I had to pretty much bail off, to stop it from running off a cliff. Crazy horse, it gave me a workout. But I still had fun.

If there is on thing that I hate the most it is to barf. I must have been something I ate. I was sleeping then all of a sudden I woke up, whacked mom (who was sleeping next to me) then puked all over my bed, over and over again. I haven't barfed in years so I forgot how bad it was, It's the worst. I hate it. It hurt so much. I always panic. I can't breath. I'll never be able to do it without cying. I was sick for 24 hours. I was so embarrassed because the family we sayed with had to clean my sheets, hear me make gross noises, and make me some special natural medicine made from flowers. Oh, that tasted so bad. It was like drinking strong dandylion stems. I hope that is the only time I get sick on this trip.

In Bishkek there are cross walks under the road that have little shopping stands everywere. It's fun. "Lets go shopping underground."



I hope you guys got to see Mars as well as we did the other night at the lake. We had the most unbelievable view of the stars after the moon went down. Best view I've ever seen. It seemed that you could just reach out and touch the big dipper. With no unnatural light out the sky is incredible.
The girls and I have decided to start a stretching regime after Bre discovered that she could no longer do the splits. So every night we do our stretching workout. Bre is back in the splits again and hopefully in a few weeks I will be too. Savannah might take a little longer. Pam will be happy to know that we are also brushing and flossing our teeth regularly.
David W., Bruce and anyone else who likes hiking, you have one month to get ready to join us in Nepal to trek Everest!
Shean, yes there is a difference between these countries. Even though the last few were all under the Soviet umbrella not all that long ago they have developed (or refound) quite a few differences since then. It's the little things. Traditional costumes and hats, that sort of thing. The local food is probably different too though we haven't really tried it. But at the same time people still seem the same. They are all very curious and they have all been really friendly to us. Help comes from unexpected places all the time. Ammon says that taxi drivers are still evil taxi drivers too. It's fun because you never know what's coming next.
By the way Savannah forgot to mention that she has a new found love for baby cows. She wants to take one home and call him Norman.
Lots of love,

Ideal Ride!!

Wow! Now I can really say I've lived life right!
We went to Song Kul Lake for the past few days and besides Bre disrupting everyone's sleep with her over-reacted, endless, puking. It was incredible.
Such a perfect spot to enjoy yourself. Our yurt was planted right on the lake with great atmosphere. No motors or crowds of people by any means! Clear, bright waters leading straight to the other side of the valley. Definately nowhere I've been before. People milking horses, ponnies running free, calves being lazy on the beach and open meadow beneath the rolling hills as far as the eagle soars. Okay, now listen up here! I have been to the ULTIMATE horse heaven! Given a horse, freedom and stretches of land that could not be covered in a day. I'm telling you, it was great! Sure you could look out the window and think "Wow, that would be great for riding" but then when you get up close there are holes, rocks, lumps and the bit. This land had none of that. Short grass and.... well that's about it! I mean it does depend on what kind of horse you get as well. My first horse was worth nothing more than a trip to the glue factory (no joke!) but the second one had a nice, easy canter and could probably run for days straight in the kind of weather we had. Fleeing the storms, riding into the sunset......we had it all! Now it just sucks because nothing will ever impress me compared to this! I might as well retire from ever riding again! Sad, sad, sad! Well...... now that I'm done bragging I'll leave it up to the others to tell stories.
P.s. Terri, I miss you too!!! xoxo

Monday, August 08, 2005

Tomsk to Almaty

Wow guys! Now that I am finally out of Russia I can start to think straight again.
Baikal was really nice. From there we went out west to Tomsk, just a little north-east of Novosibirsk. Tomsk is not on the trans-siberian railway so it is nice and quiet and doesn't see as many tourists as it should. It is a really nice place and we totally enjoyed our 2 1/2 days there. There are lots of colourful european-style buildings (and as it is a university town, pretty girls everywhere) mixed with old wooden houses that are falling apart. Some were sinking, some were burnt out, some had parts falling off but a few were being redone. It was good to just walk around and look at stuff. The people have been really friendly and helpful and quite surprised to see us as there aren't any tourists around. I think half the postal staff in Tomsk were trying to figure out what mom wanted when she tried to send some stuff home. Not many english speakers around. We've been really lucky because in Irkutsk we ran into the missionaries who then helped us out and got us train tickets. We got the phone # of the missionaries in Tomsk from them so we ended up calling them and going bowling (it was their P-day). Then we had them help us get the next set of train tickets. Good thing too because it's a bit of a nightmare out here with routings and everything being sold out. We ended up taking an overnight train due south to Barnaul in an attempt to get closer to Kazakhstan since all the international trains were booked for the next week at least. Arrived in Barnaul, no trains, so we crossed the street to the bus station and got the last 4 seats on a bus to Semey (aka Semepalatinsk) just across the border, leaving half an hour later. 10-11 hrs later we arrived, country #4. It was on this bus that we met Natasha. What can I say? She's great.....
Slept in town that night in a nice hotel (could only stay 12 hrs though). Checked out in the morning, met Natasha at the train station where she helped us to buy tickets to Almaty. Didn't really want to leave but the only train was 2 hrs later. Didn't have much of a choice. Couldn't quite convince Natasha to come with us to Almaty but she saw us off and on our way.
The 24hr train to Almaty was totally messed up. They should never have sold us tickets in the first place. The train was full. There's no other way to put it. We were in a 3rd class sleeper (open carriage, 54 beds, Jesse will remember this well). Anyway, there were no spots left. Somehow they got us 3 beds for 4 people so the girls had to share. I don't know how they managed but there were 2 uhh, rather large, ladies doing the same on the bed just below them too. There were a bunch of guys sleeping above the beds up in the storage area as well. We don't know what was going on but they were all very nice, helpful and so curious. I played cards with some kids (no idea what game but eventually I got the hang of it), mom was signing autographs in their books and Bre was doing what she does best, flirting with all the guys. It was fun but very, very rough.
Almost had my camera and mp3 player stolen while I was sleeping too. I was alone at the other end of the train car where nobody knew us. Damn that was close. I would've died without my camera. All's well though. The land out here is like the Gobi desert barren wasteland. No wonder all the Soviet nuke tests were done in the area near Semey...
Got to Almaty, took a taxi to an area with some hotels we had planned on going to. No sooner do we get out of the car than we've attracted a new helper. A 20 year old military officer that wanted to know who we were and practice his english. He followed us around for the entire day! As the first hotel was full he helped get us into another and then walked all over the city as we went sight-seeing and gathering info. Almaty is by far the most "normal" city we've been to on this trip. Doesn't feel like we've gone anywhere at all. Everything is organized, clean and new. Mountains to the south, mixed population and the streets are all tree-lined and green. Quite nice but expensive and not many tourists, if any. There are small casinos everywhere and everyone has at least a few gold teeth.
We'd like to stay longer and rest after all the movement of the last few days but we were kicked out of our hotel this morning (closed for renovations) and there is nowhere else cheap in town to stay. So we are currently sitting in an internet cafe killing time waiting for our express visas for Kyrgyzstan. We will then leave immediately for Bishkek or tomorrow morning at the latest. We intend to see a bit of Kyrgyzstan before heading back to China. We must be back in China before the 25th.
We are still having a good time, weather has been mostly hot (mid 30s) and sunny though we've had brief showers here and there. I can't believe we're out here....