Just Keep on Truckin’
You know what the say about the best laid plans of mice and men. By the way, what exactly do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? I can’t quite remember. Well, my plans have changed completely since I last wrote here a short while ago. The first and last few weeks will be more or less the same but the bit in the middle will change.
There are two reasons for this; one positive and one less positive (I’ve banished the word ‘negative’ from my vocabulary, except when in inverted commas)
Feck that Foot
First the not first one; the less positive one; the last one; the one at the edge of my body. My foot, my feckin’ foot. The fracture I sustained last year hasn’t healed properly so I will need either a bone graft or a pin shortly. That doesn’t bother me unduly; it’s just a thing and will resolve itself soon so I can’t, won’t and don’t let it worry me. I adapt.
It becomes a problem when I step outside my zone of tolerance; anything more that a 30min walk. Then the pain slowly begins to rack up and after about an hour, I’m all but done in. So, naturally, I try to avoid being done in. Normally, this would be ok and I would roll with any resistance I feel. I live in the centre of Dublin and only a few minutes walk from central bus station, train and light rail station, tram and bus stops. Work is a 10 minute walk. So, no stress.
It’s only an issue because of my trip. Travelling between destinations should not be a problem but travelling within them almost certainly will be. I have arranged my hotels and hostels so they will be near train stations so I won’t have to walk far with luggage. But what do I do when I’m in a place with lots of different sites. Well, I thought, instead of trying to see them all , I would pick a few and view them in depth; spend several hours, instead of just one, at these places. For example, some of the Islamic sites in Uzbekistan seem mind blowing. I could happily spend a day poking around and stopping frequently to have a tea and look at the people and soak in the atmosphere. OK, so that’s what I’ll do, I thought to myself. Makes a lot of sense. But, how about the places outside the main centres of population or places where there are no marshrutkas, or at least none I can find or depend on. I had no answer to that but thought I’d trust the process and work it out when I was there.
I then wondered what was the point in going on this trip if I was not going to get a chance to go to all the interesting places I had seen during my research. Hmmm, tough one that. I had no ready answer. A partial solution was to go horse trekking through Kyrgyzstan; it’s very popular there, apparently.
I checked prices and relevance. Prices weren’t too bad and there were some trips around offering a chance to stay in a yurt and meet local Kyrgyz people. That sounded ok. The timing was just ok as well. Winter sets in early at this height so timing is critical. Mind you, I haven’t been on a horse for over 40 years, the last one is still frantically running away, eyes huge and wild, neighing madly. To remedy that I have signed up for horse riding lessons in the Phoenix Park on Saturday mornings. That should be fun.
Despite all this positive thinking and planning, I was still concerned that the logistics of travelling alone with a damaged foot for thousands of kilometers and over 3 months might be unmanageable. I was sure I could bulldoze through but was beginning to think that it might become a chore rather than a joy.
So, back to the research again. I began to explore travelling with others or with small groups travelling around the same time as me. I was beginning to have some success here and was arranging to meet people at various stages of the journey. But it still wasn’t enough to quiet my growing unrest. I was beginning to wonder if I should cancel the whole trip altogether or at least postpone until next year. No effin’ way.
I also explored going with tour groups but these were horrendously expensive, costing 10 times my budget. I looked at small tours within the different countries, especially community based tourism where the local people get the benefit of the tourist euros, pounds and dollars spent in their areas. This was bearing some fruit and I was just about to book a tour in Turkmenistan when I came across a completely different type of travelling.
And this leads me to the second reason, the positive one; why I will be changing my route.
I came across a website while looking for tour groups and it seems the best of both worlds. It’s a UK based company, Oasis Overland, who offer expedition type trips in converted trucks. There are clips of the trucks below.
They offer a wide range of different trip types but the one I am interested in is called an Overland Adventure. Trips are to Africa, Central Asia and South America on their own purpose built overlanding vehicles. Africa trips are mostly camping and in South America and Central Asia camping is for around half the time with the rest being in hostels or simple hotels. When camping they stay at campsites the majority of the time and wild camp on occasion. Overland Adventures are run on a full participation basis so participants help to cook for the group and taking an active involvement in the day to day running of the trip. Expect to sometimes get dusty and dishevelled and not to be able to have hot showers every night, they warn. Groups of up to 24 people are led by two Oasis crew.
They also have an Ultimate Overland Expeditions, the BIG ones! Travelling off the beaten track on ultimate overland expeditions of up to 40 weeks through Africa, Central Asia and South America. A tougher, more extreme style of the Overland Adventure trips but still using the same purpose built vehicles, with one or more Oasis crew and carrying up to 24 travellers. Participants must expect an even more active day to day involvement in the running of the trip and to wild camp more regularly where there are no facilities and must expect a higher degree of hardship and to be away from civilization for days at a time. Expeditions are generally long in duration and at times will be travelling and camping in remote areas and extremes of weather. Step outside your comfort zone to travel somewhere different, they suggest.
My trip will be for 9 weeks and departing from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on 6 Sept and arriving in Istanbul 62 days later. It will follow most of the route I had originally planned except for Tajikistan. I wanted to travel from Osh, Kyrgyzstan to Dushanbe, Tajikistan; a 650km journey along the Pamir Highway, one of the most spectacular road trips in the world with amazing scenery above and below, as well as to the right and the left, and also to the front, of course. If you neck is supple and if you’re that way inclined, you can also look to the rear, where the views are just as good. Great for those with short-term memory issues or slight to moderate paranoia..
I arrive in Astana on 23rd August so have almost 2 weeks before the expedition starts. I was intending to spend several days at World Nomad games but, as I have bought no tickets yet, all this is changeable. A trip to Tajikistan would be very doable as would travel around Kyrgyzstan. I’ll wait until I’m there before I make a decision.
I will either fly home to Dublin from Istanbul or, more likely, make my way back by train overland from Istanbul via Sofia, Belgrade, Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Zurich, Paris, Cherbourg, Rosslare and home to dear auld Dublin. I’ll see how I feel nearer the time. I’m planning to return to work on 21 Nov so that will give me a few weeks to wind my way slowly home.
Costs and Benefits
The price of this trip is over double my original budget but still provides greater benefit than I could manage on my own, I believe. I will travel to places I could never get to alone. Also gone will be the hassle of chasing up tickets, finding places to eat and stay etc. Although I enjoy this part of travelling, truly independent travelling, it can be a bit of a pain in the fundamentals, at times.
I became very attached to this idea of travelling and was resistant to changing my mind about it. I over-identified with a hero archetype gained a measure of meaning and self-worth from this. No harm in that but one of the roads of individuation, in Jungian terms, is the path from hero to warrior. The warrior knows when to let go and surrender to find a peaceful way. However, once I did allow myself to let go of my fixed ideas and contemplate alternatives, the decision was already made for me.
Another enormous benefit is that I will be able to share each step of the journey with others who speak my language, albeit with different accents although I did spot several Irish looking names in the address list. Last year, when travelling way off the beaten track in Siberia, there was a time when I didn’t meet anyone who spoke English for days. I arrived in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and met a Czech lad who worked as a tour guide in Moscow and London and spoke perfect English. I talked a layer or two of shin off his ear.
Ages of Man
Another concern I had was that I would be the oldest person on the trip. I’m generally OK with intergenerational communication. I suppose my work exposes me to lots of different types of people and forces me to really listen. Also, as an old hippy, difference and diversity is encoded into my central nervous system and hard wired into my brain. Most of the time, that is; I have my moments. When I lived in Buddhist communities, back in the day, there were frequently 3 generations under the same roof. This felt very natural and I was very open to the idea.
Also, I’m growing accustomed to being the oldest in a group of people and continue to make peace with this process. What I didn’t want to happen was that I would be twice as old as the next oldest person. This would be alienating, I thought.
One of the big stumbling blocks between the generations is that older people have been where younger ones have been but young ‘uns haven’t been where we’ve been, we auld wans. I meet this by channelling my inner grandpa; or occasionally grandma. I didn’t want to do this all the time though. I want a few feisty old farts around me too.
I checked with the Oasis office and they reeled out the ages of people who had booked and paid for the trip. The oldest is 70 and several in their 40s and 50s too with a sprinkling of 60s. So, I’ll be grand, I thought. Woohoo.
My next trip, in 2019, will be 22 week Trans-Africa expedition visiting the following countries: Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Congo, DRC, Angola, Namibia, South Africa. I’ll fly back to Dublin from Cape Town. We meet up in London, fly to Gibraltar and catch a ferry to Morocco. We depart on 10 November 2019 and finish in Cape Town on 11 April 2020. I’ll spend a few week more in SA and then fly back to Dublin around the end of April. The basic price is amazingly cheap. There are optional addons such as getting a gorilla trekking permit etc but it’s still a great price for 22 weeks of travel in Africa to places I would never go alone. It would cost many times more if I went with a regular tour company, staying in hotels and eating at restaurants.
The following trip will probably be an Trans South America circular trip starting and ending in Quito and including Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, Venezuela and Colombia. This will be from 17 Sept 2012 to 21 April 2022, 31 weeks in total not including getting there and back.
After that, if I’m still here and if Richard Branson has got his act together, maybe a trip to the moon might be an option. Or maybe even mars if your man form Tesla, Elon Musk, gets it together. I won’t bet on these options though.
Here is a brief overview outlining my day to day travelling. I will include a more detailed itinerary in my next post in a week or so.I have also included some of the specs of the Truck i will be travelling in.
Itineraries are not set in stone and can be subject to change. The trip starts on 6 September 2018
Days 1 to 4
- Aksu-Dzhabagly Nature Reserve – green valleys, wildlife and snow capped peaks!
- Time to explore this southern corner of Kazakhstan.
Days 5 to 15
- Tashkent, Uzbekistan’s capital
- Samarkand – as old as Babylon, view the beauty of the Registan, medressas & mosques.
- Kyzylkum Desert – beauty & harshness in one.
- Bukhara – an important stop on the Silk Road of old & home to over 350 mosques & 100 Islamic colleges.
- Khiva – explore the ancient medressas, mausoleums and museums.
- Aral Sea – see ships marooned in the desert
Days 16 to 19
- Kunye Ugench – see the 60mtr high minaret!
- Darvaza Gas Craters – a result of Soviet-era gas exploration.
- Kara-Kum Desert – arduous days are rewarded by camping out in this barren terrain.
- Ashgabat – the fascinating and slightly bizarre ‘White City’, fashioned out of marble.
- Ashgabat – Free time and City Tour
Days 20 to 34
- Mashhad – home to the stunning Imam Reza Mosque
- Dasht e Kavir Desert – in search of the Asiatic Cheetah
- Shiraz & Yazd
- Persepolis – ancient ruins partly destroyed by Alexander the Great
- Esfahan – explore this historic and beautiful city
- Tabriz – explore the 35km labyrinthine bazaar and the Blue (Kabud) Mosque
Days 35 to 38
- Yerevan – World-famous brandy distillery
- Sevanavank – monastery on the shores of Lake Sevan
Days 39 to 50
- Telavi – ancient wine-growing region
- Tbilisi – Georgia’s capital city
- Gori – birthplace of Stalin
- Kutaisi – Georgia’s second largest city
- Foothills of the Caucasus – bush camps in rural Georgia
- Batumi – on the Black Sea Coast
Days 51 to 61
- Cappadocia – explore dwellings carved from the eerily eroded landscape
- Pamukkale – hot springs and stunning waterways
- Ephesus – built by the Greeks 1000 years BCE, then rebuilt by the Romans
- Gallipoli – visit the battlegrounds and war graves of the forces that fought here in WWI.
- Istanbul – trip ends after breakfast
Day 63 onwards
Returning home either overland by train or flying Istanbul to Dublin
YouTube Clips of Trucks
Key Features of Oasis Expedition Vehicles
All Trucks Are Equipped With:
- A mixture of 23 or 24 inward, forward and rear facing coach seats with headrests, providing more storage space for your souvenirs and luggage, as well as extra leg room to stretch out on the longer journeys (thus avoiding the typical ‘bus’ type layout of all forward facing seats with narrow aisles and cramped leg room with less storage)
- Internal heating for those high altitudes that are part and parcel of our South America overland trips
- Under-seat storage for your backpack so you have easy access – even when driving
- A mixture of sliding & fixed windows, providing extensive all round viewing
- All trucks are equipped with sand mats and where necessary, tyre chains
- 12V charging points for Camera, Video and Mobile phone batteries
- A comprehensive range of spare parts and tools
- Large dried and fresh food storage capacities
- Overhead lockers for cameras and day bags
- Onboard truck safe for valuables & money
- Stereo with MP3 & iPod adaptor
- Large water carrying capacity
- Internal truck buzzer system – to communicate with the crew
- Internal & external lighting
- Insulated for your comfort
- Long range fuel tanks
- Fitted Seatbelts
Accessory Equipment Carried:
- Spacious ‘Dome’ style two-person tents with in-built ground sheets and mosquito netting
- Cooler boxes (for storage of fresh food and drink)
- All weather cook tent for wet weather and shade
- Professionally compiled expedition medical kit
- All cooking and cutlery equipment
- Well stocked on-board library
- Gas cooker & fire grate
- Camp stools