It was a monumental effort to get Ocean, Oliver and Nadia out for a training run along the Ankhor Canal. There is a picturesque 5 kilometer trail running along the canal. We ran from the parking lot of La Terasse Restaurant to the Menor Mosque and back for a 10 kilometer training run. We are preparing for the Samarkand 10KM in two weeks. This was the furthest Ocean has ever run, normally she runs up to 5 kilometers on her cross country team. Oliver was the strongest and he is such a good runner! He and our friend Shannon, finished well ahead of Nadia, Ocean and I. It was a perfect autumn afternoon as we are soaking up the final luxurious days of Fall Break.
Yesterday we drove up to the Charvak Reservoir and the Chimgan and Beldersoy Mountains. I wanted Nadia to get out of the city a bit and it reminded her of the mountains of Sucre, Cochabamba and Potosi of her native Bolivia. We checked out a couple of the hotels in Beldersoy in anticipation of ski season. The views were beautiful and it was nice to spend time with Owen, Nadia and Ocean’s friend Josh during the drive. I really want to ride my bike around the reservoir!
On Thursday I went on a 50 kilometer ride with my friend Matt. It was a bit busy as we got off to a late start, but the route back was quite pleasant. I love cycling and am happy to get out occasionally for morning rides.
Nadia and I also played several tennis games this week. We also took a lesson from Jasur, the tennis pro at the Yoshlik Sports Center.
One of the nice things about our school is it is adjacent to an international medical clinic. It feels like our personal medical facility. They have international doctors there and it gives Nadia the peace of mind that she we are being looked after. Dr. Jan Reimers-Flattun, the former director of the clinic and former embassy doctor, is in residence at the clinic this fall. She has been so helpful in getting our immunization schedules documented and up to date for the children. She also is very caring with my family and we will miss her when she leaves next month. On Monday, we got our flu vaccines and Owen got his final MMR booster shot.
We are enjoying our Autumn Break in Tashkent. I am mixing work with family this week. Yesterday afternoon Nadia and I played tennis. It was such a gorgeous day and with many courts available for $5 / hour, playing tennis here is so easy and accessible. Owen and I are taking a lesson this afternoon.
We dropped off Ocean yesterday at Ice City, an amusement arena. One can speed skate, ski, bobsled, etc. in an indoor, chilled venue. She had a sleepover last night. Oliver injured himself walking home from the supermarket, cutting his leg. He seemed to have almost a full range of motion last night.
Nadia found this cool Russian language Pepsi bottle at a bakery. It is nice to have time to reconnect with family!
This past Sunday, Owen, Oliver and I went hiking in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. This was my second visit to the park and we were led by the famous guide Boris. The Chatkal Range, part of the western Tian Shan Mountains, covers “the finger” in far Eastern Uzbekistan. It is only about a 90-minute drive from Tashkent.
We climbed a steep ridge running parallel to the Beldersoy Ski Resort to begin the hike. The ski piste and hotel was below as we scrambled over rocky outcrops. Boris is known for not using trails, instead going for more difficult routes and he didn’t disappoint. We made it to the top (2,000 meters / 6,500 feet) of Beldersoy and had gorgeous views of the Beldersoy River valley and several peaks. After a rest, we walked through the Urttakumbel Pass down to the Marble River. We had lunch along the river and surveyed a 30-meter waterfall in the narrow canyon.
Walking back up a side trail we saw hundreds of fossilized cockle shells. It is awesome to think about geological time scales. Those shells were once living mollusks living on the bottom of a sea and today they are found on a mountain in the middle of a double-landlocked desert nation of Uzbekistan. I collected a bunch of nice specimens to display in my office.
We finished the hike by going over to a “solar glade” an open pasture on the way back to our car. The glade reminded me of a desert Sound of Music mountain meadow. It would also have been a great place for a medieval battle scene. Oliver is reading Game of Thrones and is re-watching some of the later episodes. It would be a perfect spot for filming.
Of course the best part of any hike for me is spending time with my family. Being able to talk and explore with my sons gives me so much pleasure. They are two really good guys and we enjoyed each other’s company, despite the early start on a Sunday morning.
The one aspect of hiking in the park that bothers me is the ubiquitous livestock grazing. We didn’t see any horses, cows, sheep or goats on this walk, but we did see plenty of evidence (feces) of ruminants. I wonder what the mountains would look like without the pressure of grazing? I know people have to make a living, but it makes me want to forgo meat all together when I see the impact of livestock on the environment.
I am looking forward to seeing the mountains change as the seasons change. My two hikes so far were during the driest part of the year.
On the flight to Istanbul last weekend I finished Oleg Steinhauer’s spy novel. The trip gave me over 9 hours of reading time. (5 hours 20 minutes flying west and 3 hours and 40 minutes flying east thanks to the jet stream) I picked up the book in the bargain bin at Barnes & Nobles this summer. Reading novels set in the world of expatriates are always interesting to me; however, spy novels are usually not on my reading table.
The book centers around the wife of the deputy consul at the US Embassy in Budapest. Working in international schools, I’ve spent a lot of time in American embassies around the world. The book is a murder mystery as she tries to find who killed her husband as they were having dinner together in a restaurant. They had recently transferred from Cairo, where most of the action takes place. My former residence of Serbia also is featured in the book. A Serbian spy plays a prominent role in the intricate plot. There are also flashbacks to Serbia on the eve of the start of the Yugoslavian war in the early 90s. The main characters are my age.
It was an entertaining book to read during bouts of insomnia and on the plane. The plot got a little confusing towards the end as there are a lot of characters. My general take away from the lives of spies are there is a lot of deception and lies. It would be tough to live in a world like that, always evaluating information to check for its truthfulness. Some reviews claim he is the next John Le Carre, who was recently criticized by the head of the British Secret Service. My son Owen is considering a career in the foreign service or intelligence. It would be good to have a book that depicts how it is working in the secret service. I would think most of the jobs deal with the analysis of information and not being a spy.
Having lived in Serbia and having spent a lot of time in Vojvodina, I see that he has been to the place. I had to laugh when he mentioned how pleasant the countryside is in the Fruska Gora National Park. We spent many an afternoon having picnics and hikes around one of the monasteries. It was one of our favorite places in Serbia. That is the beauty of Flickr that I can find a photo from those picnics in a couple of clicks. Nadia and Oliver are below – lots of happy memories!
This was my second visit to Turkey, having visited with my family in February of 2014. This time I was here alone on business, for international school meetings. I stayed in the heart of Besiktas, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city and many ways, the cultural heart of Istanbul. I loved the proximity to the Bosphorus Strait, the cobblestone streets and the numerous cafes, bars and restaurants. The autumn weather was perfect and I went on a couple of long walks up and down the many hills. Istanbul is one of the largest cities in the world, with a metro population of 15 million. It felt busy walking along the Bosphorus, but the stunning views of palaces, parks and water and most interestingly, the daily life of the citizens of this remarkable city were invigorating.
It was probably the neighborhood, but I saw many more secular Turks than conservative Turks, with younger people wearing Western fashion and no headscarves on the women. This friction has always been a defining feature of Turkey. I sense President Erdogan’s popularity may be waning. My taxi driver to the new airport was quite critical of him, calling him “a thief and dangerous, similar to your president Trump”. I was impressed with the infrastructure and commercial activity in the city and think prosperity has grown in the five years I have been away. However, in speaking with the director of the international school there, he said their enrollment is down because of the recession. One negative about Istanbul is that it felt a bit like Manhattan in that you could not get away from people. Solitude is something that you will not get in Istanbul. Even in the parks, there were people everywhere. It wasn’t Asian crowded, but the traffic noise and many people made it feel hectic.
We took a 3-hour boat cruise the last night going north on the Bosphorus Strait, heading towards the Black Sea. The views of the homes and apartments on the hills reminded me of the Mediterranean. The many palaces and forts on the shores were lit up to provide marvelous views. As a former Istanbul resident told me, “The Bosphorus is the main street of the city and to properly see Istanbul, one must see it from the water.”
I noticed this time the numerous cats that roam the streets and parks. Why so many cats? I guess that they keep the rat population down and they are sacred animals in Islam. They looked well taken care of and were passive and almost affectionate as I walked by. I wonder what their impact is on the birds of the city?
Istanbul is such a historic and picturesque city! I was thinking of all the many people and events that have taken place here, from the Romans and Byzantines, to the Ottomans and even today’s political scene with Erdogan trying to keep power. It was a great place to visit but a bit too much traffic and people for me to want to live. To visit though, a marvelous city with spectacular views, great restaurants, entertaining people watching, etc.
I finished reading Joanna Lillis’s book, “Dark Shadows: Inside the Secret World of Kazakhstan”. It is an excellent introduction to the country with a bit of history, a section on the government and stories about individual Kazakhs. Her writing style is engaging and she definitely knows the country well.
It makes me want to visit our neighboring country soon. I didn’t realize that Kazakhstan was so large, almost the same size as Argentina. Like Uzbekistan, it was a former Soviet Republic, but sharing such a long border with Russia, it is more influenced by it. When independence came in the early 90s, Kazakhs were a minority. This has changed over the nearly 30 years as a country. Joanna really knows the country well and there are a lot of perspectives in the book. I loved the story about the villagers living near an old uranium mine. It is unfortunate that the world knows Kazakhstan more for the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen than anything else.
Lillis is now a sanctioned journalist in Uzbekistan and I’ll be following her reporting. I highly recommend the book for those interested in Central Asia.