Camping in the Chimgan Mountains

Ocean and Oliver pose in front of the Greater Chimgan Mountains

We celebrated Independence Day by camping in the beautiful mountains in the Ugam-Chatkal National Park. I picked out a ridge overlooking the town of Burchmullo with a spectacular view of the Chimgan Mountains. I discovered the spot while cycling last year and thought to myself it would be the perfect camping spot. It was an otherworldly experience with the spectacular views of the setting sun on the peaks, a night sky full of stars and a cool breeze with no mosquitos. My wife and kids are not into camping but I made them go. We were supposed to camp with friends on the Amirsoy Resort grounds, but it was too much of a hassle to get to the camping spot. Uzbekistan has plenty of beautiful spaces to camp, so we decided to set up camp on the ridge. Everyone was grumbling about the livestock droppings and thorny grasses. However, after setting up the tents and chairs and when the sun started to set, the evening turned magical. We all experienced the majestic beauty around us and it lightened everyone’s mood. The kids ended up having a great time!

Obi had his little play area between the tents

Three times in the evening we heard howling dogs. It scared Ocean and I really liked being in a tent in the wild with “danger” around us. The pack of wild dogs never materialized and we had a decent sleep. In the morning it was actually a bit cold as we packed up and headed back to the city. The best aspect of life in Uzbekistan for me is the outdoor beauty of deserts and mountains and camping is the best way to fully experience it. We’ll definitely camp again, hopefully one of the weekends coming up we’ll give it another try.

I forgot how many constellations there are and it was cool to point them out to the kids. Ocean even saw her first shooting star! We forgot to bring pillows and our gas ran out so no morning coffee, but other than that, it was a perfect day in my opinion. Camping is another way to trap teenagers so they have to talk to you. We had a lot of laughs! I can’t wait to go again.

Walking the Sukok Reserve

Obi leads me home

I took Obi a couple of weeks ago to the Sukok Forest Reserve, which is located in the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains, near the city of Parkent. It is the closest the mountains get to Tashkent and only about an hour’s drive away. The US Forest Service and Uzbek government are working on developing the idea of reserves/parks in Uzbekistan and this is one of the first projects. I went late on a Sunday afternoon and parked my car in a village close by to the entrance. I didn’t realize that the entrance to the reserve had a gate and thought it was a private farm, so walked around the reserve through an adjacent ravine. It was still super beautiful and with the setting sun, it was a refreshing way to end my weekend. I like this development of reserves/parks. I think livestock over graze in the mountains and it will be good to see eliminating this in some areas to see what becomes of it.

View of Chimgan Mountains

On my way back to my car, I took a different way and was looking for a shortcut path to the village creek. I ended up at a rancher’s house and just to show the friendliness of the locals, when I asked them for directions to the path, they sent their daughter, who was probably age 10 with me to show me where it started. They trusted a total stranger and she escorted me about 50-75 meters away from them and she pointed down a narrow, steep path. We were quite a distance from the parents. I thanked her and carefully made my way down the windy path. I guess the lack of serious crime in the culture puts people at ease.

the path home

Family Journal: September 1, 2021

Somsa!

One of my favorite foods of Uzbekistan is the somsa which is a savory, baked pastry. Traditionally the Uzbeks fill them with beef, chicken, pumpkin, spinach or cheese. On the left is a pumpkin somsa and on the right is a different kind of pastry filled with beef. On Tuesday I was waiting at a government office with the International Relations Officer to get a tax document for the school. I caught the aroma coming from the Doppi Cafe located on the premises of the office (good idea) and headed over there for a delicious mid-morning breakfast. The sauce was a spicy tomato sauce and it hit the spot.

Running Trail at Eko Park

Yesterday was Uzbekistan Independence Day and we are on a 5-day vacation. I organized a cross country running team training session at Ecopark. I ran 5 laps at an average pace of 5:59 / kilometer. The last lap was the fastest at 5:43 and the slowest was the penultimate lap at 6:12. I am trying to get to a 5:40 pace for a 10 kilometer run. Tashkent’s California-style weather is ideal in September and we had a nice cup of coffee afterwards at a cafe located in the park. City officials promote environmental awareness, hence the name of the park and thanks to funding by the Mitsubishi corporation, they were able to develop a nice green space in the city.

Nadia and I did a few shopping errands and house cleaning (holiday – no domestic help!) and I did a bit of school work. In the evening, we hosted friends Neta and Dafna for dinner and pool time for the kids. They have four young children, including the new born above. It was nice to have kids again running through the house and Obi was so excited. Babies are so precious and we all enjoyed holding the little guy. Nadia and I are in a different stage of parenthood with our oldest at university and the other two in middle school and high school. I feel we are always trying to find creative ways for them to spend time with us. In the old days, we were the center of their world. It is natural for them to pull away from parents in adolescence and I am OK with it. I do wish however, that it would be easier for us to get them to do stuff with mom and dad!

Chilten Canyon and Soviet Uranium Mine

I went on an adventurous hike with long-time guides Boris and Vladimir near the mountain village of Yangiabad. We explored the Chilten River Canyon and as is typical on a Boris hike, it was a full-body workout. We started the morning by taking the upper trails, looking down upon a series of waterfalls cascading down the canyon. We walked about 3 kilometers on steep, narrow trails before moving down below. We climbed down and through the Chilten River, stopping for lunch and swimming as we went along. Scrambling over the rocks provided exercise for the whole body and I admire Vlad and Boris, both in their 70s, that they still can do these somewhat risky hikes and trails. The water temperature in late August was perfect and the views of the rocks, grasses/trees and blue sky were soothing for my soul.

Soviet Uranium Mine Tunnel

We had a bonus added to the day when we were joined by Elena, who is from the town of Yangiabad. The town during the Soviet times, was a “secret city” because of the nearby uranium mine. She led a tour around the town and even brought us up to one of the entrances to the mine. Authorities had closed the mine, but the locals opened it up and there were a couple of guys there. I am not sure what can be found in the long tunnels that can be found all around the town and into the hillsides. The tunnel we toured goes for approximately 4 kilometers and is full of side tunnels and drop-offs. Quite dangerous in my opinion. I was reading about the old uranium mines on native American reservations in northern Arizona and the radioactivity problems. I need to bring a Geiger Counter up with me the next time I go up there. A short visit is not dangerous, but long-term exposure, especially the dust, can have health effects. The temperature in the shaft was cool, probably in the 60s and reminded me of the abandoned iron ore tunnels and shafts of my home in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Looking Down from the Mine Entrance to the Road to Yangiabad

It was such a nice day and I always feel refreshed after a day in the outdoors. A special thanks to Elena for showing us her village and the mine.

Family Journal: August 14, 2021

Eko Park – Tashkent

We completed Teacher Work Week (we need a better name for the prep week) and are ready to receive students next week. I am trying to get back into long distance running and am trying out different routes in the city in the early mornings. Saturday we ran the 1km loop at Eko Park. The track is in good shape and provides enough shade and green to make it a pleasant run. I find it a bit tedious going around in a 1km circle, but working on my speed and then combine it with running outside of the park makes it tolerable. After a week of running, I am starting to feel my groove again and recovering from the bike accident in June. The stretching of yoga has helped and need to do more of it.

Nadia admires the oak trees that line many streets in Tashkent

We went for breakfast at Breadly afterwards and then shopping at Kanishka, a high-end leather shop on the boulevard of the bakery. I bought a new wallet and computer bag, as my current bag is over 20 years old and is falling apart. The prices for leather in Tashkent are inexpensive and hopefully, it will last as long as my last bag. I love walking in that part of the city close to NBU stadium. There are lots of mature trees and old apartment blocks with interesting facades. The Uzbek sunshine creates beautiful lighting. The extremely high temperatures of last week (100F+) are cooling this week and as I write this at 8:30 AM, it is a perfect 72F. I drove Oliver to his friends and back, did some grocery shopping and took Obi for a walk in the late afternoon.

I appreciate life in Tashkent and am trying to capture moments in my regular day. There is a small bakery and somsa restaurant (middle) that I walk by on my way to school in the mornings. We buy bread there and when it is fresh and hot, delicious. I spotted this car hauling plastic and paper for recycling. Because of the low incomes in Uzbekistan, plastic and paper recycling is viable and you see people collecting in garbage areas all over the city. A Luli (Roma) family was in the car (right) and it is a vital source of income for many Luli. The Soviet era apartments are quite small and people need to be creative to maximize the space. I liked the bicycle storage in the windows of the third floor.

I end this post with a photo of the Sacred Heart Cathedral (aka The Polish Church) at night. I usually only see it in the day and didn’t know that they light it up in the evenings.

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Family Journal: August 8, 2021

I love the architecture of the Hotel Uzbekistan, one of the best examples of the Soviet’s fascination with Brutilism. This term comes from the French language meaning “exposed concrete”. The style was popular with architects from the 1950s to the 1980s. Besides the exposed concrete look, it also specialized in geometric shapes. The Hotel Uzbekistan is in the shape of an obtuse angle, and the distinctive building completed in 1974, has interlocking cement squares which provide shade to the facade. It was a classic Tashkent stifling hot August afternoon on Sunday and near sunset, Nadia and I took Obi out for a walk. The setting sun on the facade of the hotel contrasted with the blue skies and green of Amir Temur Square combined for a splendid view.

Summer is my favorite season and swimming and lounging in the pool with my wife and daughter was pure heaven. We are fortunate to have a nice pool in our patio and it is the best way to beat the heat. As you can see by the global Mediterranean climate map, Tashkent actually has a similar climate to southern California and my former home of Perth, Western Australia. The “holy trinity” of Mediterranean crops, grapes, olives and wheat, grow well in this climate. Tashkent differs from Los Angeles however, with cold winters with significant snowfall.

World Köppen Climate Classification – Mediterranean

As you can see from the chart above, Tashkent summers are dry and hot. Most of the precipitation falls in the winter and spring. We basically get, the opinion of someone who grew up in Northern Michigan, three months of winter (December, January, February) with off/on months of April and November. October and AprilMay are perfect weather

Family Journal: August 7, 2021

I am always extremely busy in the weeks leading up to the start of school. We just completed 10 days of welcoming the new faculty to Tashkent and finding accommodation for them. I have not had much time to blog.

One of the nice discoveries this week was the shashmaqam, an ancient Central Asian music genre that originated in the Uzbek city of Bukhara. The two musicians above were playing in the dining room of the Ichan Qal’a Hotel where the new teachers were staying. The music sounds exotic and vaguely from the Middle East and a bit sad. The lyrics of the classic songs come from Sufi poems of divine love. The guys were nice to oblige my request of recording them and they chose Turgun Alimatov’s song, “Nasri Segoh”. He was a celebrated Uzbek classical musician and traveled the world on solo tours, taking Uzbek music to the world.

Oliver works on his serve at the Olympic Tennis Club

I finally played tennis, the first time since my bicycle accident in June. My shoulder felt almost normal and I had no problems with my forehand and backhand, although I didn’t hit it as hard as I could. I am not ready to serve yet. Summer mornings on the court with my sons are heaven for me and the chance to hit with Oliver and Coach Igor was one of the highlights of my week!

“Protecting” his melons… – Tashkent, Uzbekistan

We are eating about 1 watermelon (арбуз) and/or 1 torpedo melon (диня) every two days. Uzbekistan grows the best melons in the world and you see temporary stands all over the city. I snapped the photo above this morning on the corner of the street of the hotel. The guy covers the melons overnight and sleeps right there on the street! Because of the dry desert climate, there are little bugs in Tashkent, but it can’t be too comfortable, especially with temperatures in the 80s F overnight. It reached 100 F this afternoon! I love the heat of summer and taking a short dip in our pool to refresh myself. Melons and swimming are two of my many loves of summer, my favorite season!

This morning we took some of the new teachers to the flea market of Tashkent, Yangiabad. I’ve blogged about it before. Today I explored the animal dry market and of course, Wuhan came to my mind. There were all sorts of parakeets and song birds, chickens, turkeys, turtles, etc. close together in unregulated conditions. I quickly made my way through, but did want to save the cute hedgehog and release on our school grounds. It seemed to me as prime conditions for a viral species jump, although I didn’t see any slaughter of the animals on site.

Family Journal: July 30, 2021

The last week of July and early August is a busy time of year for international school leaders. New faculty arrive at this time from abroad and it is an involved process in getting settled into their new homes and school. There are travel logistics, visas, procuring accommodation, acclimating them to the culture of the country and school and getting them feeling comfortable, ready to teach. I went several times to the airport to meet arriving teachers and get them to their hotel. It is a big responsibility to bring people to Uzbekistan and I try my best to make sure they are safe and happy. It is also rewarding to meet so many great people and be able to share our mission with them to educate the next generation. It is such a privilege to lead a school community.

I love people watching at the Tashkent International Airport arrivals area. In Central Asia, guests meet arriving passengers outside of the terminal. It is a bit disconcerting for newcomers to exit customs and not to have people waiting inside the building. Summers in Tashkent are the typical hot, dry Mediterranean climate and the airport provides a shaded area with misters. There is also a large park on the grounds of the airport. There were lots of people sleeping/resting under the trees. I am not sure why they were there, my guess is they were waiting for their flights and took a bus to the airport and were limited by the timetable. Tashkent has a bit of diversity with significant Russian and Korean populations. The Uzbeks also have a continuum of religious fervor that translates into really secular women dressed to attract attention to others wearing headscarves and long dresses. It makes for a bit of a cosmopolitan vibe.

One interesting diversion we had while waiting for the teachers get outside was the arrival of Serbian professional soccer player, Bojan Matic. A small but enthusiastic delegation of Pakhtakor fans were there to greet him. Pakhtakor is the premier team in Uzbekistan professional soccer. I have not been to a game yet, mostly due to COVID.

Obi checks out the machinery in our neighborhood

One final note is the city is paving more streets in our neighborhood. We noticed a lot of cars parked on our street and while walking the dog, we noticed the reason why. People were asked to park away from the homes while the pavers are finishing the streets. Many of the old houses are being purchased and replaced with newer, larger homes. Our mahalla is rapidly changing.

Family Journal July 25, 2021: Travel Day PA to Tashkent

It was a no-stress travel day on Sunday as we made the long journey back from the USA to Uzbekistan. NYC Limo service packed the SUV to get us to JFK in 2 hours and 15 minutes. It was a cool, rainy morning, in stark contrast to the Tashkent inferno temperature of 104F and sunny. I was impressed with the airport as it was recently renovated. We spent the morning in the AirTips Lounge because of our tickets. Both Nadia and I flew business class which I usually don’t. I got a business class ticket because of my shoulder and it is so much nicer flying when one can lay flat. The economy class was full with many children running up and down the aisles while on our side, peace and quiet. It will be hard to go back to economy… The JFK-Tashkent direct flight is convenient for us when we want to spend some time on the east coast America.

Tashkent International Airport

It is nice to be back home. We unpacked, I went into the school office and walked Obi in the evening. He was a little shocked to see us but has been following Nadia around all day. It was a great morning because everyone was awake at 5:30 AM because of jet lag. Owen is at my uncle’s and a bit bored before starting university so we talked for a long time on Telegram. Ocean/Oliver/Nadia and I watched the Tokyo Olympics. We love the Australian – USA rivalry in swimming.

Family Journal: July 24, 2021

Owen with his new ride!

Much of the summer was spent getting Owen ready for university. We bought a Nissan Rouge SV used car for him (and us when we visit in the summers). Hopefully soon he will get a drivers license so he can take it all the way to Michigan. We purchased the car from a CarVision Nissan dealer in Hazleton, PA. Our luck would have it that used car prices are up 43% in the USA this summer due to the pandemic. We did get a pretty good price on a car with low mileage. Most importantly, the 2019 model has many safety features including the blind spot warning and a warning system when the car crosses the centerline or edge of the road. This is important to us for a male, teenage driver. The car handles well and is much better than the car my parents bought me for university, a used 1980 Ford Zephyr. 

We played some tennis and golf in our last week in the USA. There are good public courts in Freeland and I was the ball boy for Nadia, Oliver and Owen. Our family loves tennis and we are following Novak Djokovic’s quest for the golden calendar slam. For those non-tennis people, the calendar slam is winning all four major tennis tournaments (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) in the same season. He already won the first three and the US Open in September is his final hurdle. The “golden” part is the summer Olympics gold medal. Novak has his second round match tonight in Tokyo. I took the boys to the local driving range in Drums, PA. They have a nice mini-golf course and I defeated both Owen and Oliver. Owen then borrowed my uncle’s clubs and hit buckets of balls on the driving range. He can hit much further than me. 

My shoulder is feeling much better and Dr. Neil gave me the green light to try to do as much as I can. He said if it starts to hurt, to ease up. I still have 2 to 4 months of healing, but I am slowly getting back to normal. I think I may even try to go for a morning jog this week when I return to Tashkent. Being hit by a car puts things into perspective regarding my cycling. I didn’t see or hear the car coming and I worry that as I get older, my reaction time and coordination are slowing. In a city with reckless drivers, it may have been a matter of time that an accident occurred and I am lucky I didn’t fall on my head or had a more serious injury. Then this week the tragic death of New York Jets assistant football coach Greg Abbott, age 58 (above) also shook me up a bit. He was killed in the middle of the afternoon while riding close to his home in California. He was in a designated bike line and like me, was struck from behind by a car going in the same direction. Doing some more research, I read of the high number of deaths from cycling and I also have friends that have had more serious car collisions than me. I have decided to stop cycling in the city and will only ride my bike on less traveled country roads and trails. I am sure I’ll blog more about this in the upcoming months. 

We finished up packing and on my last full day in the USA, Owen and I hiked the “mountain trail” in the nearby Nescopeck State Park in Drums, Pennsylvania. The 4 mile hike was insignificant regarding scenery or landmarks, but it was just nice to spend a quiet time walking and talking with my son through the woods. We were the only people on the trails in the late afternoon. I cherish the times I shared with my eldest son and it was a good way to say goodbye as he heads off to university next month. I am already counting the days until he comes back for Christmas in December.

Mountain Trail – Nescopeck State Park – July 24, 2021