A Travellerspoint blog

Glovers Reef Atoll


View Glovers Atoll - 2013 on madpax's travel map.

One month. No power. No running water.

Only fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, reading, card games, hammocks and each other.

It was awesome.

IMG_3240.jpg

Posted by madpax 19:14 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

Four Gringos and a Dingo

5300 miles with the kids, the dog and a "no electronics" rule on board was probably a good way to test all our sanity but as it turned out we had one of the best times we have ever had together as a family.

First of all the kids did an amazing job. They got along incredibly well, probably even re-connected in a lot of ways. They were great helpers when it came time to set up camp, gather wood, scope out taco stands or whatever the moment required. The dog was pretty good too - he was obviously made for traveling. He just hung out in the back seat with the kids and took whatever life threw at him - chasing crabs on the beach or enduring a 12 hour day of driving and not much else.

We spent most of our time on the Pacific side for the cooler weather and the accessibility to miles and miles of gorgeous, sand beach with not a soul in sight. Bombing down these little dirt roads that hugged the coast for miles on end, it was hard to imagine how close we were to the good ol' USA. It seems as if every square inch of "desirable" land such as this is so over-developed here at home that it has been taken out of the reach of the common family. But here, we felt like it all belonged to us, if just for a little while.

It was hard work at times, but worth every minute of it. We got to Cabo and decided to rent a proper condo in order to sleep in a bed and do some laundry. By the second day we were all ready to hit the road again, deciding we weren't getting much of of just laying around. Of course it it always ends too soon and Paxton is already talking about doing the same thing in a northbound direction next year up to Alaska.

Good memories that I know I will cherish forever.

I posted some photos that you can view by clicking on this link: Mexico Slideshow

Posted by madpax 16:19 Archived in Mexico Comments (3)

Re-Entry

overcast 65 °F

Re-entry has been wonderful and overwhelming all at the same time. We have so many memories of this trip that it is impossible to condense them into a summarized post. I have loads of video that I took along the way that I haven't even touched yet. In all we drove 8500 miles in about 5 weeks. It is a life-changing experience for certain. One neither of us will ever forget.

EUROPE:

We blasted through most of Europe as quickly as we could. Later in the journey when we were pulling 20 hour days, I looked back and realized we could have made better time however. Our philosophy was that we would likely be back to Europe (maybe take the kids) but when would we be back to Central Asia/Mongolia? That is where we wanted to spend our time.

We camped in the woods off some logging road in Germany one night - it actually reminded me a bit of the Northwest. Very green, beautiful rolling hills and BMW’s everywhere. The autobahn was a trip. Kelsey spent most of the time not getting run over than actually looking ahead. It was hysterical to look at our speedo (doing 85-90mph) and get passed by people like we were standing still.

large_DSC_0030.jpg

We both really enjoyed the Czech Republic. The scenery was pretty - the food was great. We stopped in the town of Plzen which is the birthplace of pilsner-style beer. Had a fantastic lunch and our first taste of unfiltered pilsner. Yummy.

Plzen, Czech Republic:

large_DSC_0041.jpg

We camped along the Black Sea in the Crimea in Ukraine right before entering Russia. It as absolutely jammed with Russian tourists on holiday. It was really beautiful if just a little disappointing for all the litter.

large_DSC_0066.jpg
large_DSC_0075.jpg

It took us 24 hours to get across the border from Ukraine into Russia. There was a 20 minute ferry ride in between that only took about 15-20 cars at a time. Thinking forward to the end of the trip where we were so pressed for time, we would have liked to have this 24 hours back.

Border sign leaving Ukraine:

large_IMG_2059.jpg

KAZAKHSTAN:

Western Kazakhstan looks just like Wyoming. Oil fields and not much else. The roads in and around Atyrau were fabulous as the oil companies had recently paved them apparently not wanting their trucks to be reduced to shreds in a matter of weeks. A few hundred kilometers outside of Atyrau, the road turned to dirt track just like that. We followed it all the way to the Uzbekistan border where we stayed the night just outside the checkpost.

large_IMG_2080.jpg
large_IMG_2109.jpg

[==b]UZBEKISTAN:[/b]==

We entered Uzbek in the very northwest corner which is a semi-autonomous region called Karakalpakstan. The first thing we noticed was how friendly (the friendliest of all the countries) the people were. Their big smiles and genuinely interested faces were a total surprise. There is a difference between people being nice because they think they might profit from you and people being nice because they genuinely want to know more about you. The Uzbeks were the latter. They were very eager to practice their english on us. Cars regularly honking at us - in a “hello my friend!” kind of way. People going completely out of their way to give us directions. The country itself was okay to look at, but the people were absolutely beautiful.

We made our way to the Aral Sea and saw the devastation that the over-zealous Soviets caused in their pursuit of higher cotton yields. The irrigation project initiated by the Soviets was known even before they started to be the death of the Aral, but apparently they felt the cost justified. The Aral was once the fourth largest body of fresh water in the world - and yet it has been destroyed in less than a generation. The good news is that the north Aral has been dammed up with hopes of saving that small piece. The southern Aral where we visited is nearly gone. To add insult to injury, the Soviets performed chemical and biological weapons testing here in the 1980’s and the local population still suffers the ills. It is eerie to walk about the desert and see ships stranded, to see seashells that 20 years ago were under water.

large_DSC_0080.jpg
large_DSC_0082.jpg
large_DSC_0099.jpg
large_IMG_2128.jpg

By far our favorite spot in Uzbekistan was Bukhara. The Kalon Mosque and Kalon Tower were impressive. The Kalon Mosque is said to be one of the oldest and largest in Central Asia. Built to house the entire male population of Bukhara for Friday prayers. The Kalon Tower was built in 919 and was originally a minaret used for the call to prayer. At times in its history it was also used for marching criminals to the top and chucking them over to fall to their death. I guess they probably didn’t have trouble with prison overcrowding.

large_DSC_0128.jpg
large_DSC_0129.jpg
large_DSC_0116.jpg

Most of you heard about the gas shortage in Uzbek. And the purchasing of fuel of unknown origins. The result was known as gasoline alley:

large_DSC_0152.jpg
large_DSC_0150.jpg

TAJIKISTAN:

We entered Tajikistan and you could immediately feel/see the difference. Tajikistan is mountainous, therefore very beautiful but also very poor compared to the other Central Asian countries. Sharing a porous border with Afghanistan, a good portion of their economy (if you can call it that) is based on the opium/heroin trade. Having experienced a civil war in which 60,000 people were killed in the last 25 years has left the country without much in terms of leadership, infrastructure or direction. The people were (understandably) more guarded and withdrawn than their Uzbek neighbors.

On the way to Dushanbe, we went through this awful tunnel in the mountains that felt like it had been dug out with a couple of shovels 100 years ago. No lights, water was pouring in from the top and it lasted for what felt like 10 miles. But there were big signs all around of their president in some grandiose pose, gesturing at this “modern” tunnel as if to say “You’re Welcome Tajikistan”.

large_DSC_0191.jpg
large_DSC_0182.jpg

Dushanbe was a shit-hole. To be fair we didn’t see much of it, but what we saw was polluted and depressing. The other Central Asian countries have made an effort to distinguish themselves from their former Soviet rule. Tajikistan seems content to hang on to that legacy, not by maintaining it but letting it fall into a state of total disrepair and rot. Dushanbe had only soviet-style block hotels and we opted for what the guide book said was one of the nicest to choose from. The next two photos tell it all. We were all scarred for a couple days after and were wishing for our tents.

large_IMG_2200.jpg
large_IMG_2201.jpg

Leaving Dushanbe we headed to Khorog which was to be the official start of the Pamir Highway. The road to Khorog ended up being equally as exciting. The road hugged sheer cliffs on our side with views of Afghanistan just across the river on the other. One of many strange coincidences came one evening while driving along we stopped to see about camping at a teahouse along the road. A Landcruiser had pulled up as well and out popped this westerner so we went to have a chat with her. As it turns out she is from Shelton, WA - just about 100 miles from here. She had been living in Khorog for the last year. Strange.

We actually did see cars going across this, but we opted to go around:

large_IMG_2233.jpg

Old Soviet tank in the river:

large_IMG_2236.jpg

View of Afghanistan:

large_IMG_2256.jpg

Osama’s cave :)

large_IMG_2260.jpg

Official start of the Pamir Highway - the first car to ever make the journey:

large_IMG_2266.jpg
large_6DSC_0071.jpg
large_DSC_0183.jpg
large_1DSC_0182.jpg
large_DSC_0144.jpg
large_DSC_0114.jpg
large_DSC_0064.jpg
large_DSC_0056.jpg
large_IMG_2297.jpg

It doesn’t look like it from the photos, but the highways the second highest highway in the world. The plateau on which you drive is about about 14,000 feet in elevation with the surrounding peaks soaring much higher than that.

large_7DSC_0075.jpg
large_DSC_0071.jpg
large_DSC_0073.jpg
large_IMG_2275.jpg

The highest pass we drove over at 15,272 feet:

large_DSC_0112.jpg

Another washed out road. This one ended up costing us half the day as we had to cross a river several times to get around it.

large_DSC_0121.jpg

Good to know the locals get stuck too!

large_DSC_0160.jpg

I am trading my car in on a Yaris - this little thing was unstoppable!

large_DSC_0168.jpg
large_DSC_0170.jpg
large_9DSC_0150.jpg
large_DSC_0142.jpg

KYRGYZSTAN:

It is a pity we had to rush through Kyrgyzstan so quickly. I will remember it for: Amazing roads, easy border crossings and stunning scenery.

Home stay just across the border in Sary-Tash, Kyrgyzstan:

large_IMG_2305.jpg
large_IMG_2304.jpg
large_IMG_2324.jpg

KAZAKHSTAN (AGAIN):

Eastern Kazakhstan turned out to be a bit more scenic than Western Kaz. But not by much. There were at least some irrigated areas and bluffs to look at. The infamous 24-hour period of hell on the car happened here - crushed oil pan, broken windshield, tire blow out and rear differential leak. I guess a lot of abuse we had given the car finally caught up with us.

But isn’t the sky amazing?

large_DSC_0197.jpg
large_DSC_0196.jpg

Our friends in the ambulance towed us back into town to the mechanic they had used the day before in fixing one of their shocks. Despite the communication barrier, the guy was on it. He worked all day (and two others as well) with no break and finally got the oil pan repaired.

large_IMG_2344.jpg

Considering our lost time we drove straight through the remainder of Kazakhstan and Russia (again) to reach the Mongolian border. We drove two full days straight and stopped for only 4 hours total to sleep.

A little work on the differential while stuck overnight trying to get across Russian border with Mongolia:

large_IMG_2349.jpg

MONGOLIA:

Finally:

large_DSC_0235.jpg
large_DSC_0233.jpg
large_IMG_2358.jpg
large_1DSC_0206.jpg
large_DSC_0205.jpg
large_DSC_0203.jpg
large_DSC_0204.jpg
large_DSC_0216.jpg

In terms of scenery and wide open spaces - Mongolia is exactly as I had imagined. Silent, peaceful, wonderful. In terms of the people - it was quite different than I had imagined. I will preface this with saying we met kind, honest people. They were just not the norm. I will also say if you were on a tour with guide that spoke the language - it would be a different story.

“Re-appropriation” of ones belongings seems to be widely accepted as is muscling your way through a queue. It doesn’t seem that it is considered theft or cutting - just “Hey - you aren’t looking so now it belongs to me”.

The children were very aggressive. They would try to climb into the car if they saw something they wanted. A couple people reported them throwing rocks at their car if they didn’t hand something out. We had kids trying to block the road with their horse.

We did have a very fun experience while waiting for our friends in the ambulance to catch up - a man in a motorcycle came rolling up and needed gas. Kelsey gave him some from our jerry cans and as he is filling the bike up we notice he has a live golden eagle strapped to the back. He apparently uses it for hunting rodents and such - so to say thank you he let Jerry and Kelsey hold the thing.

large_DSC_0219.jpg
large_DSC_0221.jpg
large_DSC_0231.jpg

And then the end finally came. The rear-end seized up on the car about 40 miles west of Khovd. We had our last night together with our friends under the Mongolian sky. We drank warm beer and set fire to the owners manual for our car and the maintenance records for the ambulance. It was perfect.

large_IMG_2371.jpg
large_IMG_2379.jpg

The next morning as we were loading our things into the ambulance for our ride to town, another team took what has to be one of my favorite pics of the rally. All seven of us standing on the dead cop-car. Says it all.

cop_car_died.jpg

The guys dropped us off in Khovd so we could find our way to UB in what we thought would be a quicker fashion. Had we known it would turn out to be such a disaster, we would have taken them up on their offer to let us hitch the rest of the way with them. Absolutely great people, we feel very lucky to have gotten to know them.

Most of you have already read the ordeal on this blog so I won’t go into it, but this is a photo of the "bus" carrying 21 people and their luggage:

large_IMG_0617.jpg

The last time we saw the car it was being offloaded from the flatbed truck which had to steal it back from the guy in the ger who had stolen it from the side of the road. Or “re-appropriated” I guess.

large_3IMG_0608.jpg
large_8IMG_0607.jpg

I have posted the full gallery of photos (or at least most of them) for anyone who wants the un-edited version.

CLICK BELOW:
Mongol Rally Album

Posted by madpax 14:32 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Home Sweet Home

We hit the ground about 5am this morning - I have never been so happy to be somewhere in my life. Although it is very odd to be back in ways that is hard to describe. To see the traffic all orderly and safe, all the stores, people moving around so quickly - it is all very overwhelming in a way.

Seeing the kids for the first time as we approached the baggage carousel was amazing. It was the best feeling in the world to hold them in my arms again. They both looked like they had grown since we left! They barely recognized Kelsey with his beard - hasn't had the opportunity (or energy) to shave for five weeks so he is pretty scruffy.

So the bus incident - We got on this thing around 10am on Tuesday morning. We were told it took 36-40 hours to get to Ulaanbaatar. Perfect, we think. We would get there sometime in the wee hours of Thursday morning. That would give us time to get a room for a few hours, get showered up before coming home and even get to see the actual finish line for the rally.

That is not what happened. We knew pretty early on with this bus we were in trouble. First it isn't really a bus. It is the size of a VW van and has 8 seats. When I counted 18, I missed a couple. There were actually 20 people in this thing not including the baby. And our luggage. The real problem however was that it broke down about every 2-3 hours the entire way. If it wasn't a flat tire (which happened about 6 times), it was the clutch cable, or the wheel bearing, or electrical. Sometimes it was just a mystery but every time we stopped it would be 2-3 hours getting it figured out all us smashed back into the thing.

By Wednesday evening our concerns about making our flight became pretty high. We knew it would be closer than we originally planned and might have to just go straight to the airport and not see the finish line but we were okay with that. After a few more breakdowns that night, we were starting to wonder if we would even make the flight so we tried to communicate with the driver what our dilemma was. He assured us it would be no problem to be there in time.

It seemed after that the breakdowns became more frequent and more severe. At one very surreal point about midnight in the middle of the Gobi Desert, a Ford pickup pulls up to help and out jumps a guy from Colorado on his way to an iron ore mine for work. Unfortunately he was going the opposite direction as us or we would have latched onto to him.

About 4am on Thursday morning we were getting pretty desperate. We had pulled over and were inside a nomad's ger having some soup during yet another breakdown when a tow truck pulled up outside as well. Kelsey went out and arranged for us to ride in the back, inside the vehicle being towed. Kind of dodgy, but it was looking like an option anyway. Must not have been meant to be because even they had agreed to take us, the moment we turned our backs they hopped into their truck and took off. Such was the way it seemed with many of the Mongolians we met, beautiful to your face and something quite different when you look away.

Late Thursday morning we got to a collection of gers (like a yurt) that was a popular pit stop for locals. One of the men on the bus explained to us he had a friend with a taxi in a town nearby and would call him to come get us so we could make better time to UB. We sat there and waiting for about 1/2 hour and still no taxi. The men on the bus then tried to take our luggage off the bus even though no taxi had materialized. We we not ok with being abandoned in the middle of nowhere, not speaking the language and having them take off so Kelsey had a little shouty shout at the guys and threw our stuff back on the bus saying we weren't going anywhere. Things were starting to get really weird by then, you could just feel it. One of the girls from the bus pulled my aside and motioned to the guy who had supposedly called us a taxi and said "no taxi - bad man".

I still do not know what their motive was, whether this just wanted us off or what. I don't think it was that though because at one point stopped there at the collection of gers another taxi had driven through and as I went to go flag it down, the man from the bus stopped me and quite obviously to the taxi to leave.

In a great stroke of luck, another rally team pulled through just about then. We were able to get in with them and happily kiss the bus goodbye. They took us to the next town where we got a taxi to take us the rest of the way to UB. It was a little bit of a challenge explaining we needed to be there at a certain time - most Mongolians have no concept of time whatsoever. But I will give the guy credit - in his tiny, crappy little car he drove like hell. Scary at times - no seat belts. But he got us there with one minute to spare. I had called the airline on the way into town and told them we were on our way and please way. The lady told me the drop-dead time for check in was 5:40pm and I got to the counter at 5:39pm. To think of driving that far across Mongolia and making our flight by one minute was just crazy.

We were hot, sweaty, incredibly dirty, but we were going to get on a plane to see our kids so we were happy. Once we got on the plane and had a moment to relax we realized that here it was Thursday evening and we hadn't changed clothes, taken off our shoes or had the opportunity to lay down since Monday night. And in the stress of getting there that last 36 hours we hadn't even eaten. When they brought the airline meal around we both wolfed it down like it was the finest meal of our lives.

We made it to Ulaanbaatar. Not how we imagined but then again, this whole rally was not quite what we imagined. It was wonderful in so many ways - mostly the people and experiences along the way. We underestimated the amount of driving - 8500 miles pretty much nonstop. We underestimated the amount of work every day just finding food, fuel and a place to lay our heads.

It will take a while for me to compile photos but when I do I will send a link. I can't thank you all enough for your support - we are lucky to have such amazing friends and family. Thank you to our family for taking care of the kids while we were gone and treating them to such a wonderful summer of their own. Thank you to our friends for your comments and encouragement - it meant so much.

Love to you all,

Chala

Posted by madpax 15:19 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Beijing (barely)

The local bus turned out to be a bit of a disaster.

Too tired to post - it is a long story. Havent slept since monday night. Good news is that we made out flight in ulaanbaatar with only one minute to spare. We are in Beijing now and flight leaves in about three hours.

Love to you all and we will catch up when we get home. Can't wait to see those kids!!

Posted by madpax 14:50 Archived in China Comments (6)

(Entries 46 - 50 of 72) « Page .. 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 12 13 14 15 .. »