Saturday, November 29, 2008

Bulgaria! Technology! Together!

Moving up in the tech world. This episode of The Tosif Trekking International Inc. Blog will be delivered by 'video'. If you are offended by beautiful masculine facial hair, please look away now.

P.s. I apologize, but i could not figure out how to turn the clip around. I found it easiest to turn my monitor onto its side.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Officially in the West

One of the best things about travelling by bicycle is that you see all the 'ın-between' places. You know when you're driving along at 120km/h and a watermelon stand whizzes past you and you see the faint blurred outline of the young watermelon seller and his three mates?

On a bicycle you spot them a couple hundred metres away, and they spot you and for a good couple of minutes they look you up and down as you climb to the top of the hill where the stand is (watermelon stands are almost exclusively positioned at the tops of large hills...) and when you get there they usually call out to you in a language you don't understand to stop and pick up a melon. And if you choose to stop and partake in a melon (much better to eat it on the spot, melons weren't made to be carried on bicycles), you inevitably get caught up in a sign language conversation that attempts to cross cultural and linguistic barriers but usually doesn't get much further than 'where are you from, where are you goıng, how old are you, are you married'. You get to experience the interaction between the seller and his three mates the way the young watermelon man talks too loud and sprays saliva all over your melon as he talks and slices it up the way his friends make fun of him and each other the same way we would back home. Also on a bicycle you often get a discount -for being on a bicycle.

The point is, everything happens slower by bike. So the gradual changes from area to area and country to country are a little more evident. So when I got off the plane in Istanbul, I was sudenly aware of big changes.

F.Y. and I have clearly arrived in the West. Cities are bigger and more organised, roads are better (it's not all bad!), people are a little more intraverted, prices are far more expensive and the quality of everything is better!

India Arie once wrote that 'the only thing constant in the world is change'. Clearly she must have been on a bicycle ride at the time.

Friday, November 21, 2008

My Turkish Haircut

I have always been blessed wıth a more than liberal amount of hair. Occasionally thıs has been the focus of humerous comments and rarely ıt has caused logistical problems. For example, when attempting to get a hair cut in Singapore - a country where haır is dıstrıbuted among people ın a fairly conservatıve manner - it ıs often confusing for the hairdresser to decide where the head hair stops and the back hair begins (nb. Italıans solved this problem years ago by adopting the `gold chain` approach, wherein the individual wears a big gold chain above which ıs considered 'head territory' and below which is considered 'chest/back territory') It is partly due to this history with hairdressers that I have in recent years adopted a 'do ıt yourself' approach to haircuts.

It is a well known fact that Turkish people are also well endowed in a follicular sense. I decided to take advantage of this while in Istanbul and while walking past a small barber shop in the suburbs, I threw caution into the wind and stepped inside.

What followed was beyond my wildest expectations. The young hairdresser did not skip a beat. He cut my hair in record time, then proceeded to eliminate hair I didn't even know I had! At one point he decided it was appropriate to set a oversized q-tıp on fire (literally) and practise drumming on my ears. Strange as this was for me, I completely trusted his judgement and was wooed by his proffessional attitude.

After the experience was over, and I had paid my 6 dollars (bargain.), I felt at ease. The only possible drawback of the entire experience is that with my 4 month old beard and now my smart turkish hair, I look truly, positively, Turkish.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lots of new stuff!!

So I finally put up some more photos, lots of them! You can get to them through the links on the right. heres a few i like.

Also I have adopted a different colour scheme to reflect the changing climatic conditions associated with the onset of winter. It is officially getting darker and colder...quickly.

Into the old world once again...

Israel part 2.

The israeli immigration people were very ... in releasing me from their country. There's a point in every questioning session that you know your answer wasn't the 'ideal' answer. In this case it was when I was asked "do you have relatives anywhere else in the world, anywhere? anywhere at all?"
-actually I have an aunt in Iran also...

WHAM! (not actually wham, but the change was so evident that it might as well have been)

so the sweet Israeli immigration officer dug through her pockets for the 'other' sticker which she lovingly placed on each one of my bags and documents, and my journey began. First they went through my bags and found things I never even knew I had! Then i was escorted to the 'metal detection department' and thoroughly palpated by a young israeli soldier before being allowed to repack my things once again. This time it only took 45 minutes, and at the end of it all they gave me a private escort that got me straight to the front of the check in line and past every other security check before boarding the plane.

To be totally honest, Israeli immigration is really not so bad. Just get to the airport 3 hours early.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Uzbek and Israel - FY grows wings!

Uzbek. Part 2.

Just a quick word on Samarkhand and Bukhara. Before I left Australia i had no idea where these places were. Apparently if you're a real Persian, this is embarrassing. These cities are described as heaven on earth by ancient sufi poets, have been vital centres of trade for millenia, and were instrumental in the spread of Islam through the east. Not to mention the home of the best Plov (greasy central asian rice dish) on the face of the planet.

Carlos (the spanish flight attendant- to your left.) and i spent three days roaming the streets, visting every mosque, mausoleum, maddressa we could find... (that sentence was placed there purely for aliteration sake, we also saw things that didn't start with m.)

Israel. Part 1.

FY and I took a plane from Uzbek to Istanbul. FY was 15kg overweight, together with all the other gear, she weighed in at 46kg. Luckily the good people people at Turkish airlines turned a blind eye and let us through without any troubles.

When we got to Istanbul, I booked her into storage. For the record, for the same price as one night of bicycle accomodation in a Turkish airport, you can pay for 4 days worth of food, accomodation and travel expenses in Pakistan. Welcome to Europe! (kind of)

This stop marked a clear change in conditions on this journey. I had my first real coffee in over 3 months, at a cost of 3 Pakistan days (from now on prices will be described as Pakistan Days - PD)

After a brief stop at the airport, i flew on to Israel, for a 3 day visit to the Bahai shrines in Haifa and Akka. I had the privellege of attending a 2 hour welcoming ceremony at the immigration department of Ben Gurion Airport. This unique cultural experience began with a brief conversation that went a little bit like this:

"What is your name?"
-Shervin Tosif
"You were in Pakistan"
"How long?"
-One month
"Please stand over there."

The end. Or rather, the beginning of a one hour interrogation session, Shalom!

The Bahai gardens and shrines in Haifa are exceedingly beautiful, i'll let the pictures do the explaining. (unfortunately I haven't uploaded any pictures yet, but when i do, they will explain.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Uzbekistan, FY rides again!

So, after finally tearing myself away from Bishkek, a separation almost as bad as a worn bandaid coming off a weary toe, I headed south back to Osh and back onto the bike for the ride to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Lately the blog has had more references to the idea of cycling as a general concept, rather than describing my cycling trip, possibly because i haven't done much cycling lately. But I assure you, the 4 day trip to Tashkent put me firmly back in the saddle and brought the dream of cross continental cycling back to the forefront... for a while.

The Uzbek border is about 4 km from the centre of Osh, so when my bus arrived at 5am and the people I was meant to stay with weren't answering the phone, i decided to hit the road. Running on 3 hours sleep and a pot of sweet hot tea I hit the border mid morning and without too many troubles (not even a baggage check this time!) I was well on my way to Andijon, the first Uzbek town on my way.

My policy these days is as soon as you enter a town, head for the biggest bazaar you can find, for 2 reasons; generally thats where all the action is, and also its one of the few things i can now comfortable communicate in Russian. Upon my arrival at the Andijon bazaar, i was immediately surrounded by a horde of beautiful young (and a few oldies...) Uzbek women, most of which had had at least the front half of their dentition replaced with blindingly bright gold teeth. After the initial questioning of where are you from, what are you doing etc etc. I was handed a cup of nice hot coffee (still standing in the middle of the street) and offered my choice of prescription drugs which they were selling on the black market out of their handbags. My love for Uzbekistan was borne

The roads were pretty fantastic, and for the first time on this trip i had a noticeable tailwind helping me along, all of which made the 450km trip a lot more comfortable. The police were also surprisingly friendly or at least suitably uninterested that they didn't give me a rough time.
The only problem came at the top of the one big mountain pass i had to cross, where the military guys wanted to check my passport and visa and ask me every possible question about myself, Australia, kangaroos and my thoughts on Uzbekistan, while i stood in the snow and ice, with a bloody gale blowing around us. Thankfully i left with all my toes attached, although it was another 3 hours before i could feel them again.

Unfortunately my time in central asia is rapidly coming to an end, and soon i'll have to make a bit of a jump by plane to Turkey and get back on the bike from there. So in order to fit in a few sights on the way, my trusty bike FY is once again resting while I parade around the country by train for a few days.

Uzbekistan is another one of those silk road countries whos history reads like a who's who of ancient conquerers. The greeks, turks, persians, russians, muslims and all their cousins, uncles, pets and siblings paraded through here at one point or another, leaving a multitude of amazing mosques, madrissas and mausoleums. Also as another byproduct of Soviet 'planning' the borders of Uzbekistan managed to include both Samarkhand and Bukhara, two predominantly Tajik cities packed with ancient architectural and historical jewels. Sucks for the Tajiks, but works pretty well for me, because most of the people here speak Farsi, which makes ordering my daily kebab much easier.

No photos this time, but will try and get them up soon!