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Silk Road Adventure 2015

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Dispatch from Jim Mattison



Dinner was outside in the courtyard by the fountain. First course was chicken rice soup flavoured with saffron and dill. With a big dash of olive oil. Yumm. Along with soup and bread we had a tapenade made from eggplant, olives, tomatoes, onions and peppers served with a salad of cilantro, parsley and radish, without dressing.


The main course was lamb grilled lightly then simmered in olive oil, tomatoes, onions, peppers and herbs, including fresh cilantro. All served on a glowing brazier with slices of grilled eggplant and potatoes. Black olives finish it off.




We saw the sign in the lobby for a wine tasting. So when the hour approached, down I went. I was quite surprised to find only Chris was there. We met our sommelier, Jamal, who showed us his credentials and we started the tasting. We were soon joined by Ian and Helge.
We sampled 8 wines, all from the Bukhara region. Some of the grapes were picked from vines that are over 300 years old.

I would say that New Zealand does not need to worry about the Uzbek Sauvignon nor was I impressed by the "Shardone" (Chardonnay). However the Muscat was good as were the higher alcohol reds. All in all, it was a pleasant experience and on an empty stomach and slightly dehydrated as I was, I left quite light headed. Pictures of the experience below.













Dispatch from Ken Southam

In the last two weeks we have covered a lot of ground. Eastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The internet has been a challenge to get a good reliable connection and not get kicked off every few minutes so updates have been delayed.


The culture has changed from fairly liberal in Turkey to a little more regimented in Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to restrictive in Iran, very restrictive in Turkmenistan and back to relaxed in Uzbekistan. The people of Iran flocked to us like rock stars and took more pictures of the group than the group took of them.


The Iranians where always welcoming even while we drove down the road at 80 kph. The driving in Tehran is a completely foreign experience to most of us, 3 lane roads (each direction) become 5 lane roads each way in the city with the random truck, bus, car or motorcycle going the wrong way either in the right or left lanes, double and triple parking. Pedestrians just step off the sidewalks and cross slowly and the cars weave their way around them. The city is in gridlock at rush hour and because we are celebrities, people are trying to welcome us while moving, some unintentionally driving us off the road or towards the car on the other side of us that might be doing the same thing. You have to watch everywhere all the time. Any little bit of space is immediately filled by another car. Utter chaos, but surprising all the cars seem to be in reasonable shape with few bruises, scrapes or dents.


Once you get out in the countryside the traffic gets lighter but farm machinery and farm animals (cows, sheep, goats, horses, donkey carts and recently camels) are sporadically on the highways (even the divided highways) to navigate around in all the countries visited so far. Fences are generally non-existent and usually there is a shepherd keeping an eye on the farm animals.


Every country has been fascinating to visit, even restrictive locked down Turkmenistan. Hotels have ranged from very basic in Iran to 5 star in Baku and even 6 star in Ashkhabad. Everyone’s motorcycles have behaved well with only a couple of mechanical issues, a clutch cable on an F800 and a wheel bearing on the sidecar rig. A few wrong turns and many great adventures so far along the Silk Road.


The boys are having a great time!











Dispatch from Joe Hutt

I’m sitting in my hotel room in Bukhara, Uzbekistan one of the ancient centers of the Silk Road. People come on these trips for many reasons, some to see a part of the world they might never experience otherwise, some to meet like minded people and enjoy the travel and the motorcycle adventure, some because of Helge, and some for all of the above. I do it for these reasons as well but more then that I come for special days on a motorcycle getting to someplace I have never seen or experienced and one that takes skill and desire to push a bike. This being my fifth trip, I know you only get a few days like that in your life and maybe on a trip like this you get 6 or 7 days that are special. I’ll tell you about one this trip for me.

We were in Astra, Iran and the day was a short one - a 167 Kilometer ride along the Caspian Sea to Rasht. Iran had already been an eye opener with the seemingly uncontrolled traffic and beautiful mountains. A side trip to a mountain village was a way of spending some more time on the bike and seeing something new.


The village of Masuleh turned out to be a mountain side village for tourists and that was great because the tourists were mostly Iranian and I got to meet several. I had ridden with John McKittrick who has been a companion on a number of days and a great one. We had first went up the road behind the village, steep, switchbacks and under construction with a road grader and other heavy equipment down low. A deep fog was covering the mountain. I took off and started up the steepness prevented looking back but early on I noticed John wasn’t behind me, since the road was still fairly easy, I figured John turned back because of the fog, which was accurate. I kept on hoping to break through the fog and get to the mountain above. Well the road was ok but the fog closed in and soon I couldn’t see more then a few feet. 1860 meters (about 6000ft) I stopped and turned around figuring the day was done. Went back to the village and met John for some tea and looking at the people.

I decided to heat out and go to the hotel. I met Kurt Durant by the bike and he and I noticed the fog lifting. He talked me into trying again. John said one was enough and headed to the hotel, I was thinking that was the better choice. Anyway having once gone up at 10 kph I took off in the lead and up the loose dirt and switchbacks and heavy equipment which they moved just for us. In 15 minutes I reached the place that took over an hour before and the mountains spread out in front of us. Pounding up the dirt track was my favorite try of riding and for an hour or so we just went up trying side roads and getting higher. 2350 meters was the top hight but the road stretched out for kilometers at that height and the panorama kept changing and it was spectacular. We stopped for a while and Helge and Bence came along.
we discovered there was a 205 KM loop which took us back to the hotel. Off we went on pavement which turned into a new mountain pass road which was well pave and perfect for a high speed romp dup and down the mountain. Again off I went, half way down I still saw Kurt’s headlights and took off for the bottom 12k later on a great cure filled down slope I pulled off to wait for Kurt, Helge and Bence. No show, so back up I went and right where i had last seen Kurt, they were finishing the repair to a flat. All was well and off again. The ride down again was just as good and finally in at 7:30, half hour late on a day that should have been over hours before. That’s a special day - seeing a part of Iran few see riding with friends and challenging yourself. Why I came.











Dispatch from John Riley

The area that we have been driving in the last few weeks is so rich in history its hard for me to picture what has taken place in this part of the world. So much fighting, so many cities have come and gone, and yet life continues on and the scenery is as beautiful as can be. Each day we see things that are landmark locations to past cities and civilizations. Things that existed thousands of years ago are everywhere. It is such a learning experience, I wish I had paid more attention in high school. I will have to get on to the Internet when I get home and read more about where we have been. The countries covered in this dispatch are as diverse as they can be. Azerbaijan is full of history (and oil) and the big city that we visited, Baku, is as nice as any modern city can be. Armenia is as poor as any country can be, but honestly, the people were as nice to us as anywhere we have been. It was a country that we spent way to little time in. The riding was stunning.


Then the country we all were excited to visit and for most of my family, the most nervous for me to visit, Iran. I must say, in the beginning I was a little nervous when we crossed the border. When you don’t know about something, well, you just don’t know. After about 6 hours of driving we quickly learned that the Iranian people are as interested in us as we were of them. They wanted to meet us, get their picture taken with us and practice their english (which is usually very good). People would stop us on the road to get pictures and just say hello. Even the police would stop us, at first we thought for speeding, but really, they just wanted to see the bikes and visit.


Every where we stopped the bikes we drew a crowd. My best memory of my time in Iran was when three of us were driving through a small town in northern Iran getting near the border. It was a small town with little money and not much going on in the town. I stopped to take pictures of kids as they were headed home from school. The kids were kids like any other place in the world, and a taxi driver stopped to say hello and see what was going on. In our conversation, he spook little english, he said thanks for coming to his town, tourist never come here. I said, well today you have at least three. I am so glad I had this time to visit a country that was so different from what I had expected. I think our GlobeRiders group left a good impression on the people of Iran, I know they did on us.


We left Iran and traveled to a country that’s a complete polar opposite, Turkmenistan. Ashkhabad is as strange a city as I have ever been to in my life. The opulence is overwhelming. I would have said everyone should visit this place, but really, you should just look at the pictures. After you see the buildings in a city tour, and they are visually stunning, you are pretty much done with all there is to do in Ashkhabad.

The riding has been as diverse as the countries, hills, mountains, new good roads, old crummy roads, cool and hot, blowing dirt and sand, and clear morning drives. I look forward to something new each day I start the bike.










Dispatch from Gary Schmidt

We’ve traveled a long distance since the last dispatch. We’ve been through Georgia, a short ride into Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and now in Uzbekistan.


We’ve seen some incredible landscapes and great cities but still the best part is the people we meet. They are so friendly and nice. It’s truly been the great surprise of this adventure. And in Iran, if possible, they were even more friendly. I found Iran to be a poorer country than I expected but the people I met on the road more than made up for it.


Ashkhabad was a complete surprise. It’s an oasis out in the middle of the desert. They have a lot of gas/oil money and have built a city that is a bit over the top. And that’s being nice. It’s impressive but has no soul.


On the other hand, Bukhara, Uzbekistan has enough soul to spare. We were so fortunate to have our complete day in Bukhara the day of the Silk Festival. The women and men dress in their district costumes and have a long parade with the men playing the drums and the women dancing. It was quite an event.


We stayed in the old part of Bukhara, which is a UNESCO National Heritage Site, and have been amazed with the long history of Bukhara.

We travel to Samarkand tomorrow to visit another great city.




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Dispatch from John McKittrick

We departed Tbilisi, Georgia to Sheki, Azerbaijan on May 16th. Crossing the border into Azerbaijan was a test of patience. The local people seeing us through border crossings are terrific. It just takes time. on May 17th we departed Sheki for Baku, a very wealthy city on the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan seems to have been invaded & concurred by all of its neighbors at one time or another. The primary culture here today is Russian. Oil is the primary source of money, and there is a lot of money here. How would you like a window washing job?


We departed Baku on May 17th on our way to Iran. The border crossing was tedious. I don’t know how many times we had to stop & show documents. Finally, once all riders had reached the last stop, they took two complete sets of fingerprints. The funny thing was, almost no one spoke english but the fingerprint card was in english……..they must have downloaded it from the internet. We traveled to Astara, Iran where we spent the night. Everyone I met was kind & welcoming. They especially loved the BMW bikes as the motorcycles here (and there are many) are small bikes for commuting. Joe Hutt & I stopped on the road for tea. The neighboring store was a bakery & they allowed me to use the toilet room which was on the second floor. Access was via a lift used to move baking products & people.


The bakery had wonderful goods so I ordered 2 cream puffs for Joe & me. They gave me a plate full of cream puffs & cookies & would not let us pay………….pretty amazing.


May 21st found us on our way to Tehran. The trip was uneventful with the exception of the traffic & temperature. Low 90’s & 12 million people on the street at the same time without any rules. For the most part, I felt lucky to have survived. I left Teheran on the morning of the 22nd before the sun was up in order to avoid traffic. That move proved to be successful & it proved to be like a busy traffic day in Montana.




Agriculture is a huge part of the economy. They grow mountains of vegetables & fruit. They raise cattle & sheep, who are allowed to run quite freely across highways inside & outside of towns. What really surprised me is the amount of rice grown in Iran.


Every time you stop your motorcycle, if there are people around, they flock to you to see the bike & practice speaking english. Usually there is someone in the crowd who speaks somewhat broken english so you can communicate a little. Maps & gestures go a long ways.


I was stopped three times by the police in one day. Not because I was doing anything wrong, they just wanted to see the bike & wondered where I was going. We travelled through a National Park today. It was green, cool & scenic. Living in Montana, I’m a bit spoiled by scenery, but it was nice.




The border crossing into Turkmenistan took 5-6 hours. Not too long but difficult. We traveled to the city of Ashkhabad. This may be the strangest place I’ve seen. A 21st century marble city constructed as a vision by the first president (Niyazov) for the people. The problem is, the people never came. In general, pictures of the city are not allowed & in particular are not allowed of any governmental structure. We were able to photograph the largest masque in Asia, constructed by the same president as a edifice to himself.








And, we were able to see Akhai-Tekke horses’ the oldest cultured breed of horse in the world. The Arabian horse & the American Quarter horse are said to be decedents of this animal. They were absolutely beautiful!







Dispatch from Kurt Durrant

More tales from the trail.


We have reached the half way point in terms of days of travel on our silk road tour, day 28 is in the books. It will not be possible to convey all of the places, experiences and memories to date and they just keep coming. So here are a few top of the bumps.


The clouds finally parted and we had a great one day loop within Armenia. The former Soviet possession has not emerged as fast as some of its neighbors to find their own way to foward within the region we cruised. That said the people were intensely hospitable despite their industries being locked in a time warp in the mountain town of Alaverdi. The scenery and natural beauty stands out in stark contrast the heavy industral relics of the past. This is a country that would warrant spending additional time to uncover more treasures, next time.


Georgia, finally showed us it’s sunny side on our ride to the Azerbaijan border. The rain over the previous days produced significant flow in the rivers and we all crossed a good length of overflow of a river that over ran its banks, great for fun and photos.


Azerbaijan was fantastic with a great hill and valley ride with Chris through miles and miles of 2 track and a sound of music moment that will not be forgotten. The lush rift valley defined by the Caucuses that went on for miles finally gave way to arid mountains and then to the new and brash capital Baku on the shores of the Caspian Sea.


Iran - yea Iran baby. This was #1 on my list and many of our “gang” members and it did not disappoint, not by a long shot. Although we only covered the northern corridor along the Caspian Sea weaving over the coastal mountains to Tehran, it was a magical six days. A million cups of tea was to be had as the Iranian people we so far beyond my expectation it easily bring a tear to my eye. It is so far beyond the time to move beyond the rhetoric, tune out the sound bites and open our hearts and get ready for your million cups of tea.


A “world in a day” mountain loop ride chasing Joe “Rocket” that started in the lush costal lowlands, gave way to forests draped in fog, once lifted we were treated to arid high alpine mountain passes and miles and miles of good dirt road adobe villages and lush high alpine and back to the coast. Fantastic!


Turkmenistan. I was raised if you cannot say anything nice better not to say anything at all; not. Just think of it as North Korea without budget limitations - weird. But, once away from the capital of Ashgabat and in the sand dunes of the eastern pan, the real personality came forward. Another interesting boarder crossing into Uzbekistan, but more on that in our next issue.



















Dispatch from Marty Kromer and Bill Shea

A few final treats in Turkey were: Hattusas the capital city of the Hittites and Sumela Monastery outside Trabzon. Hattusas is a large walled city with gates passing through tall steep sloped mounds. The earth outside the mounds was used in their construction forming a hollow which essentially doubles the height of the mound. The remaining buildings ( stone foundations) in the city are of temples. The Hittities had many Gods. They apparently formed an alliance with Jerusalem at one point confirming the deal with a contribution to Solomon's temple.



The Sumela Monastery was perched high on a steep mountain above the city. It is centered around an early Christian church carved out of a cave in the side of the mountain. Various rooms for monks were added as the community grew. There is a stone aqueduct that brings water into the complex. It was extreme foggy when we were there so it was difficult to see how all the pieces of the complex fit together.



The image of Georgia that will remain for us is tables covered with dishes full of food. Hummus, individual vegetables - cooked and raw, meats, various salads, multiple kinds of bread ( curiously no butter, we always had to ask ), yogurt, water - still and with gas, wine and beer. It was impossible for our group to empty all the dishes of food. We had our first water crossing on a road that was flooded by an overflowing river. We have done water crossings before but never through water that had a strong current. Fun. We visited a home for old people who for whatever reason had no relatives to take care of them and for children who either had no parents or just a single Mom. Helge had arranged in advance for us to buy and bring a gift that each child had requested. It was a great pleasure to be unloading bicycles and books and skate boards for these adorable children.



We stopped in Gori. Home of the third biggest mass murderer in the history of the world. Stalin had planned a museum to commemorate himself. It is falling down. There is an added display in the museum, post Georgian independence, to show what happened in the Gulags. The museum is built next to his childhood home. The house is now protected under a large canopy. The house is a very simple, one room, wood and earth, extremely modest hut/building. Stalin's mother was a seamstress - she wanted him to become a priest, and his father was a cobbler(?). What makes a man kill over 20 million of his own people?


We had a beautiful ride into Armenia. Drove through a small town that had a large dilapidated Soviet era metal/steel plant. A river was flowing next the plant. One can only imagine the heavy metals seeping into the water. We had lunch - bottled water only, and visited an old monastery on top of a mountain.



The highlight of Azerbaijan was Baku. Apparently not very long ago this was a city of dirty air, dirty street and falling down buildings. It is now a place of clean air, beautiful buildings and beautifully planned and planted outdoor spaces full of happy people walking with friends and families eating ice cream. Whatever else the substantial oil revenue is being spent on it is certainly being spent on public buildings and spaces for people.



Iran was the main concern of the trip. Would we be welcome? Would we feel safe? Were all our friends and family who told us before the trip that we were crazy to do this going to be proved right?


There are many things about Iran we don't understand. There were many roadside posters that are disturbing. The visit to the former American embassy was troubling. Outside the embassy we were specifically told, for our safety, not to get out of the bus.



The people of Iran welcomed us with open arms and big smiles. As soon as they found out we were Americans they welcomed us even more vigorously. Our first encounter was shortly after crossing the border on our way the hotel. We were separated from the group. We were in a very small town with very narrow streets. We were stopped by two military officers in a marked military vehicle. One officer spoke English. When we told him we were from America his eyes practically popped out of his head in surprise and then he immediately shook our hands and said welcome to Iran. A few local men were now gathered around us. One was returning home with two loathes of fresh warm bread. He immediately insisted that we take one of the loaves. We drove slowly down the street so that Billy could shake people's hands from the sidecar. This initial impression was repeated over and over during our stay in Iran. Curiosity, kindness and generosity - except on the roads. Tehran is an immense city with over 12 million people. The roads are very crowded with very aggressive drivers.



Turkmenistan is a very curious place. It seems more xenophobic than any of the other countries we have visited. The substantial current revenue and futures from natural resources are being spent on a city of white marble and gold at Ashkhabad. This new part of the city has many very beautiful, very large and very empty buildings, parks and streets. We can't decide if this is a case of "build it and they will come" or a new form of civic planning we don' t understand.



Uzbekistan will be remembered for Merv, Bukhara and Samarkand. The 12th century restored mausoleum at Merv is beautiful, very cool - on a very hot day in the desert, and very moving for what it represents. At one point this was the center of the world, the intersection of the main north- south and east- west trade routes of the world. Then Genghis Khan came and leveled it killing everyone (I believe we were told 400,000 people). The biggest disappoint of the trip so far has been that we both got sick from bad food in Bukhara. Instead of being able to walk this historic and amazing city we spent the day in our hotel room. There was a major festival in the market area outside our window. We could hear beautiful music all day long and see people walking by in beautiful native dress. We imagined all the dancing that was going on in the squares of the market.



Fully back to health we have been able to walk the market and sites of Samarkand. One of the many projects when we return home will be to study the history of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and all the other conquerors/mass murders who came through this part of the world and try to understand why it had to be this way.


Bill and Marty



Bill Shea's Photo Gallery



Bill Shea also is posting his photo's daily on his Twitter feed: @sidecarmonkey


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Dispatch from David Dardaris

The last update was from when we had just entered Georgia, we’ve been in four more countries since then. Georgia and Azerbaijan were in some respects the most interesting only because I had absolutely no ideas of what to expect there. In many respects they were both a continuation of what we had seen in Turkey, especially the rural life. Small villages with people working the fields, all sorts of livestock on the roads. If anything, traffic was even more chaotic than in Turkey - people passing with no room to pass, two or three cars passing taking up all the room on the road from left curb to right curb. Cities were even more chaotic, except none were as big as Istanbul. And then there was Baku. A big city with lots of money from the oil business lots of BIG fancy hotels and lots of big fancy business buildings.But there was an old part of the city with historical buildings too.

And then we came to Iran. The news media seem to portray it as a country that hates America and Americans but nothing could be further from what we saw there. The border crossing was the longest to date, they even took everybody's fingerprints. First impression leaving the border crossing was a lot more litter in the streets than we had yet seen. But the people there seemed to be the friendliest people in the world. Everybody asked where we were from and when we said America or Canada, they seemed so excited to talk to us. And in the big cities, Rasht and Tehran, a lot of people spoke very good English. Our second to last night in Iran we were staying just outside of Gorgan, a small town northeast from Tehran. There was a big hill right across from our hotel with a stone staircase leading up and into the woods covering the hill. The steps only went a little way up the hill, but there were several hiking trails leading upward, so I continued. The hill was rather steep, and the trees covering the hillside gave no clue as to how high it was. I did run into several people hiking up or down, none seemed to speak English out here in the countryside. Then I encountered a younger man who answered my Hello in English, and we struck up a conversation. He was going up the hill also, said he’s been climbing this hill for about two years and offered to escort me to the top. After about an hour and a half (with several breaks for me to catch my breath), we finally reached a point near the top which he said was his favorite spot on the hill. There was a shelter there with bench seats around the edges, a roof and a fire pit in the middle. Four men were hanging out there, none of them spoke English, but my new friend explained who I was and they offered me a cup of tea that they had prepared by the fire. Everybody was very friendly. We took our leave from the guys at the shelter and when my friend explained that the actual top of the hill was another half hour walk from there, I told him I had seen enough and wanted to go back down. He wouldn’t let me go by myself, but insisted on accompanying me back down. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

Next we came to Turkmenistan. Some really nice roads in Iran going up to the border crossing high in the mountains, equally nice roads coming down into Turkmenistan. The first clue of what we could expect there was the fact that we had to ride from the border to our hotel in Ashgabat as a convoy, nobody riding by themselves. First impression of Ashgabat was of a beautiful city of white buildings seen from the distance as we were coming down the mountainside, almost dreamlike. Into the city, that impression was confirmed, everything seemed to be made of white marble. Obviously a city built with lots of money to look impressive, but completely different from the commercial look of Baku with its tall glass covered buildings. We were told by our guide not to walk around the city taking pictures, it was illegal to take pictures of any government buildings which seemed to be most of the buildings we cold see. And, the strangest thing is that there seemed to be very few people in the city. Nobody at all walking around in the evenings and very few even in the daytime. A few of us went to dinner in a completely different part of town an saw that there were actually some people there who were out enjoying themselves. But, that didn’t seem to be the part of the city that we were encouraged to see. And again, as we were leaving the city a couple of days later, we had to ride together, accompanied by our Turkmen guide until we were well out of the city.

Entering Uzbekistan was completely different. Back into a place with lots of people who seemed to be out and enjoying themselves. Bukhara was beautiful, lots of people around town in the afternoon when we arrived, but lots more wandering around the bazaar near our hotel after we had our dinner and well into the evening. And the next morning we discovered that we were there for the opening parade of their annual Silk and Spice Festival, which seemed to be happening all over town. After the parade there were groups of dancers in many parts of the old city performing what I assume are their native dances, and all the female dancers were dressed in beautiful dresses. Each group seemed to have their own “uniform”. And all of the women here dress very nicely, almost all in long, very colorful dresses. You see some of the younger women dressed in jeans or skirts, some in tee shirts, but not the majority. Very few women are wearing head scarves, less than in most of the countries we have visited. Again, a lively, vibrant city with lots of people on the streets.




Dispatch from Helge


Who said we should not do it, many! If you ask the people in our GlobeRiders group you will find many a story of warnings from family and friends about our motorcycle journey to Iran. We discussed the subject in our online forum ahead of the journey and when we today talk about the Iran experience there is nothing but good stories from the visit to this beautiful country.

Politics has its place, but so has the human story, we met the people of Iran; saw the country and the cities. We were greeted with open arms, invited in for tea and a meal and we were photographed as if we were rock stars.




Before arriving in Iran we had a few great days in Azerbaijan a country full of contrast. We took farewell with the stunningly beautiful Caucasus Mountains and road down the long hill to the capital Baku. Here you will find the wealth of oil and gas from the Caspian Sea that fuels the economy of this country. It is a booming city that desperately wants to be part of Europe and they are doing a good job at just that.

The third country included in this Dispatch 2 is Turkmenistan a country so different that we had to pinch ourselves as we entered in to the capital Ashkhabad. We had said goodbye to wonderful Iran and some beautiful days of riding through forest and step.




For that reason the contrast was shocking as we entered Turkmenistan. In Ashkhabad we camped out in a six star hotel surrounded by over the top luxury buildings and monuments. We were looked after everywhere, speed traps and police checks littered the road as we headed towards Uzbekistan. Difficult to not speed when gasoline is ¼ of what we pay in the US and it is open desert roads. I was stopped twice for speeding by police hiding in the bushes and all they wanted was a bribe or at the very least some cigarettes.

The road goes on, thanks for following our journey.

Helge Pedersen



Helge's Photo Gallery



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