Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Бишкек, Кыргызстан

A exhibition of aerial photos on display in the Kyrgyz capital

Бишкек, Кыргызстан (aka: Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan ) - the capital of this relatively small and mountainous central Asian country. I am here living with a Kyrgyz family and brushing up on my Russian at a language immersion school before continuing my travels through some of the former Soviet central Asian Republics.

Bishkek seems relatively uninteresting on the surface and has the feel of other post-Soviet cities I have visited with concrete block apartment monstrosities, dilapidated sidewalks, numerous kiosks on every corner selling anything from notebooks, cell phones, fresh veggies, booze, cigarettes, fresh bread, to gold watches. But just in my short time here I can sense that there is more to this city than whats readily visible at first glance.

Some of the members of my host family in Bishkek. During the summer, they cook, eat, and socialize outside in their small courtyard.

Changing of guards in front of the State Historical Museum

Traditional ak kalpak's (Kyrgyz white felt hat) are still quite fashionable and can occasionally be seen even in the urban capital.

Girls of Bishkek play on the canons in the park. The rainbow girls outfit is outrageously circa early 80's.

My host brother Tynchtyk (which translates as "Peace" in Kyrgyz) changes the brakes of his families marshutka. A marshutka is sort of a cross between a taxi and a city bus with set routes. This mode of transportation is notoriously known to be one of the most uncomfortable rides as people cram in as tight as sardines in a can. Its an experience that I would avoid whenever possible.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

East Meets West

One of the many mosques which define the Istanbul skyline

Istanbul - what a fascinating mix of cultures in this metropolis of 14 million or so that bridges Europe to the west and Asia to the east. This is quite an amazing city that is difficult to describe in only a few words. From the haunting sounds of the pre-dawn call to prayer echoing through the streets each morning from the uncountable mosques scattered about the the myriad of boats criss-crossing the Strait of the hordes of people moving fluidly through the narrow alleys. Istanbul is a mishmash of eastern and western cultures.

Vendors sell a variety of items in the Istanbul spice market.

I am not quite sure what this is composed of or if it really works.

Topkapi Palace - giant vats which were used to prepare feasts for the sultans.

A window in Aya Sofia frames the Blue Mosque

Morning sunlight illuminates the ceramic tiled ceiling of the Blue Mosque

The 6th century Basilica Cistern underlies a portion of Istanbul. This giant subterranean structure was first built to provide water to the great palace of Constantinople and other surrounding buildings.

A busy harbor on the Strait of Bosphorus.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

German Invasion

The Panamerican traveling Germans have returned to my house. They departed Alaska for the southern tip of South America back in July in their 1952 VW Beetle. They only made it 50 miles out of Fairbanks before they spotted a pot of German gold on the side of the road partially obscured by the overgrown forest - a vintage VW van. They explained to me that this particular van had the original paint job and they must buy it.

So they drove the Beetle to San Francisco, picked up another German, and flew back up to Fairbanks. The only catch is - the van doesn't run. So they befriended my neighbor down the road who has a nice workshop and will use this space to frantically make the vehicle operational before the snow arrives in the next few weeks. Then they will hit the road and drive it down to San Francisco. I am not quite sure what to say about this craziness...except that they are German and this seems to explain a few things.

Monday, September 1, 2008

McClaren Summit to Eureka Creek Traverse

Andy and Lisa head north from McClaren Summit and into the Alaska Range.

I headed south to the Alaska Range with Lisa and Andy over the Labor Day weekend. I had heard that from and old college friend that this was a superb packrafting route (thanks Jeff). The fall colors were just about peaking and the wildlife was abundant. We saw numerous groups of caribou grazing on lichens in the open expanse of tundra. This was quite an unusual traverse in that there was very little bushwhacking and a surprising lack of wet, soggy, tussock infested tundra.

Our 45 mile traverse began along a short 4-wheeler trail at McClaren Summit on the Denali Highway. We followed the trail north a couple of miles until it petered out into a series of game trails and easy tundra walking to 7-mile Lake. From the west end of the lake we paddled about 5 miles to a cabin and climbed a divide and eventually descended to Eureka Creek. We floated most of Eureka Creek down to its confluence with the Delta River and eventually pulled out at the Richardson Highway.

We came across a nice set of stone circles. These man-made looking features are formed as repeated freezing and thawing of the soil pushes rocks up to the surface. They are characteristic of tundra areas where frost processes are active and permanently frozen ground occurs in some form.

Paddling across the crystal clear waters of 7-Mile Lake. We went about 5 miles to a small framed cabin on the north shore.

We camped near the cabin before ascending a drainage up to a pass over an unnamed mountain.

The evening light on the lake was amazing. Its hard to describe the quality of light that radiates across the northern sky...its quite spectacular.

Looking back at 7-Mile Lake as we ascend the ridgeline to the north. It was about a 2000 foot climb up to a narrow pass.

We passed a tarn lake tucked high up in a valley on the mountainside - another potentially great camping spot.

Near the pass we encountered some very curious caribou.

The view from the north side of the pass was quite expansive. We carefully descended the rocky scree slope and made our way across a high plateau to the Eureka Creek drainage in the far off distance.

The climb down was nerve racking for a few moments as loose angular rocks shifted beneath our feet.

More and more caribou. They were extremely curious and would circle us several times before running off.

Eureka Creek at last and the start of our 20 mile or so of floating. There were plenty of game trails through the brush so the walking was rather pleasant.

The upper part of Eureka Creek was narrow and a bit rocky but easily paddleable in the packrafts. As more tribs entered and the volume increased there were plenty of fun class II wave trains to bob through.

My friend Jeff had done this traverse earlier in the summer and scouted out a portion of a narrow canyon where Eureka Creek is pinched and the water becomes much more challenging. We portaged the boats for about 4 miles along the south side of the canyon to avoid the more technical water.

The flavourful Alaskan blueberries were ripe and abundant.

After about 4 miles of following bare low hills and weaving in/out of some brush we dropped back down to Eureka Creek and continued our float towards the Delta River and the Richardson Hwy.

The lower stretch of Eureka Creek was in a deep, scenic canyon with some fun boulder gardens and a few nice standing waves to break through.