Wanderlust | Part 6

Wanderlust | Part 6

[For the backstory on these photos, see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 & Part 5]

Our entire reason for visiting Kyrgyzstan, was to secure visas into China. Arriving late at night, we woke early next morning and headed to Miss Lu - apparently the only person capable of securing us Chinese visas from the nearby embassy.

Sitting in Miss Lu’s office, we completed the paperwork (always paperwork in these countries) and handed over our passport photos. Miss Lu looked at Jane’s photo and said “good photo, no problems”.

Miss Lu then looked at my photo and the following dialogue ensued:

Miss Lu: “This photo no good. Big problem for you”

Me: “Why? What’s wrong with this photo?”

ML: “You have beard. The Chinese will think you look like Al-qaeda”

Me: “What? I’m a caucasian male with Australian nationality”

ML: “You may not get a visa for China. Come back in 5-days”

After handing over a wad of US dollars, we walked out into the cobalt blue day and pondered what to do for the next few days.

As luck would have it, a pretty decent mountain range wasn’t far away and after a visit to a local map shop, we found a red dashed marked route over an alpine pass. We had no real idea what condition the route was in, but figured let’s go and have a look. The trip turned into a 3-night, 4-day trip and to say getting down the back side of the pass was tough, would be an understatement. It took my years’ of track finding skills to find a route down, but we eventually reached the valley bottom and the gravel road out.

Back in Bishkek, we picked up our passports with freshly minted China visas (yeah!!!!), then headed for Osh and onto Sary Tash, a village in the Tian Shian Mountains on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. In Sary Tash, we spent a couple of nights in a yurt, where we both picked up a stomach bug, which would stay with me for much of China. Joy.

These photos show: Driver dropping us off at the start of our alpine pass trip; Jane on day 1 of alpine pass trip; Jane packing up camp as a horseman turns up out of nowhere; climbing steep terrain to the alpine pass; Jane reading the map and our supposed route (marked in red); Jane on the pass with an electrical storm coming down the valley; Jane negotiating the way down; dinner in the valley bottom; on the road to Osh (625-km and a 13 hour day); the village of Sary Tash; locals at Sary Tash; yurt camp; eating typical cuisine in a yurt; the road to China; the last we saw of our driver at the first of many checkpoints on the way to China. After this photo, military told us to get out of the car, they turned our driver around and the guards then bundled us into the next car going to the next checkpoint. You feel pretty powerless in these situations, but often have to trust that things will turn out okay.

Next week’s post: China.

Wanderlust | Part 4

Wanderlust | Part 4

[For the back story on these photos, see Wanderlust | Part 1, Wanderlust | Part 2, Wanderlust | Part 3.]

Our goal in Georgia had been to get a visa for Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is filthy rich with oil money and doesn’t care much for tourists. As a result, it isn’t easy getting a tourist visa. At the time, you needed an in-country sponsor and reams of completed paperwork, to even be considered for a tourist visa. Getting a visa for Azerbaijan was critical for us, as our goal was to travel overland to the Caspian Sea, before entering western Kazakhstan.

Courtesy of the internet grapevine, we found some advice indicating that there was a rather ‘tourist friendly’ administrator at the Azerbaijan consulate in Tbilisi. Though we still had to complete reams of paperwork, we were eventually granted our tourist visas.

We left Tbilisi on the overnight train to Baku, Azerbaijan. An old style Soviet sleeper, with the best sleeping bed I have ever slept on. It easily fitted my 6 foot, 2 inch frame, a rarity on sleeping trains.

These photos show: inside our overnight sleeper; desolate oil fields; on the road to Xinaliq, a village in the mountains near the Russian border; Xinaliq village houses; Xinaliq village and river; the family we stayed with in Xinaliq; exploring Xinaliq with our host; selfie in the hills around Xinaliq; horse riders Xinaliq; our driver and his Lada - we agreed on price, through my basic Russian and using our fingers to write numbers in the dust on his Lada’s bumper; hand washed clothes drying in Baku; Baku waterfront; polluted water at Baku waterfront; newly built apartments on our drive to the airport.

[Next week’s post - Kazakhstan]

Wanderlust | Part 3

Wanderlust | Part 3

[For the back story on these photos, see Wanderlust | Part 1 and Wanderlust | Part 2 ].

It always amazes me how something as simple as crossing a border between two countries, can represent such a huge change in the people, food and culture of a place.

That is exactly what happened when my wife and I crossed from Turkey into Georgia. Gone was the easy, clean transport of Turkey. Gone was the amazing food of Turkey, seemingly available at every cafe / restaurant. Gone was the easy to find accommodation, with helpful hosts.

While Georgia was different to Turkey, we still managed to have a great time travelling across the country, as we continued on our journey east towards China.

These photos show: Batumi on the Black Sea; lifeguards on the Black Sea; ferris wheel at night; man selling prints for $5 USD each; a Lada in action, the Central Asian vehicle of choice; myself and our driver John (his generosity was as big as him); overnight trek in the Caucasus Mountains; Tbilisi market (including real bear skins); Kazbegi village and mountain and lastly, a self portrait of two tired people, after a long day in the mountains. We are having dinner in an abandoned park, in Kazbegi village.

[Next week’s post: Azerbaijan]

Wanderlust | Part 2

Wanderlust | Part 2

[For the back story on these photos, see Wanderlust | Part 1 ].

These photos are from our time in Turkey. In order of appearance: Istanbul Turkey, the gardens of stone in Gallipoli, the ancient ruins of Ephesus, a multi-day sea kayaking trip along the stunning Turquoise Coast (huge shout out to Dean and his company Seven Capes for providing us with the gear we needed & logistical support), ballooning in Cappadocia, an old fort on one of the old Silk Road routes (near the border with Georgia). 

[Next weeks post: Georgia].

Wanderlust | Part 1

Wanderlust | Part 1

The main reason I got into photography, was because of wanderlust. 

As a kid, I loved nothing more than coming across that yellow bordered magazine called National Geographic. Opening an issue of National Geographic made me feel like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. As I turned each page, I was presented with far off lands and exotic customs and rituals. The magazine fuelled my curiosity about the world and the power of an image.

It was after a summer working in the Northern Prince Charles Mountains in Antarctica with the Australian Antarctic Division, that I decided to pursue a career in photography. It wasn't something I needed to do. It was something I had to do. To become a travel photographer, working for magazines became my siren call.

While I was very fortunate to spend a number of years' working as a freelance photographer for various magazines, there came a point in my life where I just wanted to travel more and explore the world. I wanted to do it without a client brief and a deadline. 

In 2012 I embarked on what turned out to be a 10-month trip. Together with my wife, we travelled from Istanbul, Turkey down through the Aegean Sea (crossing into the Greek Islands), back into Turkey, through Georgia, through Azerbaijan, over the Caspian Sea to Kazakhstan, into Kyrgyzstan, across the Tien Shen Mountains into Kashi in western China, then across China to Shanghai. We then headed north into Mongolia. 

To summarise such a trip in words is really hard. We met wonderful people. We had some long, tough days. We came as close to being mugged as I have ever been. And we had days of absolute joy. To travel overland, without a time frame is one of the most rewarding things I have done. 

Along the way, I took some photos. 

[These photos are from our time travelling through the Greek Islands. Up next is Istanbul Turkey, which I'll post next week].