A journey on the Silk Road

What a week!! It began in Uzbekistan with Travis and ended in France with one of my dearest friends, Alison. So much fun! In between my travels I was in Kazakhstan squeezing a full work week into two days. It was worth it!

This post is all about Uzbekistan, which was one the most fascinating and memorable trips of my life. And this post is all about the pictures, as they’re better than my attempt at a research report. But, there are a few things worth mentioning. I’ll be brief. The history is rich (dating back to the second millennium BC) and the architecture is unlike anything I’ve seen before. There’s Iranian, Mongol, Chinese, European, and Russian influences.

We visited the ancient Silk Road cities of Bukhara and Samarkand, stepping foot on the same exact places as Marco Polo and Ghengis Khan, among others. Key highlights in Bukhara were the famous bazaars and the Kalyan Minarat, otherwise known as the Tower of Death, from where people were thrown off the top as a form of capital punishment (yes, it’s true!). In Samarkand, it was Registan Square and the tomb of Tamerlane (or Timur), a great warrior who restored much of Genghis Khan’s empire in the 1300’s. For what it’s worth, it is estimated that his ruthless campaigns caused the death of almost 5% of the world population.

Now here’s a story that I have to tell. One, which I believe, is too eerie to be coincidental.  It is alleged that Timur’s casket was inscribed with the phrase, “Whoever opens my tomb, shall unleash an invader more terrible than I.” A famous Soviet anthropologist exhumed Timur’s tomb in June 1941. Two days later Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the U.S.S.R. Crazy!


It’s been a while since my last post. Things have gotten insanely busy between getting my business ready to launch in a couple weeks, EXPO work, and visitors (which, of course, we love). Needless to say, we’ve also managed to squeeze in some fun with lots of interesting and new experiences that I am anxious to share. Where do I start? Okay, I’ll start with our first Kazakh / Russian professional хоккей (khokkey) or hockey game.

On Saturday we saw our local Astana team, Barys, take on Metallurg Mg, ranked #2 and #4, respectively, in the eastern conference of the Kontinental Hockey Leaugue (KHL). Thanks to my father – who just may be the Washington Capitals’ #1 fan – I grew up wearing red and attending live hockey games. So this was rather exciting for me to see how a game goes down over here. Not surprisingly, it’s pretty similar. The differences worth mentioning are the size of the rink (the rink in the KHL is shorter and wider vs. the NHL), the speed of play is a little slower, the slap shots not as hard (where’s Ovechkin?) and there is no instant replay. We’re spoiled in the states. Every time they called a penalty, or there was a great save or goal, we would instinctively look up towards the ceiling over center ice expecting to see an instant replay on the jumbotron. They did have an electronic scoreboard! And interestingly, one of Barys’ lines consisted of two Americans and two Canadians.

All-in-all it was great fun and hockey games will certainly be our go-to in the dead of winter. The crowd was rambunctious and the songs they played during the breaks in the game were the same as back home. We got into it!

Soon I’ll share what fun we had with our visitors from the US, Matt and Ani, among other adventures. And we’re off to Uzbekistan next weekend. This is legit silk road territory. I cannot wait!

Kashagan sees it’s first drop of oil

After a few-week hiatus, here’s my latest post. It’s a current event about oil in Kazakhstan.

Following years of delay and billions of dollars in cost overruns, the Kashagan oil field in the Kazakh zone of the Caspian Sea, produced crude on September 11th. Initial production was just 26,000 barrels of oil, but estimates suggest that it should reach 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. Kashagan is the largest oil field outside of the Middle East and is considered vital to Kazakhstan’s ambition to become a major global oil supplier. Some reports state that Kashagan holds 13 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Not surprisingly, the location of this reserve is ideal with several emerging countries bordering Kazakhstan.

Interest in the Caspian Sea began in the early 1990′s, but geologists discovered the field in 2000. At that time it was the largest new deposit since the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay field on the North Slope of Alaska in 1968, and it still is.

So why the delays and a $41 billion overrun in just the past five years? Put simply, it is a very complex project. The following key factors contributed: 1. It’s depth and location in the Caspian Sea. The water is extremely shallow and the oil is under tremendous pressure when it comes out of the ground; 2. The highly pressurized crude oil is also mixed with a poisonous sulfur, which poses an entire other set of risks for the workers; 3. Harsh conditions during the winter months include chilling temperatures and sea ice; and 4. Ongoing disputes with the government and among the consortium of companies invested.

The oil field resides just off the coast of Atyrau, so when Travis and I spent time there last winter (recall my ice fishing post) we had numerous conversations with people involved in the Kashagan project. The situation peaked my interest and I became very curious about Kashagan. Upon learning about this oil field, what was especially interesting to me was that for oil extraction and safety measures, artificial islands were piled one on top of another to serve as drilling platforms. From the sky it looks like an archipelago, but as I now know they are man-made islands used for extracting oil. My immediate association was the Palm Islands in Dubai – ha!

Back to where this chapter got started

This past weekend we returned to Kolsai Lakes, one of our favorite spots in Kazakhstan. As I wrote about in the past, Kolsai Lakes is not only a beautiful location (recall exceptionally clear lakes surrounded by woody slopes), but it has a lot of sentimental value to us. It’s where we got engaged and is a symbolic representation of the beginning of this wild adventure halfway around the world. Travis chose to celebrate his birthday there. It was so much fun! We hiked, sang songs around a campfire and sought refuge in our tent when the sky’s briefly opened up. I am also very excited to report that we caught a few small trout!



Not your average 2% milk

Milk. It’s a staple in Kazakh cuisine and the variety in Central Asia is astonishing to me. The milk section in a Kazakh market rivals the ice cream section in a US grocery store based on the sheer number of options. Fermented mare’s milk (kumis or кумыс) is by far the most popular among the people of the Central Asian steppe and dates back thousands of years. Fermented camel’s milk (shubat or шұбат (in Kazakh)) is considered a summer treat and is a favorite in Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. The flavor profile of both is sour, sour, and more sour. Milk anyone?

Here’s a brief history of kumis, which is one of the most important beverages to the Kazakh people. Traditional Kazakh food and drink has been strongly influenced by their nomadic lifestyle. It is for this reason that the preparation techniques are aimed at preserving food long-term, including methods to sour milk. Kumis is an ancient beverage originating with the Botai culture in Kazakhstan that dates all the way back to 3700 BC. It’s made by fermenting raw unpasteurized horse’s milk by stirring or churning over the course of hours to days (think butter making). Traditionally, the fermentation took place in horse-hide containers, which were strapped to a saddle.  During a day’s ride the milk would bounce around turning carbonated and mildly alcoholic and voila, kumis was created.

Current production is on a larger scale and there are many different brands of kumis and shubat available for purchase at the local market. Despite more contemporary kumis and shubat producers and bottlers, you can pick up a fresh batch of kumis at a side-of-the-road kiosk made fresh that morning from local horses. The fresher the better; it means it will be less sour.

There’s always fresh kumis waiting for us when we arrive in the mountains. Travis drinks enough for the both of us. It doesn’t go down easy for me. I even tried my hand at preparing kumis while waiting for the weather to clear for a horseback ride. I didn’t sample my efforts, but from what I heard I did a pretty good job!

Camping in the rain at Borovoe

Last weekend we headed north close to the Russian border to Borovoe for a camping trip. We had so much fun!  It didn’t matter that it rained for nearly 70% of the time.

Borovoe is a collection of lakes surrounded by pine and birch trees, which together comprise a National Park. It is considered a resort spot for both Kazakhs and Russians, especially those vacationing from Siberia. The area is quite civilized and developed, which surprised us. There were paved and lit pathways around several of the lakes, numerous hotels and restaurants, designated swimming areas, as well as a mini amusement park of sorts. When we travel outside of the major cities in Kazakhstan we’re used to navigating our own way, on our own terms, and usually without other human interaction. We had to make an effort to get away from it all.

We hiked to a remote location and set up camp on the shore of one of the lakes. We surveyed four of the lakes before picking our spot. Due to the inclement weather we spent most of the time cuddled up in the three-man tent, which translated into Murphy on one half and us on the other. When the rain stopped for a couple hours we managed to go for a hike and collect wood (albeit soaked) for a potential fire. And… we did it! We built a small fire to heat up water for ramen noodles. (We honed our fire making skills in my New York City apartment making one nearly every night with wet wood and no air circulation). Also, Murphy certainly got his fill of swimming, jumping in and splashing around at every opportunity.

In reference to my last post, while we had an amazing time and we’ll definitely be back to Borovoe, Kolsai Lakes remains our favorite spot!

Camping at Kolsai Lakes

Similar to past years, my birthday request was a camping trip. My only requirement was a different destination to explore. So fitting with our new location we’re headed north this weekend, not too far from the Russian border, to Borovoe. But I’m saving this for next week.

I thought this was a good opportunity to share a little bit about our favorite camping spot so far: Kolsai Lakes. It is also the place where we got engaged. It’s our understanding that Borovoe rivals Kolsai Lakes so I am excited to go see for myself.

Kolsai Lakes is a mere six miles from the Kyrgyzstan border and about 200 miles from Almaty, although the ride takes nearly five hours given the poor road quality. To call it a bumpy ride is an understatement, but it’s worth it. Kolsai is a collection of three exceptionally clear lakes surrounded by woody slopes and snowcapped mountains in the Tian Shan range. It’s stunning! It’s an ideal location for hiking and horseback riding and we certainly take full advantage of both. Wildlife is bountiful and we also spend time looking for golden eagles, elk, ibex and deer. Similar to Alaska, the eagles are easy to spot. We really love it here!

A quick story: Travis tells me that my birthday camping dinner is going to be fresh trout, which gets me excited! Our plan was to catch the fish and grill them up whole on an open fire. I packed fresh herbs, garlic and lemon for the fish. As a side dish, I took a can of black beans and on our way out to Kolsai Lakes we stopped by to see our Uzbek friends to get some fresh bread. We camped at the first lake and apparently what used to be teaming with delicious rainbow trout (according to Travis) was no longer the case. Travis and Grant, who was visiting, fished for nearly three hours and had no luck – not even a bite! It was a good thing I packed the beans. Our dinner was a can of beans and a few nibbles of bread that we had leftover. There’s no question about it. I’m packing a backup plan for this trip.

Mid-summer garden update and Korea trip

On our way to Korea we stopped by our house in Almaty. I am happy to report that our labor of love – our garden – is doing very well! We returned to Astana with bags of lettuce, spinach, basil and cucumbers. Now I can make fresh pesto to put on the Alaskan salmon Travis brought back to Kazakhstan! (One gets excited about these things when living in a landlocked country in the southern Siberian tundra). And by mid-August we’ll have even more to enjoy, including tomatoes, broccoli and carrots. I just may consider opening my own kiosk at the Green Market (Зеленый базар) if our garden continues to produce at this rate.

Our trip to Korea was one of the most memorable. We spent time with 30 family members, including Travis’ grandmother who is actually 97 years-old. I wanted to put her in my pocket (she would likely fit) and take her home. Her hands reminded me of my grandmother’s, Ninnie. They were soft and little, yet strong. And so when I held her hand there was a part of me that didn’t want to let go.

Travel. A look back.

In just this past year we have traveled to Turkey, France, Spain (Mallorca), Italy, England, United Arab Emirates, Germany and Kyrgyzstan. In less than two weeks we can add Korea to this list. We’re going there to meet Travis’ extended family, including his 96 year-old grandmother. I can’t wait to meet her. Our travel list excludes Kazakhstan itself where we have covered a LOT of ground (in what is a very large country) and all of our US trips (including Alaska). Many of you have suggested to me to “travel my heart out” and as you can tell, I am doing just that.

To be honest, this past week was not a highlight for the memory books. Between the new digs and new job in a new city (that just so happens to be in Kazakhstan), at times I felt out of sorts. I know, it’s going to take time. Besides, it’s only been a little more than one week.

My idea for this blog has always been to share experiences, adventures, and stories of our life specific to Kazakhstan and the surrounding regions, and I intend to keep it that way. But when I think about all the travel we’ve managed to do in just this first year (even when considering a couple major life events – a marriage and two moves) and the travel plans we’ve made for this upcoming year, it’s no surprise that it made me feel better to reflect on all these wonderful experiences. We’re doing exactly what we originally set out to do – to see the world, making the most of our time abroad and it feels great. The best part is that we’re just getting started!

This entry was posted in Adventure by mykzadventure.

The adventure continues… new city, new job, new life

When agreeing to move to Kazakhstan, we made a promise to each other to do everything in our power to capitalize on our time here, including opportunities and experiences. And so with this context in mind, we relocated to the capital city, Astana. I started a new job working as a Strategic Advisor to the CEO of the EXPO-2017 National Company. Travis will also be taking on new responsibilities and is very involved with the EXPO 2017 in a different capacity.

It will be Kazakhstan’s first world fair, as well as the first in Central Asia. It’s a unique opportunity where we’ll have the chance to work on very large scale and complex project, interacting with top global firms with varying specialties. Already this past week we traveled to France and Spain.

I’m overwhelmed by all that I want to share. It’s crazy to think that in under two months we got married, moved to a new city and started a new job! Not to mention all of the travel.

So where exactly are we living? Here’s an article titled, “Astana: The world’s weirdest capital city,” that was written last July and sums up the city pretty well. The title says it all. http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/13/world/asia/eye-on-kazakhstan-astana  Here’s another article in National Geographic that provides a more detailed history of the city and includes some impressive photographs (some of which are posted above). http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2012/02/astana/lancaster-text

One thing that’s top of mind for me and I can explain in just a few sentences (I like to keep these posts short and sweet) is the climate. Astana is located in the steppe of the north region of Kazakhstan, which translates into warm summers and MISERABLY cold and long winters. We’re talking consistently around -40 degrees Fahrenheit (with a wind chill reaching -60 degrees) during the winter months. Astana is the second coldest capital city in the world after Ulaanbaater, Mongolia. Several of my coworkers have brought up the topic of winter, despite it being mid-June. It’s as if they are trying to scare me, and it’s working! I have already spent way too much time searching the Internet for the warmest coats available and it’s not even July.

On a positive note, I am excited to have a new (quite literally) city to explore, and we plan to go back to Almaty throughout the summer to enjoy our garden! I also want to report that I am moving full steam ahead with the business venture I wrote apart several weeks ago. I remain committed to the artists and their work.