Adventure


Destination: the Fjallsárlón Lagoon
After a night’s rest back in Reykjavik, Holly and I were off on our next Ring Road tour of Iceland. This time, we would drive Iceland’s Southeast Coast. We needed to check into the remote Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon to be prepared for a morning iceberg boat tour at Fjallsárlón Lagoon.

Iceland lava field

The view was ever-changing, the lava field never-ending.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls. Along the way, we never tired of the view because the landscape was always changing. Of course, we had to visit more waterfalls! Our first stop was Seljalandsfoss, reportedly the most visited in Iceland, with a 200-foot (60-meter) drop. Tourists climbed the steep hill to go to behind the falls. We contented ourselves with a view from the bottom. The river Seljalandsá originates underneath the glacier Eyjafjallajökull. The volcano beneath this ice cap was the one that erupted in 2010 and caused havoc at airports across Europe.

Our next waterfall stop was Skógafoss, widely considered to be one of the most beautiful in Iceland. The river Skoga, fed by two glaciers, runs through a canyon, then descends from the edge of a moor in a 45-foot-wide (15-meter), 186-foot-high (62-meter) waterfall. According to legend, a settler called Þrasi hid his chest of gold behind the falls. For a long time, the chest was visible through the waterfall, giving it a golden sheen. The ring to that chest can be found in the Skógar folk museum. The following verse has been passed down through generations:

The chest in Þrasi’s secret lair
Under the Skógar waterfall
Rewards the one who ventures there
With endless riches, great and small.

Dyrhólaey nature reserve was our next stop. Formerly known by seamen as Cape Portland, this reserve occupies a small promontory located on the south coast of Iceland. From the glittering black sand beach, we could view the arch near the end of the promontory. We would have loved to hike for hours, but we had to move on. We passed by Vik, a charming village of about 300 souls nestled below the cliffs, but stopped at an IceWear outlet for deals on Icelandic wool outerwear.

Laufskálavarða is a lava ridge surrounded by hundreds of small cairns. Travelers believed that making a cairn would bring luck and fortune before starting their journey across Mýrdalssandur. A farm located here was destroyed in a volcanic eruption in 894 BC.

Laufskálavarða

Lois waves from behind a cairn in Laufskálavarða.

Kirkjubæjarklaustur. After driving through miles and miles of lava fields covered with every type of moss and lichen one can imagine, Holly and I decided to make a detour to the road less traveled. We ended up in the quaint town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a tongue-twister that translates into church-farm-cloister. The town is even small by Icelandic standards: a petrol station, convenience store, and a few houses and farms scattered over a vast green oasis—brilliant after all those lava fields. We searched for a waterfall tumbling down through a man-made forest from high cliffs, thought to be the dwelling place of some of Iceland’s “hidden people.” We found Foss a Sidu but saw no little people—only this sign:

Sign along the walk to the falls

Sign along the walk to the falls.

We were surprised to discover hidden falls that reminded us similar ones from ancient glacial traprock in Wisconsin! Back in the nearly-deserted town, we explored the peaceful church and graveyard and delved into its colorful past. “Cloister” was first settled by Irish monks who fled the Vikings but left a curse on any pagans who would venture to live there. A Christian Norseman lived there happily for many years, but when a second Viking decided to move in, he surveyed his future farm and immediately dropped dead!

The site continued to have problems. A cloister set up by Benedictine nuns closed during the 16th century Reformation because two nuns were burned at stake for sleeping with the devil. A third was punished for maligning the Pope. And then, during the 1783 Laki eruptions, a wall of lava came close to wiping out the settlement. The local curate herded everyone into the old wooden church and delivered a fire-and-brimstone sermon while great chunks of ash crashed outside the windows. When the commotion stopped, the congregation stumbled out to find that they were miraculously saved. A marvelous new church commemorates this divine intervention. Laki, however, had devastated Iceland and is still considered to be one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history.

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Touching Icebergs: Vatnajökull Glacier and the Fjallsárlón Iceberg Boat Tour. Before long, we were into glacier country. We stopped to photograph the massive Vatnajökull icecap, the largest in the world (except for the polar cap). The average thickness of the ice is 1,300 feet, but it is 3,300 feet thick in some places. Excursions on the icecap were possible; we’d planned a tour by boat instead. The anticipation built as we check into Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon. In the morning, we would be touching icebergs!

It was only a 20-minute drive from our hotel to the majestic Fjallsárlón iceberg lagoon at the south end of the glacier Vatnajökull. We couldn’t miss it; it was right off the Ring Road with a huge parking lot and facilities. We walked into the cabin-like office to present our tickets. A rack of foul-weather jackets in all sizes—with built-in life preservers—lined the entire wall. “You won’t be needing your sailing jacket,” the clerk said. “You’ll be plenty warm in one of these. Let’s check your size.” Soon we were suited up and ready to go. Our group filled two 8-person zodiacs. Seating was on the rim; each position had safety holds. During the safety briefing, our guide told us that our preservers would inflate immediately upon hitting water. Then he warned, “Do not fall in. If you do, you have about two minutes in this frigid water before hypothermia sets in. You could die.” Even though I’m quite used to a dinghy, I made sure I kept “one hand on the boat.” For a short time, that is. How can one take great photos with only one hand? We learned a lot about how and why glaciers “calve,” why icebergs are blue, and how the glacier expands into the lagoon during the summers and recedes during the winter. Our guide broke off a few pieces of icebergs and passed them around for us to feel and taste.

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We couldn’t get enough of the gorgeous lagoon. After we returned our jackets and donned our own, we walked around taking one photo after another. We were about to drive back when we encountered a tourist who insisted, “You must see the larger glacier lagoon. It’s only a little farther along the Ring Road.” So, we continued on.

Icebergs in Fjallsárlón Lagoon

Icebergs in Fjallsárlón Lagoon.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon did not disappoint. This lagoon is Iceland’s deepest and most spectacular glacial lake. The entire lake was full of icebergs, streaked blue and back, floating with the tide, occasionally crashing into each other and breaking apart. In less than a century, this vast frozen landscape has collapsed into a mess of shattered ice and liquid. A river soon formed, and found its way to the sea, pulling broken icebergs into the North Atlantic and sculpting unearthly shapes along its black-sand banks. Every year, this fledgling glacier lagoon is made larger as icebergs break off Vatnajökull glacier, float around in the lagoon, and eventually drift out to sea during the summer months.

What a photographer’s paradise! Holly and I were in heaven. No wonder this site was used in the opening scenes of Roger Moore’s A View to Kill (1985). Some of the icebergs were glassy teal; others, a deep, luminous blue. These shades of blue contrasted with the white background of the glacier and the black sand beach to make awesome compositions.

We had been blessed with optimum weather (for Iceland), but finally, during our return trip to Reykjavik, the rain began. We didn’t mind. We held sunshine in our hearts.

Photo Credits: Holly Ricke And Lois Hofmann

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.

Iceland was far down on my bucket list. But I had promised to take my granddaughter Holly there, and in July of 2018 I made good on that promise. This country far surpassed my expectations. It is indeed “the land of fire and ice.” Volcanoes spew fire and glaciers spawn ice floes. Eventually though, this country will explode your senses; it will grab you and pull you in. But only if you dare to venture out of Reykjavik and its touristy Golden Circle to explore the hinterlands along the Ring Road. My advice: Drive around the entire Snaefellsnes Peninsula for starters. You won’t be disappointed.

Iceland

The word Snæfellsnes might seem like a bit of a mouthful, but it’s less so when it is broken down. It translates to Snow Mount’s Peninsula, a fitting name for a long peninsula tipped with a glacier on top of volcano. “Snæ” means snow; “fells” meaning mountain, and “nes” means peninsula.

Borgarnes. We had reservations for Fosshotel in the town of Stykkishólmur and our guidebook, Iceland’s Ring Road, said the trip would take three hours nonstop from Reykjavik. No problem; we would sleep in. It was still light at midnight, but we pulled the light-blocking curtains in our hotel room and tried to catch some zzzs. Still, the light came through! We decided to set out early for the second day in a row. We’d beat the traffic out of the city and buy coffee along the way. Famous last words. We could not get coffee anywhere so early. Finally, driving through the foggy fishing village of Borgarnes at the end of a rock-strewn peninsula, we discovered Café Braka. The sign said “OPEN 9 A.M.” So, we wandered through this quaint town of 2000 souls and fell in love with it. Men with metal lunchboxes trudged toward the wharf and its fish factories. Other workers bicycled to work. Storekeepers opened shuttered doors. A narrow road into the Snæfellsnes National Park led to the town’s backdrop, brooding Hafnarfjall mountain–blackened with volcanic ash. When the café opened, Holly and I savored the egg dishes and sipped cappuccinos. “This was worth it,” we exclaimed in unison. Fueled with caffeine, we continued our drive around the peninsula.

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Volcanoes, Lava Fields, Waterfalls, and Moss. What amazed me about Iceland was that no two views were the same; in one photo stop, we could see moss sprawling and oozing over lava rocks, backed by a volcanic mountain, and to the side, snow-capped peaks! Ten minutes later, we would stop again to photograph a ridge with three different waterfalls. The drive was never boring. But after the 25th waterfall, we decided we needed to limit our stops. We’d already gone 8 hours into a supposed 3-hour drive and our destination was still far away. With light until midnight, we weren’t worried about having to drive in the dark; however, the hotel restaurant might not be open late and places to eat along this part of the Ring Road were few and far between.

Hellnar. Seeing a turf-roofed Fish & Chips restaurant and a little settlement—all painted black with white trim, caused us to stop again. Later, we stopped to view the famous pitch-black Búðir Black Church.

Rauðfeldsgjá is a deep gorge that cuts into Botnsfjall, an unusual mountain. In the summertime, it is possible to hike into the crack in the mountain wall, which cleaves all the way down to the root of the mountain.

auðfeldsgjá Gorge Snaefellnoss Penninsula Iceland

Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge Snaefellnoss Penninsula.

Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs are uniquely-formed remnants of ancient basalt volcanic dikes sticking out from the sea. Both Lóndrangar and the hill Svalthufa are the remains of a crater eroded by the sea. Legend has it that farmers in the area never made hay on the hill because it belongs to the elves living in the area. Below the hill, the poet Kolbeinn Joklaskald reportedly had an encounter with the Devil. Younger lava fields surround the old crater ruin.

lóndrangar cliffs iceland

Lóndrangar cliffs.

Skarðsvík Beach was another must-stop. Surrounded by harsh, pitch-black lava, the soft orange-yellow beach and shallow baby-blue Atlantic Ocean provided a surprising contrast. Fortunately, we visited at low tide! An intact Viking grave was found here in 1962; the skeleton and his belongings are now preserved at the National Museum of Iceland.

skarðsvík-beach

Skarðsvík Beach.

After one final waterfall stop that we couldn’t resist, we were on our way to our destination.

Waterfalls Snaefellnes Penninsula

Waterfalls everywhere in the Snaefellnes Penninsula.

Stykkishólmur. After a day of country landscapes, we were treated to this charming town, the gateway to the numerous islands dotting Breiðafjörður Bay. With all its renovated, historical buildings, this town of 1200 souls felt like a place lost in time. What once was a library is now an art installation; a fish packing house is now a restaurant; an old recreation center is now a volcano museum. The architectural structure of church in Stykkishólmur fascinated us and the view from the church over the bay took our breath away. We arrived at Fosshotel Stykkishólmur in time to change quickly for dinner. Wow! That first sip of wine was lovely!

Stykkishólmur Iceland.

Stykkishólmur Iceland.

The Long Way Back to Reykjavik. Because we didn’t want to go back the way we came, we were forced to choose 40-50 miles of gravel road. Our SUV was a four-wheel drive and the roads were well-maintained; however, there were some challenging moments. Some of the roads were quite narrow—with steep overlooks and no guardrails. Was it worth it? Yes!

Skallagrimsgardur in Borgarnes. After that exhilarating drive, we needed a rest. We ended up back in Borgarnes at Café Braka for cappuccinos and muffins. On the way back to the Ring Road, we noted a sign for a public flower garden called Skallagrimsgardur. We’re both flower-lovers, so we had to stop. We were surprised to see such an abundance of blooms. We met a colorful display around every bend in the gravel path.

We realized that—although the growing season is short—the days are extraordinarily long.

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The Tunnel Detour and the War and Peace Museum. Again, Holly and I chose the road less traveled. Instead of returning through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, (3.6 miles long and 541 feet below sea level), we took the tunnel detour. Thank God Holly is an excellent driver! The detour curving above the peninsula was scarier than the tunnel. “Just don’t look down,” I warned Holly. In addition to the view, an unexpected benefit was touring the War and Peace Museum. I never realized what a large part Iceland played for the Allies during World War II. The entire island was turned into a defensive bulwark. Farther down the road, we stretched our legs by walking to a pretty little waterfall called Fossárrétt on the grounds of an ancient Viking encampment. It was a refreshing end to tour of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Photo Credits: Holly Ricke And Lois Hofmann

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy.

Gunter and I often talk about the special bond we shared with cruisers and crew during our circumnavigation. It’s a bond so strong that it can never be broken. When you’ve faced down raging seas, broken boats, and frightening situations together, you never forget. We wanted to recreate that “cruiser camaraderie” that we had felt so many times during our sail around the world. We especially wanted to reconnect with some of those special European sailors we hadn’t seen since our circumnavigation party held in Canet, France in September of 2008.

We decided to visit Ireland to spend time with Patrick Murphy whose wife and first mate, Olivia, lost a battle to cancer in 2015. They sailed Aldebaran with us through parts of the South Pacific, Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and up the Red Sea to Turkey. And while visiting relatives in Germany, we reunited with Monica and Norbert Nadler, who crewed onboard Pacific Bliss during the final leg of our circumnavigation: from Italy to France. We added Grimaud, France to our itinerary to visit Jean-Claude and Claudie Hamez, who sailed their yacht Makoko with us throughout the South Pacific and much of the world.

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We reconnected with these cruisers we had last seen ten years ago as if it was yesterday! We picked up right where we left off, whether the subject was cruising then and now, pirate attacks, families and friends, or reliving past adventures (less traumatic but more embellished now).

Patrick Murphy met our flight from San Diego to Dublin and deposited us at our hotel in Howth, Ireland, a nearby suburb, a short distance from his home. Later in the day he and his friend Geraldine took us to Pat’s Yacht Club there. The pennant Aldebaran flew around the world is posted in the clubhouse and his yacht, now ten years older, is docked there. Pat has become quite the celebrity in his beloved Emerald Isle. He gives talks about his circumnavigation and the restoration of the Asgard throughout the land.

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During the week we spent in Ireland, Pat took us took to other yacht clubs, and gave us a great overview of the history of Ireland—especially when it came to yachts and shipbuilding. Pat was part of The Howth Group, a team of yachtsmen who helped install the mast and rigging during the restoration of the Asgard, one of the most iconic sailing vessels in Irish history, now in its own building as part of the National Museum of Ireland. During 1914 the 28-ton gaff-rigged ketch was one of three ships involved in the Howth gun-running expedition that landed 1,500 rifles and 49,000 rounds of ammunition on the Irish coast to arm Irish volunteers. Pat also took us to the new Titanic Exhibit in Belfast. If you go to Ireland, don’t miss this fantastic exhibition of the Titanic and the history of Irish shipbuilding.

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“When you’re getting ready to brave Pirate Alley, you want to do it with sailors whom you can trust with your lives.” This is a quote from the Prologue of my book, The Long Way Back. Patrick Murphy was chosen by our convoy of five yachts to lead us through Pirate Alley, the dangerous route from Salalah, Oman to Aden, Yemen. He will always hold a special place in our hearts.

Patrick Murphy

Patrick Murphy

During our visit to Germany, Monica and Norbert Nadler came to visit. Before long, we slipped into “cruiser talk.” Helga talked about her adventures sailing with us in Greece. After the Nadlers updated us about their recent chartering experiences, the conversation inevitably changed to their sailing onboard Pacific Bliss. We recounted the joy of passing by the erupting Stromboli volcano during the passage to Sardinia and the excitement of crossing our incoming track one mile from Canet, France—thus completing our world circumnavigation.

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In France, the cruiser camaraderie began as soon as Jean-Claude picked us up from the airport in Nice. As we drove to Grimaud, it seemed another memory surfaced every mile! Then when we arrived at Claudie’s champagne reception, we recounted our experiences all over again. Where do I begin? Jean-Claude and Claudie are the only cruising couple whose adventures with us continue throughout all three books. We first met them during our Maiden Voyage when we exited Costa Rica; I write about them in the story on page 182: “Finding New Friends.” They visited us in San Diego while their yacht Makoko awaited them in the Sea of Cortez. In between seasons of Sailing South Pacific, we visited them in Grimaud, France. In various ports around the world, all the way to Thailand, we met up with them again. And in The Long Way Back, they play a major role in Chapter 6, “Crisis in Thailand.” In Chapter 7, they buddy boat with us to the Similan Islands, where they see us off to cross the Indian Ocean. They would also complete their own circumnavigation a year later.

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The cruising camaraderie continued right through to the end of our stay, when our hosts threw a generous dinner party for Gunter and me. The guest list included sailors from Britain as well as France. I was surprised to learn that many of them had read my first two books. This night, they asked me to sign my third book, which Jean-Claude handed to them from the box full that I had shipped earlier. How wonderful!

Dinner Party

A fabulous dinner party.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale for the Holidays.

Sailing books by Lois Joy Hofmann

In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss Trilogy.

I recently took an eight-day trip to Iceland, the land of fire and ice and loads of surprises.

My granddaughter Holly and I had been intrigued about Iceland for some time. Others in our family wondered whether we had lost our minds—giving up a gorgeous summer week in Wisconsin to don warm clothes, tromp through tundra, and touch glaciers.

The joke’s on them! We came back raving about spectacular waterfalls, faithful geysers, steaming mineral baths, volcanic mountains, mysterious landscapes, turf roofs, and gorgeous flowers (yes, flowers—only the interior quarter of the country was frozen.)

Holly offered to rent a car to drive Iceland’s Ring Road. That eliminated the need to backpack our Canon Rebel cameras and bring layers of clothing on daytrips. Fortunately, we received a free upgrade to a four-wheel drive SUV Subaru Forrester, which we loaded down to “live on the road.” No group tours for us! Now we’re convinced that self-drive tours are the only way to go (during the summer). We used Reykjavik, the capital, as our home base and stayed right downtown at the Alda Hotel. That allowed us to acclimate during our arrival day and to beat the traffic to tourist sites the following days.

Thingvellir Park and Oxararfoss. The next day we awakened at 4 a.m., too excited to sleep. We opened the black light-blocking curtains. The sun was already up! By 5 a.m., we hit the road for the Golden Circle. We were surprised to have the road to ourselves. Our first stop was Thingvellir Park, which sits on a rift valley caused by the separation of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. This stop overlooks the picturesque Thingvellir church alongside a meandering river. This is Iceland’s most historic site as well as a place of vivid beauty. Here, the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alþingi, in 930AD. The meetings were convened annually, outdoors.

Our second stop, a waterfall called Oxararfoss, was our favorite of the day. We meandered through a canyon flanked with rocky cliffs and fissures and filled with gorgeous wildflowers. After an hour, we reached a spectacular falls. We had it all to ourselves! We sat for a while, immersed in the sounds of nature: the roar of the falls contrasting with the gurgling river below.

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During our walk back along this natural amphitheater of Pingvellir, we stopped at Law Rock, where judgements were handed down by the Alþingi, the national assembly. This grand experiment in democracy occurred at a time when the rest of Europe wallowed in rigid feudal monarchies. I was amazed to learn that this Viking system lasted, despite lapses back into chaos, for three centuries. We continued to drive round Lake Pingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake at 84 sq. km.

Map of Lake Pingvallavatn Iceland's largest lake.

Map of Lake Pingvallavatn Iceland’s largest lake.

Geysir. Stop three was the site of Geysir, which has lent its name to all water such water spouts around the world. We had soup for lunch—lamb stew for me and cream of mushroom for Holly. Afterward, we walked along a trail called “the land of boiling waters.” We passed steaming vents, bubbling turquoise pools, and multicolor mud formations—all the way hearing the loud belch and burst of the big one. We finally reached Strokkur (the churn), which shoots upwards every five minutes or so to about 20 meters (66 feet). By the second belch, our cameras were poised for action!

Gullfoss, the Greatest Waterfall. Nine kilometers (six miles) further along Route 35, we reached Iceland’s best-known natural wonder: Gullfoss (Golden Falls). We followed a path from the upper parking area, overrun with busses and vans, leading down to the deafening falls, where the River Hvita (White River) tumbles 32 meters (l05 feet) into a 2.5km (1.5-mile) ravine. One can take another trail to get within an arm’s length of the awesome flow. No way! I felt the wind rushing from above and tugging me toward the waterfall. I saw tripods tip like toothpicks. That was close enough for me. I pulled my sailing jacket close around me and tightened my scarf around my neck. Every so often, clouds of spray descended in wind gusts, forcing me to turn my back to the falls. What a spectacular view of raw nature combined with stunning beauty!

After this thrilling experience, we were ready to return to Reykjavik to rest up for another day of touring.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

We travel not for trafficking alone,
By hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned.
For lust of knowing what should not be known
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
__James Elroy Flecker, 1913

No name is as evocative of the Silk Road as Samarkand. Founded in 700 BC, it is one of the most ancient cities of the world and the most famous city of modern Uzbekistan. In 329 BC, the city was conquered by Alexander the Great who said, “Everything I have heard about Marakanda is true, except that it is more beautiful than I ever imagined.” During the centuries that followed, Samarkand became the key trading center along the Silk Road between China and the Mediterranean Sea. Fast forward to the present, and you’ll find that even after the capital was moved to Tashkent, Samarkand continued to play an important role in the region’s cultural and economic life. After Uzbekistan declared its independence in 1991, the city became an important industrial, cultural, and tourist center.

Samarkand was relatively unknown to the western world until 2001 when the city was added to the World Heritage List. The 2,750th anniversary of the city, a contemporary of Rome, was celebrated internationally by UNESCO in 2007. Today, tourists can enjoy architectural masterpieces as splendid as the greatest monuments of India, Egypt, Greece, and ancient Rome.

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Gunter and I were blown away by the Registan Square in Samarkand—arguably the most splendid sight in all of Central Asia. If I saw nothing else during the trip, I’d have seen the best. An ensemble of three majestic madrassas built during the 15th & 17th centuries form the public square, the centerpiece of the city. I loved the expanse and grandeur of the square combined with intricate carvings and exquisite blue mosaic gracing the portals and domes.

Ulugbek's Observatory

Lois and Gunter rest after touring Ulugbek’s Observatory.

We walked on to visit mosques and mausoleums that dripped blues and greens; however, we were most fascinated by Ulugbek’s Observatory, one of the great archeological finds of the 20th century. Ulugbek was more famous as an astronomer than a ruler. He built his three-story observatory to observe star positions in the 1420s; all that remains is the astrolabe’s curved track. We had seen a similar observatory in India, but our guide claimed that Ulugbek’s lab preceded that one!

Map of Samarkand and Silk Road Cities

Map of Samarkand and Silk Road Cities

Most tours of Uzbekistan begin at Tashkent, the capital, and circle around to Khiva or to Samarkand. We ended our tour with Samarkand.

Our Uzbekistan itinerary had saved the best for last. Samarkand ended our tour. Our guide and driver took us back to Tashkent, the capital, where we relaxed for a day and then flew via Turkish Airlines back to Istanbul and then to San Francisco and on to San Diego.

Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace

Lois writes in her journal in the courtyard of the Lotte City Hotel Tashkent Palace.

If You Go:

Contact Zulya Rajabova, founder and president of Silk Road Treasure Tours, Office: 888-745-7670, Cell: 908-347-4280. Her company manages independent and luxury travel tours throughout the Silk Road Countries of Central Asia, as well as to Mongolia and Georgia.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

This is the final blog in the Uzbekistan series. Lois’s next blog will be about Iceland, where she will travel next week.

Uzbekistan camels

Gunter’s camel.

I know someone who vows he’ll never ride a camel again. That someone is Gunter, my husband─not that he wasn’t warned! As we prepared our itinerary for traveling Uzbekistan, my sister Ret begged, “Promise me you’ll delete those horse and camel rides from your trip. You’re not getting any younger.”

Visions of his painful-but-successful knee surgery flashed through Gunter’s head. “I rode a camel at the Pyramids and a horse over Mono Pass in the High Sierras. Yes, a man in his eighties should cut back a little. No horses or camels.”

That was then.

Dinner would be in two hours so we decided to pass the time by going to the camel corral. Mistake! We saw three camels being saddled up—three abreast—for a half-hour circle trip. Two men about Gunter’s age were on the outside with a petite lady about my size trying to mount the center camel. She gave up, saying that she couldn’t reach over the top of the double-humper to reach the stirrups. “Who wants to take her place?” the camel driver asked. There were no takers. “Someone volunteer!” he pleaded. Gunter’s hand went up as my stomach reeled in shock. He mounted his camel and they were off in a flash. No adjustments. After what seemed like forever, the three camels came back. Only one of them had a rider!

I could feel my stomach grip and my face go pale. Fak, our guide, took off running through the sandy trail. I followed, but soon lost sight of him rounding the bend. When I had run far enough to see, there was Gunter dusting himself off while Fak helped him stand. He seemed okay! “I was afraid I’d see metal from my knee poking out of my leg,” he grimaced. “First, the left stirrup came loose and fell off. Then the saddle started to slip and I began to slide. I knew I was going down. Luckily, I managed a controlled fall and then I quickly rolled out of the way of the camel’s feet.” He limped alongside Fak back to the corral.

Staying at a Yurt Camp.

After walking a village in Nurata, we wound around mountains and deserts, ending with a stunning view of Aydarkul Lake, sparkling as if it were a mirage. Then we turned back and into the Yurt Camp to check in. Gunter and I occupied a yurt near the office/restaurant with five single platform beds. We used the spare ones to spread out our belongings. Then we walked through the circle of a dozen yurts, past the campfire surrounded by wooden benches, and up the hill to the facilities, which resembled those of a typical western campground. I turned to Gunter. “Nice, but it will be a long walk at night!”

Dinner would be in two hours so we decided to pass the time by going to the camel corral. Mistake! We saw three camels being saddled up—three abreast—for a half-hour circle trip. Two men about Gunter’s age were on the outside with a petite lady about my size trying to mount the center camel. She gave up, saying that she couldn’t reach over the top of the double-humper to reach the stirrups. “Who wants to take her place?” the camel driver asked. There were no takers. “Someone volunteer!” he pleaded. Gunter’s hand went up as my stomach reeled in shock. He mounted his camel and they were off in a flash. No adjustments. After what seemed like forever, the three camels came back. Only one of them had a rider!

I could feel my stomach grip and my face go pale. Fak, our guide, took off running through the sandy trail. I followed, but soon lost sight of him rounding the bend. When I had run far enough to see, there was Gunter dusting himself off while Fak helped him stand. He seemed okay! “I was afraid I’d see metal from my knee poking out of my leg,” he grimaced. “First, the left stirrup came loose and fell off. Then the saddle started to slip and I began to slide. I knew I was going down. Luckily, I managed a controlled fall and then I quickly rolled out of the way of the camel’s feet.” He limped alongside Fak back to the corral.

Uzbekistan camel ride

Gunter points to the camels before he decides to take a ride.

The other rider had come back as well after his camel spooked and shook him off. He seemed okay.

That was then.

As they sat down to dinner, the riders were immediately offered shots of vodka. After that, we all enjoyed red wine. Our lives had returned to normal. We enjoyed nomadic, country-western-type songs around the campfire. As we walked hand-in-hand back to our Yurt, the night sky filled with a million stars reminding us of glorious night watches while sailing around the world.

In the morning after breakfast we asked the other rider whether he slept okay. “It was a terrible night,” his wife answered. “He was in pain all night.” I fetched some stronger pills for him from our Yurt, and she accepted them gratefully. “He will need them for a few nights, I fear.”

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Before we left Uzbekistan, I contacted her and learned the bad news: they had checked him into a hospital in Bukhara; x-rays showed that he had five or six broken ribs, plus internal bleeding. He had stayed in that hospital for five horrific days before being airlifted to a Canadian hospital in Dubai. At last report, the couple was safely back home in United States. All had learned a tough lesson: never ride a camel before you know it’s safe.

Lois Joy Hofmann blog image

I grow a beard and know things.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Lois’s next blog in the Uzbekistan series will be about Samarkand, crossroads of the Silk Road.

Gunter and I embrace the concept of “slow travel.” Our preference for this method of land travel is probably a byproduct of our slow sail around the world (it took us eight years). We like to decide on a destination, dream, research and read about it, plan an itinerary with plenty of spare time built in, and then go. And when we’re there, we like to take our time, surround ourselves with the power of place, understand the culture, and break bread with the locals if we can. Walking a Village is part and parcel of this experience.

On the way to Mt. Popa and Table Mountain in Myanmar (Burma), a popular tourist site southeast of Bagan, our guide parked his car and led us into a small village where we walked among thatched huts, met villagers, and visited a school. We also walked a village outside of Varanasi, India.

During our recent trip to Uzbekistan, we drove off the beaten path into Nurata, located in the foothills of Nuratau Mountains which stretch out hundreds of kilometers from Barren Steppe to Navoi and Kyzylkum Desert. This village is almost 200 kilometers from Samarkand. It was founded as ancient Nur in 327 BC by Alexander the Great, and the remains of his military fortress can be seen on a high hill to the south of town. The fortress was a strategic center for gathering an army before attacking neighboring lands.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

Nurata is known for its famous mineral springs.

The elaborate water system Alexander had installed is partially used today. But the locals don’t care about which western conquerors were here; instead, they host Eastern visitors who come as Muslim pilgrims to visit the holy places and mosques. A settlement called Nur—at the foot of the mountain—contains the graves of many “who have seen” the Prophet Mohammed. This site was chosen as a settlement for its mineral spring, known as Chasma, which always stays at 19.5°C. According to legend, a fire rock (probably a meteor) fell from the sky and a spring of healing water rose where it hit the ground. Now, thousands of believers—most from neighboring towns—come to visit every year to view the strange radiance that sometimes appears over the spring. The complex contains a Friday mosque, qubba (Arabic for shrine or tomb) and a bathhouse.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

A group of tourists in Nurata.

Far from industrial and tourist centers, this town of 25,000 leads an unhurried, idyllic life. The innocence and genuine hospitality of the residents is a primary reason that pilgrims and tourists like to visit Nurata. While our driver parked the car on the outskirts, our guide Fakhriddin, Gunter and I walked into town.

Eager to witness this hospitality for ourselves, we were not disappointed. We felt as if the town had been swept clean for guests: bushes and flowers had been carefully manicured, there was no trash on or along sidewalks, and smiling faces greeted us everywhere. While Fak tried to explain the inner workings of the unique system of underground pipe channels running from the spring, onlookers kept asking questions about us. We were their newest attraction!

“Why are you here? Where are you from? Do you like Uzbekistan? Why? What do you like best?” Of course, we couldn’t understand a word of Tajik or Russian, so Fak was bombarded with questions. He turned to us, “Are they bothering you?”

“Quite the opposite,” Gunter explained. “We want to talk with them. You can fill us in on the history later.”

“America! California!” a student from Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, yelled to his friends. Soon his friends surrounded us and the questioning resumed.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

An English teacher from Tashkent visits Nurata.

A teacher approached to ask Fak whether her International Language university students could come over to interview us. They were taking a cultural field trip. “How fortunate for us to find American English speakers,” she said. “That is unusual; few Europeans come here and almost no Americans.” We sat on a bench while a parade of students passed by. “Only one question each,” she instructed.

As we walk along the town’s main plaza, a withered man approached with a young boy, about 5 or 6 years old. “Photo of my grandson with you?” he asked.

“Okay,” Gunter said. “Come and stand here in front.” The grandfather releases the shy boy’s hand and gently pushes him forward. After he snapped his photo, his gnarled face broke into a wide grin. “My grandson will remember this photo for the rest of his life.”

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The center of attention all afternoon, we continued to walk and talk around the village. Those inquisitive-but-friendly people of Nurata will always hold a special place in my heart.

About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading this nautical adventure trilogy, now on sale.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

Lois Joy Hofmann updating her travel journal.

 

 

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