Family


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.

 

 

Sharing Lap-Lap in Vanuatu

In Vanuatu, Lois and Günter watch a local knead dough for lap-lap.

One of our favorite things to do when traveling is to finagle an invitation to the home of a family who lives there. Or, when we were sailing around the world, we liked to invite locals on our boat.

My first experience receiving such an invitation was during a Cruising World charter. Heading back from a Polynesian church service in Yassawa, Fiji, a couple beckoned us from their thatched-roof dwelling. “Would you like to join us for dinner?” a man in a sulu (sarong) asked. My husband, Gunter, nodded and we walked over, took off our shoes, and went inside.

“We only have one fish, but we’d like to share,” his wife offered, while her young boy tugged at her muumuu-style dress. The meal had already been spread out on the floor on top of a tapa cloth. The small fish occupied center stage, surrounded by mashed sweet potatoes and what appeared to be back-eyed peas. We all gathered around on the floor and took part in the meager meal while answering questions about “those boats anchored in their bay.” They wanted to know about our cruising lifestyle and we wanted to learn about theirs. “Breaking bread,” although none was offered here, was a ritual we would repeat often during the nineteen years we’ve been retired, sailing and traveling the world.

Many years later, we were no longer sailing charter yachts; we had retired and purchased our own yacht, Pacific Bliss. While sailing to the Northern Banks Islands of Vanuatu during our world circumnavigation, we anchored in Vureas Bay. The villagers there had a problem, they needed to fish to provide for their families, but the propeller for their only boat was kaput. Would Günter take a look? The propeller was beyond repair, so Günter offered to give him the spare prop for our dinghy. It was brand new, but we planned to leave Vanuatu to sail to Bundaberg, Australia, where we would store Pacific Bliss for the cyclone season. We’d buy another one next year. The villagers were flabbergasted and threw us a “Thank You Prop Party.” They strung flowers over fishing line hung high to surround the feast area. On top of mats, they spread various dishes donated by the villagers. One lady brought four of her precious eggs in a homemade basket as a gift!

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

The locals in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu threw us a Prop Party.

During the Waterfall Bay Festival we invited Chief Jimmy and his wife Lillian for afternoon tea. I recount this in my second book, Sailing the South Pacific. I’d put a double-sized load of cinnamon-raisin bread mix into the Breadmaker. The story continues:

“It is far too hot for tea…I served cold juice in cartons, and we talk in the cockpit. The Breadmaker beeps. Both visitors rush to see the machine. They had never seen a Breadmaker before! The chief makes that loud whistling sound, common to all Ni-Vanuatu when they’re impressed. We allow the bread to cool while we attempt to continue the conversation, but Jimmy is distracted. He just stares at the loaf on the breadboard. I slice half the loaf and place a slice on each of the small plates, along with knives to spread butter and jam. The jar of raspberry jam is labeled “Made in Port Vila, Vanuatu” but our guests have never tasted anything like it. It goes fast. I ask Jimmy whether he wants another slice. Of course, he does!

‘Go ahead, slice it yourself,’ Gunter says.

Jimmy cuts a thick slice. No tea-sized portions for him! As he slathers on the butter and jam, he says, ‘Very good. American lap-lap.’ He devours that slice and cuts even more. Before long, the entire loaf is gone!”

Lap-lap is the national dish of Vanuatu, similar to pizza, that’s baked in earth pits covered with hot rocks. The locals cover the crust with small fish, coconut paste, or smashed sweet potato (see my blog Why Travel.)

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Ni-Vanuatan women demonstrate how to make lap-lap.

Our most recent “breaking bread with locals” occurred during our trip to Uzbekistan. To our delight, Zulya Rajabova, owner of Silk Road Treasure Tours, had arranged a surprise visit to her childhood home in Bukhara. We had the opportunity to meet her parents, sister, numerous relatives, as well as two other travelers and their guide. The home is typical of Uzbekistan family compounds, a one-level U-shaped structure surrounding an inner courtyard. So while Zulya was busy running her company in New York, we enjoyed having a marvelous lunch with her family! After multiple courses, nieces and nephews performed for us. Saying goodbyes was difficult, but despite the surprise visit, we still had a schedule to meet—including a stop in Nurata on the way to a Yurt Camp near Aydarkul Lake.

Lois and Günter with Zulya's parents.

Lois and Günter with Zulya’s parents.

Uzbekistan bride

Günter poses with a recently married family member.

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.

Travel planning should be fun, not stressful. How can you make it so?
A Checklist Can Ease Your Stress
__ Do you need a passport? If so, allow plenty of time for it to arrive to your door.

__Does your destination require a VISA? Apply six weeks in advance in case you run into bureaucratic difficulties.

__Do you want to sign up for Global Entry?

Global Entry PassportWhat is Global Entry? Global Entry is a program of the United States Government’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports. It makes international travel so much easier. To apply, one must complete the online application at https://www.cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry/how-apply. After your application is reviewed, you will be contacted to schedule an interview at one of the Global Entry Enrollment Centers. At the interview, a CBP officer asks you questions, takes your photo, and collects biometric information such as fingerprints. Gunter and I signed up for Global Entry this year and will use this additional stamp in our passport for the first time during our upcoming trip to Uzbekistan. We hope to glide right through those long custom lines! I’ll let you know how it works out.

__Well before you travel, make sure your medical, dental, and eyecare is up to date. Will you require vaccinations? The week before you leave, refill any prescriptions you’ll need, including those little-used “emergency” pills—just in case.

__Prepare a sample itinerary. If you’re with a group, your travel agency will do this. Be sure to ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Which reservations must be made early? If you’re traveling during high season, hotels may fill up fast.

__Purchase your train, bus or plane ticket or prepare your car for travel.

__ Check those sites that combine travel, hotels, and transportation in package deals, such as Travelocity, Expedia, Costco, etc. Will any of these work for you? (Beware, sometimes package deals are misleading and can be difficult to change later.)

__Make a list of clothes and personal items you’ll need to buy; if you’re shopping online, allow time for shipment and/or backorders. Check the weather in your destination – average highs and lows for the time of year you plan to travel. I retrieve our luggage from storage two weeks in advance and begin to throw in personal items and clothes I know I won’t be needing in the next few weeks. Then I repack a day or two before the trip and add any clothes I don’t want to wrinkle.

__Review your photography equipment; will you need anything else? Be sure you have backup flash drives in case you fill up your camera(s). If you don’t normally take a lot of photos, familiarize yourself with your camera’s operation before you go. Will you need to download parts of your manual? If using a smartphone, bring a back-up charger for the trip.

__What will your internet connections be like? Will they have broadband? Wifi? (I just found out that some places in Uzbekistan still have dial-up. I’ll probably transmit only in the larger cities.)

__ If you’re traveling internationally, inform your bank and/or credit card company in advance. You do not want to be without access to funds.

Raj Palace Entrance

Gunter on the Raj Palace stairs to our unexpected suite

Prepare To Expect The Unexpected
What if your expectations don’t meet reality? That’s part of the adventure and thrill of travel. When traveling in India, our flight from Varanasi to Agra was cancelled after we had already checked in our luggage. Our next stop was to be two nights at a hotel near the Taj Mahal. Fortunately, our travel company had provided us with a cell phone and India SIM card for just such emergencies. We called them, and within 20 minutes, they had solved the problem. A driver magically appeared as our luggage was coming back down the carousel; he led us to his car and we were on our way, driving overnight.

Raj Palace Courtyard

Raj Palace Courtyard

 

The dirt road was rough and at some places, the driver went off the road into the ditch to bypass construction zones, but by early morning, we stopped at the palace of a Raj to stay for the day and evening, and the following day, we were safely deposited to our hotel in Agra.

 

 

 

 

 

Raj Palace Light Fixture

One of the many exquisite light fixtures in our suite.

 

 

I wouldn’t have missed staying in that palace for all the tea in China (I mean, India). I felt like a princess as the rising sun shone through gorgeous stained glass and exquisite chandeliers illuminated every room.

So, prepare to be flexible. Don’t over schedule and take things as they come. Above all, don’t stress.

 

 

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 at a reduced price for a limited time.

Do you stare at the window at work, nod off into a travel dream while watching TV, or dream of yourself in another place while you’re waiting in the check-out line at the grocery? Do you say to yourself I wish I could be there now…but I can’t? Maybe, someday…Why dream when you could actually do it? Here’s how:

Step 1: Prepare your bucket list and set your travel goals.

Do you have a travel Bucket List? If not, start a Pinterest Vision Board and pin your favorite travel ideas from the Internet. That will give you some ideas of where to go. If you already have such a list, so some additional work on it. I use an accordion-style folder and then add individual file folders inside. My Bucket List folders have expanded into an entire desk drawer over the years. You could divide your own list by national and international, long-term travel vs. vacation, must-do vs. nice-to-do, immediate and later, or simply year by year.
We’ve all learned how to set goals in business. We know that goals must be:
• Measurable
• Achievable
• Realistic
• Time-based
You can use this same goal-setting process to achieve your personal or family travel goals. For example, we added “Central Asia” to our Bucket List after we’d completed our world circumnavigation and wanted to travel to landlocked areas yachts and cruise ships couldn’t reach. About four years ago when traveling in Myanmar (Burma) we met a couple from New York who had been there. They recommended Uzbekistan because they had used a travel agent who had grown up there. We contacted her and set a measurable goal to go there in two years. That goal was achievable but not realistic because it was not the right time of year and we had time-based family obligations. We changed the plan to four years, and voilà! we will make that trip in April of this year.

Uzbekistan_3

Step 2: Decide where to go and make your travel plan.

Decisions are never easy. And sometimes you can be overwhelmed by so many choices that the year goes by and you realized you haven’t gone at all. Think of it this way. Yes, there are so many places left to see, but you do not have to do it all at one time. So simply decide how long you can be gone and then block off that time on your calendar. Select a trip that fits your timetable and budget. If you don’t travel often, start small and stay close until you’re comfortable with longer trips. If you’re not comfortable traveling alone, go with a group or with a friend who knows the ropes.
What is holding you back? Bring that Thing out of the closet and examine it. Can you go anyway? If that Thing is money, think about what you can give up to make it happen. Going out for dinner? Going to theaters when you could get a subscription to Netflix and pop your own corn? Do you really need that new car, new sofa, new bike, new…? Remember, “Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” (see my last blog). If you decide not to travel, it’s because you don’t value it enough.

Step 3: Research your chosen destination.

This is the fun part. Do take the time to look through travel brochures and tag the specifics you want to see. Explore alternatives before you choose what you want. Research on-line comments about day tours and hotels, keeping in mind that complainers are more vocal than “happy campers.” Learn from the mistakes of others but stay optimistic and excited about the places you’ve chosen to visit.

The Travels of Marco PoloBuy guide books, travelogues, and history books and read, read, read. Watch movies and documentaries about your chosen destination. Immerse yourself into the customs and cultures of locals.
Right now, I’m buried in the romance of the Silk Road. My head is bursting with blue-domed cities filled with gorgeous blue tiles, remote yurts (yes, one night will be a yurt-stay), and colorful bazaars. I’m ensnared in the clutches of Samarkand, founded in the 5th century BC. In 329 BC, the walled city was taken by Alexander the Great who said, “Everything I have heard about Marakanda (Samarkand) is true, except that it is more beautiful than I ever imagined.” This strategic city sat on the crossroads leading to China, India, and Persia. In Bukhara, two thousand years old, I want to bury myself into Marco Polo’s world, so I’m reading The Travels of Marco Polo, an illustrated classic about his excursions from 1271-1295. In Tashkent, the capital, I want to see for myself a city destroyed by Genghis Khan in 1219 and rebuilt to become a prominent center of scholarship, commerce, and trade along the Silk Road. Altogether, I want to take on what has been called “the glorious weight of history” by understanding the customs and culture of just one country: Uzbekistan. Instead of sailing in the wake of ancient explorers, such as Cook and Zheng Ho, I’ll be traveling the sandprints of some of history’s greatest travelers and invaders.

The Travels of Marco Polo

What type of travel do you prefer? At our ages, Gunter and I opt out of group tours whenever we can. We prefer independent travel. We generally go through a travel agent who helps us plan our unique itinerary; sets up inter-country flights, trains, and cars; and books with a local guide. We also prefer “slow travel.” We choose a relaxed itinerary that includes time for leisurely breakfasts, “walking a village” (by ourselves, if permissible), and an extra day or two near the end for me to catch up on my journaling and posting before we head back.

Step 4: Make a commitment.

Those who achieve their dreams go out and do what others dream of doing. So, get out of your little bubble of existence today before you dig so deep into that comfort zone that you become mired and cannot claw yourself out.

“Some people live in a dream world and others face reality and then there are those who turn one into the other.” –Douglas Everet.

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 at a reduced price for a limited time.

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