Welcome to my travel diary.
This travel blog was started when I took a year to travel round the world in 2005-6. It was a fabulous year spent in three continents: Africa, Asia and South America. I met many people and had many adventures.
Over the following three to four years, I regularly travelled to the Rift Valley in Kenya as part of my PhD study.
Currently, I am working as a Research Associate visiting nomadic herders in Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
I hope that you will enjoy my journals and keep in touch.
March 19th 2012
“Bilay, bilay” (“dance, dance”) we encouraged as two year old Gulzhan giggled and wriggled in a dance and then clapped her hands. I was already ‘tatia’, her aunt, and making friends with her helped me to settle into my new home in rural Kazakhstan. Gulbashyn, our hostess, was friendly and talkative and happy to rent us a warm clean room whilst we did our research. The household included Gulbashyn, her husband and three of their five children, the other two were living in Almaty. Gaziza and I are staying here while we interview local herders and farmers. The village contains about 250 households but only about half have livestock and many people are unemployed, often seeking work in Almaty. We have been given a room on the ground floor right next to the kitchen so that ... read more
October 11th 2011
This is a story of the peril of potholes and the immense kindness of Kazakh people. Although it is also the tale of my holiday adventures with Joan and Nikki it is the people we met and who helped us that are most important. The stupid cinema stereotypes that have maligned Kazakhstan and its people bear no resemblance to the openness, intelligence, generosity and kindness of Kazakhs in their home country. Almaty to Turkestan by train At last it was time for me to have a short break from work as Nikki and Joan, friends from the UK, came over to join me in Kazakhstan. When they finally woke from their 3am arrival, I took them into Almaty for a breakfast of coffee and pancakes. We were looking forward to exploring some of southern Kazakhstan including ... read more
October 1st 2011
Fate often plays a hand in people’s lives and this seemed to be the case for myself and my new Kazakh co-researcher. The project needed to find a Researcher/translator within Kazakhstan and Zhar had kindly forwarded a couple of potential CVs. One was unsuitable as they were a full-time student so in the end I arranged to interview just one, a young teacher of English with a glowing CV of awards and achievements. Gaziza arrived at the hotel on time and we were soon deep in conversation as I explained the project and she explained her career history and documents. Friendly, intelligent and well-spoken, Gaziza seemed like the ideal candidate and by the end of the interview I was convinced and asked if she would like to join us. She seemed surprised and delighted and asked ... read more
September 19th 2011
Almaty is the city of apples: big ones, red ones, green ones, felt ones, bouncy ones ... bouncy ones ?? Well 3 large red inflatable apples were fascinating the local children. Almaty is famous for its particularly large and tasty variety of apple and was celebrating this in one of its many leafy squares with music, exhibitions and stalls selling a wide variety of apple products. I had Sunday free to explore the city and I was delighted to find Almaty Apple Fest. The sun shone and the music played – from folk singing to an enthusiastic rap band. About fifty stalls were selling all varieties of apple which many a shopper held up to his/her nose to smell to assess the flavour. As I picked up a delicious looking red and green apple to do ... read more
July 7th 2011
Sometimes plans do not always work out. That was the case on our final research trip to Ikh Bogd. I had planned many activities but weather, health and the nomadic lifestyle of the people I was researching were all against us this time. As we slowly climbed the steep rocky tracks into the mountains we should have taken heed of the warning signs. First we passed the door of a Russian jeep hanging from a pile of rocks at the edge of a steep precipice. Then we caught up with another Russian jeep just as it belched out a dying plume of black smoke. It was loaded floor to ceiling with components of a summer ger, with stove and other parts hanging off the roof and back of the car. In the front seats were 5, ... read more
June 25th 2011
Guchin Us has a few redeeming features: a hot shower, internet cafe and a couple of good restaurants that will cook tasty vegetarian food on request. On our last day Erin and I had vegetable soup that did not contain meat, accompanied with freshly baked bread from the herder group bakery. I think Erin felt sad that we were going as she had become part of our team and it was refreshing for her to speak English with a native English speaker. She has also made a few more contacts through our work and was looking forward to starting an English class for some of the government employees, including Danzan the soum governor. It was as though we were travelling through a different country as we drove back to Bogd. The two days of rain had ... read more
June 9th 2011
A brown-black wall of sand and rain towered threateningly above Guchin Us. Most of the year this Gobi settlement is dry, so rain is welcomed as it starts the pasture growing so that the herders’ animals can survive and grow fat. The rain started slowly in strong winds but then lashed down for an hour. But as we watched the rain through the door of our lodgings we realised that a torrent of water was also falling in our room where the roof leaked. Luckily the water was over the cooking area and not our beds so a baby bath was borrowed from the hotel owner. It was too late for a repair so twice during the night we heard the rain showering in. Coincidently the next day we tried out the hot shower in the ... read more
May 28th 2011
As I sat in the hot sun pulling the coarse metal comb through the tangled knots of the goat’s wool I got a deeper understanding of how hard Mongolian herders work. The goat bleated loudly and struggled against its tied feet as I tackled the knots in its fleece trying to extract the soft undercoat that is valuable cashmere wool. Nyamaa and I were staying with Nyamkhuu and Natseg for a couple of nights to get deeper insights into their family network. Natseg appreciated my help as we worked together and talked via Nyamaa’s interpretation. Spring is especially busy for Mongolian herders. First the baby animals are born, then the goats are combed for cashmere, followed by wool cutting – sheep and camel wool is cut with scissors rather than sheared, another long laborious process. This ... read more
May 12th 2011
In the barren rocky landscape a stone moved and ran across our track. “A marmot” I called and Enkhee quickly stopped the vehicle as we grabbed binoculars for a better look before it disappeared down its burrow. Batsuuri, Ikh Bogd environmental officer, who was escorting us on this tour of the protected area in the mountains was delighted. Marmots, hunted as a meaty delicacy, are now quite rare in the Bogd mountains. We sat and watched this guineapig like creature although it was well camouflaged in this rocky landscape. Later as we drove though these upper mountain pastures we spotted many more ‘moving rocks’ coming out into the early spring warmth and we even saw one family with a baby. The dark side of marmots is that they are carriers of bubonic plague and occasionally there ... read more
April 28th 2011
The official at the immigration office at Ulaanbaatar airport scanned my passport and visa, then shook his head and spoke briefly in Mongolian to Enkhbayar, my driver, as he handed back my passport. “Is there a problem?” I asked. “Big problem” Enkhbayar said shortly, as we marched back out of the crowded office. Despite all the weeks of carefully getting a letter of invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Mongolian Embassy in London, to allow me to stay in Mongolia for 90 days, the Embassy in London had stamped my visa as entry only. Was I going to have to stay here forever? We drove back through the chaotic Ulaanbaatar traffic to collect Caroline and get to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Office, but too late as they had closed. We returned the ... read more