Flip-flops in the Pamiri mountains
Flip-flops and the Pamirs don't go together according to some, but I say there is no better combination. And to prove the point I have been using them in abundance while I visited the region. Most people called me crazy and if I had died and instantly preserved I am sure I would have caused quite a conundrum to future archaeologists. I can imagine the conversation going on: 'We thought these were mountains 2 million years ago, but here is a man in shorts and flip-flops, which would indicate the presence of a sea?'
But of course I didn't die, instead I strutted around with purposeful strides through some of the most stunning sceneries I have seen. First we headed up Bartang valley, and with we I mean Danielle, Ricky and I, though only I was wearing the flip-flops. In the four days that we spend in both the Bartang and some of its side valleys we walked about 90 kilometers. To be fair I did need to wear my crappy sneakers a bit, because climbing up a boulder strewn track towards Ravmed was not suitable for beachwear and after a while my feet hurt. However my sneakers are worse
Steep cliffs along our route
than my slippers and as a result of this change-over I actually got some huge blisters. So you see, what works for some (actual shoes) doesn't work for others and clearly my feet are made for the flops and flips of this world whether I am climbing mountains or not.
The mountains around Ravmed were fantastic and the the views from our home-stay breathtaking, especially from the pit toilet! The only drawback was getting goats-milk for breakfast and dinner and breakfast and dinner again, but I guess you can't have everything. We were amply compensated on the way back though, when we were invited to a pre-wedding party and were stuffed with salads, plov, sweets, yogurt and fruits.
The plan was to hike around the Wakhan corridor as well, but in the end we were a bit lazy and accepted a ride with Andreas, Sandra and Marc, sharing a comfortable four-wheel drive with the six of us. Our driver was possibly the best in the Pamirs, a gentle old fellow who steered us with nary a bump through the corridor and managed to get us into several of the sights which were formally closed due to an upcoming
A tea invitation
visit of the president. The Wakhan corridor has been a distant dream of mine for a long time, and so my expectations were high which can be dangerous. Luckily in this case it didn't disappoint and it was every bit as impressive as I had thought. The wide vista's and views of the Hindu Kush were incredible and at places it looked like you only needed to wade through shallow waters to reach the Afghan side. If only there weren't uncleared (and sometimes unmarked) mine-fields along the Afghan-Tajik border. Tantalizingly close yet so far away.
While my flip-flops weren't used as extensively as in the Bartang valley, they were still used to get to the various hot-springs, ruined silk-road forts and random viewpoints that are scattered along the corridor. But as said, most of the travelling we did by car, which probably was for the best because time was running out on my visa. Still to compensate for our lack of physical exersise our sojourn of the Wakhan, we decided to do thirty kilometer hike from Bulungkul where we were dropped off, to the Pamir highway and part way along this famous route in search for a hitch with
The sun strikes a hill-top
a Chinese truck heading to Murgab. Ricky barely made it because he is lugging along a backpack which seems to contain a fridge, at least judging by the size and weight of it, and we are only talking about the backpack here, he also has a front pack the size of which I won't even mention. We lucked out and got a ride in the end with a friendly trucker who also paid our lunch, so from now on I love Chinese truck drivers!
Finally it was time to face the inevitable question which has been occupying every travellers thoughts the past few weeks: 'Should I go to Kyrgyzstan or not? What is the situation like? Is it too dangerous?' Information was sketchy though and so Danielle decided no to chance it overland, but go back to Dushanbe and fly to Bishkek. Ricky and I went for it, but not until we had visited the waters of Karakul lake and made an involuntary waist deep dip into the bogs at the far end of the lake. Hmmm... Mud is good! To top it off on the walk back to the village it started snowing and the wind picked up.
High mountains everywhere
Despite wearing shorts and flip-flops it wasn't my legs or feet that grew cold but my fingers, as the song goes, these flip-flops were made for walking and that's just what I'll do...
As for Kyrgyzstan, well they have found a novel way of cutting down labour costs on the roads, because according to many a 'men at work' sign I saw, the picture depicted an extra-terrestrial. The one with a big oval head and lanky limbs... I couldn't take a picture though since we were cramped into a vehicle with two big Kyrgyz families and it was hard enough to keep the blood pumping around my body. For those interested, the situation is calm now even in the south, enough to get from that part of the country to Bishkek with public transport and transiting Osh.
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