What’s going on here?
Where are you right now?
Back in the UK.
Where did you go?
What do different update types mean:
- Just that I am at location and everything is ok. (Two thumbs up, absolutely ok, things are going great)
- Slept here
- Lots of wow noises due to surroundings at that point
- Summited something
- Met someone here
- Something of interest happened here
- Repeatedly, over protracted period, with no intertwined OK/Checkin’s -: everything OK, but not ‘awesome’, no assistance required. Probably coincides with return to civilisation.
Note: none of these updates can mean I need help. There is a unique Help alert that carries that meaning and is dealt with separately.
How do you pronounce Kyrgystan?
Where is Kyrgystan?
Central Asia. South of Russia, West of China
What timezone is that?
Who are you travelling with?
I’m going on my own.
How are you getting to Kyrgystan?
Turkish Airlines: Manchester to Osh, via Istanbul.
How long are you going for?
2 weeks (30th September – 15th October)
Where are you going?
Why Karavshin & Jiptik valleys?
There are unclimbed peaks in the area which I plan to scout/photograph. In addition, the scenery is reputedly comparable to Yosemite but in my 300 page guidebook of Kyrgzystan (2011), Batken province was given just 3 pages, and the Karavshin/Ak-Suu area was mentioned in passing in just one paragraph.
Also, it’s the only state in Central Asia with no visas for UK-visitors.
The area is traveled but certainly not well traveled. Seems like enough reasons to me!
What are you aims?
Meet and understand the landscape and people of the Karavshin & Jiptik valleys.
Where will you be staying?
I will probably mostly be camping, though I may do a few homestays in yurts.
Is it easy to get there?
No, it’s a bit of a ballache. Kyrgystan is 90% mountainous, but also, due to the Soviet Union days of Stalin, there are lots of enclaves and exclaves of various different countries in the area… and the main roads go through them. This means that to drive from Osh to Batken, I have to drive round Sohk, and Uzbek enclave (as I don’t have a transit visa), and the avoid the Uzbek border. When I leave Batken for Karavashin, I have to avoid or otherwise pass through the Tajik enclave of Vorukh…. and to go to the Karavashin area, I need a permit allowing me near the border, as it is close to the border with Tajikistan.
And that’s just the access issues.
Actually finding out everything above was also pretty challenging (and perhaps not accurate!). I don’t expect execution to be as simplistic as I explained.
I’m using a local travel company – Karavshin Travel – in Batken to help with a few things, but I’ve no idea how it will play out.
It wouldn’t be adventure travel, if I knew all the variables.
What are the dangers?
- Aggressive/corrupt police
- Landmines (near borders)
- Civil/ethnic unrest
- Developing country medical care
- Alcoholics / cheap vodka
- Rare Snow Leopards
- Impaling myself on twigs
- Lack of reading material
Have you done anything like this before?
I’ve a good deal of solo trekking experience in England and Scotland and notably last year I spent 2 weeks backpacking through the northern Sweden, in the Arctic circle
Kyrgyzstan doesn’t speak English, even as a second language, how will you communicate?
The locals may speak Kyrgz, or they may speak Tajik, Uzbek or other central Asian languages.
Kyrgyzstan’s second official language is Russian, a foreign language I scored an A in, many years ago, at GCSE. I don’t speak Russian very well anymore, but I can read/spell out Cyrillic and, with the help of a phrasebook, I expect to be able to make myself understood.
Are you taking a satellite phone?
No. If you want to catchup, drop me message and suggest sometime when we can chat when I’m home!? Catchups are good.
What happens in event of an emergency?
In the event I require assistance, my SPOT satellite device will alert 10 friends/family who will probably then contact my travel company in Batken. They will look at the information available to them and make decisions on that.
Are you scared?
No. What is there to be scared of?
If you buy a car, but are too scared of scratching it to take it out of the garage, then there’s no point having such a nice car.
If you have a nice camera but are so scared of losing it that you refuse to take it to places where you’d want nice photos, then there’s no point having such a nice camera.
If you have a nice life, but you’re so scared of taking calculated risks that you don’t get to have fun, then frankly, what’s the point?
I see the world, not as a world of dangers, but as a world of opportunities.
I’ve written about this in more detail in two blog posts:
Is Google Maps the best maps you have?
Fortunately not. I’m navigating off a 1980 1:200,000 Soviet military map, that I have printed to A2 (each square = 4km), and several fragments of 1:100,000 that cover the same area. You can browse the maps with ease on toppomapper.com.
How bad will your withdrawal symptoms be through lack of internet?
Pretty bad… my hair may start falling out. Oh wait, it already is.
I’m kind of looking forward to it – last October I did 12 days in Sweden without internet.
How much does your rucksack weigh?
18kg (inc camera, ex. water)
What’s in your rucksack?
Surely you don’t need XXXX?
If I didn’t feel it was necessary, I wouldn’t be taking it. We may have to agree that we have different definitions of “necessary”.
What money are you taking?
Kyrgyzstan uses the “som”, which isn’t a very strong currency. I’m taking US dollars and some euros I have left over and am going to change them on arrival.
This doesn’t seem very organised, how long have you been planning this?
About 9-10 days from concept to takeoff.
Basically, I had been mis-counting my holidays, and so when I noticed the end of my holiday year approaching, I did a check, and rather than finding I owed holiday, I found I was owed about 2 weeks of holiday…
At that point, began the rush to find a way to make use of my time. After much thought, this was what I decided on.
This sounds very stressful. Wouldn’t you prefer to sit on a beach somewhere and have a casual beer?
I think by “stressful” you mean “exciting”. Having said that, I love beer and beach holidays as much as anyone else, they’re rarely “exciting” though.
Aren’t you vegetarian? Won’t that be tricky in Kyrgyzstan?
Well, for me, it’s a lot less tricky, as I’ve 22 years experience at it, but it’s true to point out that most Kyrgz recipes start with “first you kill your sheep”.
Being sufficiently polite and respectful is far more a concern for me than starvation – bread is an important part of Kyrgz culture and I’m certain I’ll find something to eat.
Why are you vegetarian?
It’s a long story. 22 years long, and I’ve summarised why in a previous blog post.
What will you be eating?
Whilst I’m in the mountains, I anticipate eating expedition food which I spared no expense in buying from a British supermarket. Food is a strangely polarising subject, and I anticipate no end of criticism for my choice to carry food from the UK.
How long will it take you to get your photos online afterwards?
I anticipate taking 2000-5000 photos, perhaps 2-6 hours video footage. I’d anticipate that only about 5% of that will be of interest to most people. Separating that 5% is time consuming and somewhat draining – 6 hours work in several stages. I’ll get it done, but it’ll take time and energy, both of which I won’t have. Expect a multiweek lag.
Who’s paying for your trip?
I’m entirely self-funded.
Are you receiving support from anyone?
When an alert is raised via this system, the oncall engineer is alerted and/or woken up, and goes and deals with the problem.
I’m very confident in my colleagues, and so, by hooking my call for help into Bytemark systems, my colleagues can help alert my ground-team straight away, so help can be sent straight away.
I’m very grateful for Bytemark’s support on this front – not every organisation would be comfortable with such a thing – so I really appreciate working with people who are happy to watch my back.
Any words of gratitude?
I’d like to thank my family, for their positive outlook on everything. It’s really been a great influence on me.
My awesome girlfriend Clara for happily letting me go off and do my own crazy things, and then happily suggesting we go camping in March in the UK. <!–more pukeworthy comments–>
John Proctor for suggestions and moral support and for his part in the Muzkol 2013 expedition with Jonathan Davey, which partly served as encouragement and inspiration. John’s other climbing buddy, Ed Lemon, also deserves a pint for map assistance.
Anita Wilczynska, my former trekking buddy from Morocco, for moral support & encouragement – it’s appreciated!
My sister & her partner for being part of our safety web – thanks!
My colleagues at work, and the building security guard for putting up with most of Amazon, being delivered to our office, for the past 2 weeks.
Who’s influenced and inspired you?
Jessica Watson, Laura Dekker, Robin Knox-Johnson, Pete Goss, Ellen MacArthur, Mike Perham, Joe Simpson, Tom Allen, Theodora Sutcliffe and Zac Sutcliffe, Alexis Ohanian, Tim Moss
Both sets of grandparents’ own style of epic voyages and casual “jaunts” round unusual places.
Who are you raising money for?
Can I pay for your holiday?
I recommend giving money to your favourite charity instead.
Everywhere I go, people ask me, who I am, and where I come from, and I tell them:
I’m Tim and I’m from Manchester.
And if I’m not in the UK, the next thing they say is guaranteed to be related to football.
Sometimes the question is:
“So which is it? City or United?”
or more commonly where English is less well spoken:
What’s interesting is that really, Manchester has a worldwide reputation football, that no-other clearly Mancunian thing does.
Sure, various famous brands and things happened in Manchester, but no one has ever said
“You’re from Manchester – ah Umbro!”
“Manchester! Which do you prefer: Morrisey’s solo stuff or The Smiths!?”
The thing is, I’m not really a football fan. It’s just not my thing. I don’t really care about it, and even national competitions which we do well in get a good deal of disinterest. That’s not to say I’ve not been to Matches – I’ve even blogged about football games – but I just don’t really care.
What’s more, I’d struggle to name 5 members of the current United and City squads combined.
The difficult thing, is knowing how to react when I’m asked about football whilst travelling – obviously The Premier League is, to some degree, also a tourist export, just like the Royal Family is a tourist attraction amongst other things. Generally, I’m straight up and honest if we can communicate fluently, or will arbitrarily choose a side to support for that day otherwise, and smile and nod.
It does feel strange however that the first thing that people mention, whenever I mention where I’m from, is a sport that I am clueless about and very ambivalent of.
Frequently, people avoid travelling away from tourist focused locations because they’re worried about whether they will be understood, I’d suggest that means they miss out of the best part of the experience.
The stories of trying to communicate (and hopefully succeeding) might be some of the best parts of your adventure.
Here’s my story:
Kosovo has a very divided population. Due to Stuff and Wars and Sad Things, there are people that speak Albanian and people that speak Serbian. They probably understand and speak the other language as well, but for political reasons they do not, and will not understand.
Anyway, 90% is Albanian speaking so I took an Albanian phrasebook and went travelling to a remote southern village (Brod), high in the mountains!
After walking round the village several times, sticking out like a sore sore thumb, I walk into one of the cafés and attempted an Albanian “Meridita” (“hello/good afternoon!”).
Instantly “nie Albanish. Serbish.” was growled back.
“Shit.” I thought.
“Well, no point using the phrasebook”.
I then tried English. No one spoke English. I tried French. No one spoke French. I tried the bits of Swedish know, unsurprisingly, no Swedish. I tried bits of Russian, and hum, had a lukewarm response – Serbian and Russian are somewhat mutually intelligible and share vocabulary.
Then the guy behind the counter whipped out his laptop, plugged it into this crumbling wall socket and connected to google translate.. and via google translate, we communicated, I explained where I was from, and I was able to organise somewhere to sleep that night, and a guide to take me walking the next day!
I had a great time, and that experience of walking into that café will stay with me for a long time!
I recently got back from an epic backpacking adventure in Northern Sweden. It was essentially 12 days of walking through the Swedish mountains, in the Arctic Circle, on my own. Every day (ish) I made a video blog, and whilst I’ve not finished (not started actually!) processing the mass of photos and video I took, I’ve finally got this sorted and uploaded.
Take a look:
Update 1 – Day 1 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko
Update 2 – Day 2 – From wild camping just outside Abisko National park, ~2km from Abiskojaurestugorna
Update 3 – Day 3 – From wild camping 10km between Abiskojaurestugorna and Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 4 – Day 4 – From the woodshed – Unnas Allakastugorna
Update 5 – Day 5 – From the hut – Allejaurestugorna
Update 6 – Day 6 – From the hut – Tjäktja Stugorn
Update 7 – Day 7/8 – From the mountain and Nallostugan
Update 8 – Day 8/9 – From wild camping at top end of Vistas Vagge and Radugastugan Shelter
Update 9 – Day 9 – From outside the huts at Abiskojaure Stugan
Update 10 – Day 10/11 – From Nissunjåkka campsite near Abisko/Abisko
So despite many exciting stories, I’ve returned from Northern Sweden, better than ever.
Over the time I was there, I managed to amass about 80GB of photos (JPG not RAW) and video – that’s roughly equivalent to 57,000 floppy disks or 117 CDs. As my current storage capabilities at home need a bit of a refresh, there may be a slight delay whilst I process things, breath, and start to write things up.
When I first thought about going hiking in Northern Sweden, I had considered doing it in summer, with beautiful sunshine beating down, swimming in glacier fed lakes… In fact, I chose not to do it then because I didn’t fancy 24 hour sunlight if I was trying to camp in a tent…
In October, there will be no swimming lakes. With an average temperature of 5 degrees, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is probably going to be the toughest expedition yet, and to make things even better, I’ve barely prepared myself in terms of kit, let alone physically or psychologically.
In many ways, the trip that I suspect will have prepared me most was a 2 day epic in the Lake District in January, over a damp and very windy weekend, except longer, and hopefully not as grim.
As backpacking goes, I’ve dedicated an inordinate amount of weight to food, and cameras, whilst minimising weight on clothes. Let’s do a bit of a kit list:
Sleeping and Shelter:
- Mountain Equipment Xero 550 down sleeping bag
- Themorest Neoair
- Vango Helium 200
- Silk sleeping bag liner
Food and cooking
- 3 litre Platypus
- Trangia stove + 1 pan + 500ml meths + flint/steel spark lighter
- 1 plastic spork and two sharp knives
- 2KG spaghetti
- ~1KG of “just add water” ramen noodles and rice
- ~1.5 KG of cheese in one-per-day-sized sealed packets
- Tomato puree and salsa as ad-hoc sauce.
- 1kg of dried fruit
- 24 chocolate bars
Cameras and electronics
- Nokia N900 smartphone
- Sanyo CA100 + spare battery
- Propono external battery pack (fits above devices) + continental charger
- Canon 5D mkII + 24-205 f4 lens + camera bag
- About 88GB of CF storage and 16GB of SD storage
- 9 Canon batteries
- Glidecam XR 2000
- 3 quick drying lightweight t-shirt vests
- 2 lightweight/quick drying synthetic long sleeved shirt
- 2 cotton/slow drying thermal long sleeved shirt (thanks Zhelyo!)
- 2 pair of shorts and one pair of tracksuit bottoms
- 3 pairs of boxers
- 2 waterproof, windproof, breathable microfibre fleeces
- 1 pair of padded sallopettes
- 2 pairs of dual lining socks, 1 pair of fluffy ‘extra warm’ socks
- 1 pair of Raichle hiking boots
- 1 pair of fingerless neoprene sailing gloves
- 1 pair of thick, padded sailing gloves
- Osprey rucksack
- Whistle, compass, headtorch and spare batteries
- Collins SAS survival guide
- First aid kit (painkillers, general meds, plasters)
- General toiletries
- Space blanket and towel
- Ice Axe
- Glasses and sunglasses
So the big question: how much does it weigh? I’m not sure. More than would be completely comfortable, but I think I can optimise the weight distribution further to put some heavy stuff higher up my back. I tried wearing it round the house and running up and down stairs a few times with it on. Unsurprisingly, after 6 or 7 sprints up and down the stairs, I was a bit tired, but I think it’s probably a good sign – it wasn’t completely unachievable.
Clearly, in the time not spent walking, sleeping, eating or thinking, the cameras are my main source of entertainment. The mobile phone is largely going to be left switched off. It’s worth noting that, for me, this is a quite bold technological setup as it does not include a laptop. As strange as this may seem, almost every serious expedition I’ve been on, has included a laptop for battery/connectivity/extra storage reasons. This is not very efficient, so hopefully I can manage without it. It’s also worth noting that this is likely to be the longest time I will have spent without internet access for, years(?). We’ll see how that goes.
Clearly, with minimal clothes, I’ll be forced to do some washing of clothes – hence the preference for quick drying synthetics that will drip dry, even in cold weather. The gloves sound a bit unpromisingly, but work surprisingly well together. I’m a tiny bit nervous that an extreme burst of very cold weather, or very wet weather, I might not be very well prepared for, but I think I have effective waterproofs, and I think that in the event of cold, putting on the maximum layers (or simply pitching the tent and calling it a day) should work ok.
I’m flying to Stockholm Arlanda, then getting the 19 hour sleeper train from the airport station, to Abisko – a tiny hamlet, in the Artic Circle in Northern Sweden and the trailhead of the Kungsleden. My plan is to do a 12-13 day circuit to the south of Abisko, returning on the 15th to head back to Stockholm and Manchester.
One thing is for certain: this trip will be like nothing I’ve done before it. Probably.
The Swedish Tourist Association – read “Tourist Information” – which looks after all of the paths and trails had this gem on it’s website. Clearly, those annoying puzzles that have irritated school children and programmers for years about Foxes, Donkeys, rowing boats and rivers originated from Sweden, because this was actually on their website:
Rowing trails with at least one rowboat on each shore are located where the trails traverse larger watercourses or lakes. Those who use the boats are responsible to ensure that one boat is on each side of the water. This can mean that the rowing must be done three times.
First, you have to row over to the other side to get the boat there, row back with it in tow, pull this boat up on the shore to then row over again to the spot from where you will continue you hike.
Some time ago I got asked on twitter by SerenaNJ:
@tdobson That’s so cool! Are you ever in England? I wish I got to travel as much as you do!
I feel this is an interesting question that, at least, is worth addressing.
Part way through her degree, my older sister took a year out and spent 9 months on her own, travelling South East Asia, Australasia and North America. At the time I was quite young, and in fact, got my first email address so we could stay in touch with her.
As I am in full time work, I don’t have the same opportunity as her to spend months travelling, however, having a job, I have different opportunities. There aren’t specific reasons that I want to travel, but just to see places and things.
Students who want to travel are usually in the following situation:
- Pretty much no money
- Lots of free time (3 months summer holidays!)
Being in full time work, I have:
- Larger than a student’s budget
- Limited free time (holiday time is rationed!)
Anyway, so being aware of my limitations – I can travel, but I don’t really have that much free time with which to travel, I can make decisions about what works best for me.
For example, for me, a train to someplace can be better value than a coach, even if the coach ticket costs 10% of the train, because spending 2 days of my holiday time on a coach isn’t worth it. But if I had lots of time, but little money, I’d leap at the coach ticket. It’s simply about perspective.
So when I want to go somewhere, I take full advantage of everything I can:
- I can travel offpeak and offseason due to being able to choose my own holiday dates
- I can afford to spend more on travel, if it’s faster
The process usually works like this:
I’ll usually start be researching the destination, working out where I want to go, what I’d do, what there is to do, where I could stay. This is just about finding out what the place is like. I’ll use Google, I’ll use Google maps, I’ll use Wikivoyage, I’ll use Wikipedia.
I’ll research travel options – train/car/fly/etc. (Usually via the website of the operator, or by reading about other people’s experiences travelling from a to b)
I’ll choose some dates, and what the costs are. (For flights I’ll use Kayak.co.uk and Skyscanner.net but I’ll also check budget airlines – Wizz/Easyjet/Ryanair/etc) I’ll see whether moving the dates around can save money or work best for me. NB: Some airlines vary their prices by time of day – “people ordering at 3pm can pay more than people ordering at 3am”.
Finally, I’ll probably sleep on it, and think whether it’s a good use of time, money etc. Then I’ll book it, and do it.
This is pretty much how I arrange my trips over the last few years to:
- Isles of Scilly, Cornwall (Train + two ferries, camping
- Skye and Rasaay, Scotland (Trains + cycle touring, camping)
- Hamburg, Dusseldorf, Berlin, Munich (flights, many trains, friends, family and hotels)
- Talinn, Estonia (flights, bike hire, hostels)
- Pristina and Brod, Kosovo (flights, buses, hostels)
- Various trips to the Lake District (train [occasionally with a bike], camping)
And for me, that’s all there is too it, with a bit of research, and by tailoring your travel to what is best for you, you may find it is easier than you think.
You may also enjoy this analysis on how one could get from Manchester to Glen Coe, Scotland.
I occurred tome that this time next week, I wouldn’t be here in Manchester, but I’d travelling far far away. Well, not *that* far, but still quite a long way away.
I’m going to Kosovo.
I have a few plans for my time there, but I’m eager not commit myself too deeply, but the thing that spurred me to go was FLOSS Kosovo – an annual free software conference that’s been held for a number of years running. This year Bruce Perens, the original author of the Free Software Definition (amongst others) will be presenting by video, which should be cool.