Originally we were going to Moscow. We had the plane tickets all but booked, the dates blocked off for work, the the visa paperwork printed out. Then it turned out that the children's tourist passports had expired. And then Joseph and I had to go to London. So we didn't go to Moscow. But Brandon still had the week off (and when you have the week off work, you don't go in to work), so instead we traveled in Tajikistan.
We've done some hiking and traveled outside Tajikistan, but hadn't yet gone for anything but a camping trip an hour outside Dushanbe. This is mostly because Tajikistan is absolutely not set up for tourism. There are few specific things you can spend a whole lot of money to come and do - game hunting and trekking - but there's nothing family friendly (and under $30,000). No nice little resorts are hidden in the mountains, offering a few days' refreshment from the city, nothing that you can book online and be sure where it is actually located and that it had western-style toilets.
So instead we decided to go adventuring.
Brandon hates adventuring.
But he is a tolerant husband, so we went adventuring. There is a region up in the mountains (pretty much everything in this country is up in the mountains) called Seven Lakes, a series of glacial lakes formed by a series of rockfall dams. I had heard that it was one of the most beautiful things in Tajikistan to see, so we decided to go. But first we had to get there.
According to my best measuring on Google Maps (it had to be guessing because where we were going was just a point with no recorded roads [there are roads, but Google Maps doesn't acknowledge them] that led there), the trip was about 150 miles. In America on good roads this would take about two and half hours. I calculated that, with an average of 40 mph on the paved stretches (most of the trip) and 20 mph on the unpaved stretch (the last 20 miles), it would take 4 1/2 hours. It ended up taking six.
Between sheep-moving season, the unlit 5-km tunnel of death, switchbacks up and down very high mountains (with no guardrails), rockfalls on the road, Eleanor losing her breakfast, a random drunk guy wanting a ride, local women who did get a ride, and a few fords, our average speed was more like 25 mph. Such is the Tajik road trip.
We stopped for lunch along the first lake. This is the last lake if you're coming down from the mountain, and it was absolutely crystal clear.
So of course we washed out Eleanor's egg-covered dress (additional clothes were in our bags wrapped up in two sets up garbage bags bungee corded next to our jerry-can of gas on our carrier rack. You know you're traveling when you take jerry cans and a satellite phone) in the lake. Because we're classy like that.
We enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch and (of course) rock throwing. Rock throwing - it never gets old.
Then we kept driving, up the face of the rock dam that you can see behind Sophia. At this point, I really started not being Brandon's friend. And it only continued.
There's nothing like having a rock on one side and a very deep lake on the other to make you drive very, very slowly. By the time we got to the little village lying near the head of lake number four, Brandon and I were both very happy to be done with driving for a few days.
It took some asking to find the homestay (some signs with arrows and words on them would be helpful), but we eventually got there. It was a pleasant little compound, surprisingly green after the rocky rockiness of the lake, with lots of trees growing around.
My, and Brandon's, favorite part was the tapchan, where we ate all our meals. There is something incredibly luxurious about lounging on a tapchan in perfect weather while somebody else cooks your food. I would like to do this on a much more regular basis. I think it would increase the quality of my life significantly.
The rooms weren't too bad, considering. We had two rooms, one with four beds and the other with three. Which worked out perfectly, as the walls were thick enough for us to ignore the children when they woke up with the early sunrise. The beds weren't too uncomfortable, considering, and it was nice to have a thick blanket during the cool mountain nights.
The bathroom was, as expected, a squatty. We were very happy to find, however, that it was a flushing squatty. I didn't know there was a hierarchy to squat toilets until I moved to Tajikistan. If you don't like the flushing kind, you don't even want to think of using a non-flushing squatty, also known as a hole in the ground. Curious to see how the squatty got its water supply, I followed the water line up a hill behind the outhouse and found a cistern that was filled by an irrigation ditch. Handy, those irrigation ditches.
The owner, known as Jumaboy, was very hospitable, and the children enjoyed watching his wife cook plov in the special wood-fired plov cooking stove. One of his grandchildren was about Eleanor's age and both girls enjoyed watching the other, strange child who acted so oddly. All of the children enjoyed petting the resident dog. It was, despite my reservations about homestays, actually pretty pleasant. It wasn't the Ritz, but nobody's looking for the Ritz when they go up to a mountain village in Tajikistan.
And I'm pretty sure there's nothing like this near the Ritz.