I must stress that this trip is very much a personal, solo journey. For the vast majority of the time I would travel from place to place alone, and meet / stay with people I’d already contacted through the internet (largely through Couchsurfing) in the places I stopped. That way I had the best of both worlds; good company and a place to stay in the towns / cities, and solitude through the places in between. But very rarely I would encounter people with whom I felt comfortable to travel, and who had the spare time to join me. This page will describe a little about them.
Firstly, the indefatigable Mr Aly Bossin, with whom I stayed for long periods in 2008/9. A highly interesting character who showed me the true meaning of hospitality. I gave a few lessons to teachers in his school, Ilm-Jo Sojhro, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, whilst tearing apart and rebuilding the engine in the truck. Aly’s depth of character and determination to live in the way he sees correct are truly inspirational.
Whilst in Sikkim, India, in May 2008, looking for another trekker with whom to split the costs for a 9-day trek to the foot of Kanchenjunga, I found Duncan, a fellow Englishman and a specialist in building dry-stone walls. Thoughtful, sensitive and first class company. In autumn 2009, whilst planning my Afghanistan trip I sent Duncan a half-serious offer of joining me in the country, to which he replied positively, though warned me he ‘still had terrible flatulence’. Duncan would join me through some of the most memorable stretches of the entire journey, travelling across Afghan Turkestan.
Waiting for a road to open in Himachal Pradesh, India, in July 2008, I got friendly with a Slovenians Matjaz (photographer) & Ana (chemist) also driving their own 4×4. We drove together along the notorious roads of the Spiti Valley and Ladakh, and perfected our civilised camping routine; semolina and real coffee for breakfasts, heary home-cooked fare for dinner. I will never forget the look on their faces as a number of dead weevils and their eggs floated to the surface of the saucepan in which we were boiling year-old Kazakhstani pasta I had assured them was ‘very good’. We travelled together for around a month until they wimped out of following me to Kashmir.
In Iran, in February 2009 a Polish backpacker was fostered upon me by my Iranian host for a ride towards the Turkmenistan border. Maciej and I soon found a common love of photography, Iranian history, and lavatorial humour. Maciej is a considerate and generous travel partner and always amusing company. In October 2010 Maciej joined me in Mongolia for a tough drive across during the onset of winter, along with the Finns (see below).
In July 2010, whilst looking for a travel partner with whom to split fuel costs, I met Jacob, a perennial Californian vagabond who had given up a life in American of sleeping in tents in friends’ gardens and surveying wildlife for a life on the road of sleeping on the ground in Mongolia and surveying wildlife in Russia. We soon developed a great friendship camping in the Mongolian wilderness, making tea, and heating Russian tushyonka and ramen noodles over humble fires. Jacob has endless reserves of patience and stoicism to counter my frequent cursing of Mongolian road conditions / lack of roads / mutton based cuisine.
Driving along the shore of Lake Baikal and into the Barguzin Valley in September 2010, I encountered two rather lost looking Finns; Toni & Marjo. Having decided to drive an ageing, ailing Lada Niva halfway across Russia, Toni, an IT helpdesk specialist, wanted some company and set off with total stranger Marjo, a psychiatric nurse. We soon developed a vagrant lifestyle camping out in the endless taiga of eastern Siberia, taking turns watching roaring all-night fires while the temperature dropped below -10°C. Despite claiming his IQ is ‘less than the number on the bottom of my shoe’, Toni is an extremely savvy traveller and marvellous company. If Toni was the brains, Marjo however was the muscles of the operation; I’ve never met a stronger woman, and she continually impressed me with her physical and mental endurance. The Finns travelled with me for a total of around six weeks, until their Niva gave up.
These are the main characters of the trip; the people I most frequently relate tales about, and the people I’ve made the most effort to keep in contact with. There were however literally hundreds of ‘characters’ in this trip, mostly people who hosted me, fed me, answered my questions, showed me their town, introduced me to their friends and generally added greatly to the richness of my travel experience. They are, sadly, too many to list, but I hope to make mention of at least some of them throughout the text. Then there are the thousands of casual acquaintances I made; people I shared a beer with, a brief conversation. To be honest, I’ve probably forgotten more of them than I can remember, but I like to think their contribution lives on in the overall knowledge and experience I have gained from the entire journey.