Before traveling to Ireland a few months ago, I’ll confess I knew very little about the island and its history. I had this vague notion – like I think a lot of people – that there had been some fighting in Northern Ireland in the past, but that it was all over now, everyone had moved on, and things were more or less back to normal. So I was surprised to learn that in many ways, that was very much not the case.
Tuva is famous for its style of throat singing, which the local people call khoomei. It’s an ancient practice created by the nomadic people of Central Asia who were trying to mimic sounds of nature like the songs of birds, a babbling brook, or even the growls of a camel. Experienced singers can produce up to four pitches simultaneously, creating an effect like a bagpipe or a didgeridoo. And these are sounds I didn’t even realize it was possible for a human to make!
For more than 80 years, Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market had a reputation for supplying some of the freshest and best quality seafood anywhere. But having been built before the Second World War, it was a relic from an earlier era, and over the decades, it had become overcrowded, unsanitary, and unsafe. After years of planning, the city decided to move the market last fall to a larger and more modern facility about a mile-and-a-half away.
Like most people, I had originally assumed that this surely couldn’t be a safe place to go, and it probably wasn’t even possible for outsiders like myself to get anywhere near it, but then I did some more research and learned that not only is it possible, but there are in fact a number of companies that take people visiting Kyiv, Ukraine on day trips to the site. Their brochures claimed that as long as you followed the tour guide’s instructions and don’t wander anywhere you’re not supposed to go, the dose of radiation you’d get from spending an afternoon in the area around Chernobyl was just a fraction of what you’d get from a long airplane flight. So early one Saturday morning, my friend Donna and I decided to sign up for a tour.
After driving 11,000 miles over the course of seven weeks, we finally reached the finish line of the Mongol Rally, and everything was suddenly over. There was no more waking up early to hit the road, driving 12 hours to make up for lost time, and arriving at our destination long after dark. No more tow trucks or tow ropes, restaurants serving meat from another strange animal, or sleeping in uncomfortable beds in sketchy hotel rooms that desperately needed a remodel. No more use for Google Translate or need to hand over bottles of vodka to police officers as bribes. And you know what? As crazy as it sounds, we kind of missed it!
After a series of bad decisions, my brother and I had ended up stranded with our friends at the bottom of an incredibly steep and rocky hill in a really remote part of Mongolia. We’d sent a text by satellite to the American embassy in Mongolia’s capital who dispatched a rescue team, and when that team couldn’t find us, they sent a second team. Help finally arrived after dark, but this would be no simple rescue.
Mongolia is a place with notoriously bad roads, where the main east-west routes are often little more than tracks through the dirt. Maps and satellite GPS are of little navigational help, and signs are few and far between. Throw in some river crossings for added entertainment, and traversing the country can be quite an adventure!
When my brother and I told friends we'd be driving across Kazakhstan, we got plenty of jokes referencing the cartoonishly backwards image they had of the country after watching Sacha Baron Cohen's 2006 mockumentary Borat. But we were about to find out that the real-life nation of Kazakhstan was almost nothing like what was portrayed on the screen!