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Clouds of Kyzylorda

Kyzylorda, Kazakhstan

Things everyone says: “My hometown is the worst.”

I am guilty of this myself, even though I am from one of the prettiest areas in the New York City radius. So when my Kazakh friends complain about being from Kyzylorda, a small town on the Syr Darya River in southern, relatively western Kazakhstan, I take it with a grain of salt.

On the other hand, Kyzylorda is in the middle of the Kazakh steppe hundreds of miles from the nearest city, the nearest point of interest being Baikonyr (where most of the world’s manned space flights are launched), although the actual cosmodrome is on land leased to Russia and you can’t just drop in unannounced. Further up the road (another hundred miles) there is Aralsk, the depressed ex-fishing town that used to be on the Aral sea before they drained a third of the water to irrigate cotton fields in Uzbekistan. What there is to see there now is an interesting history lesson and a “graveyard” of old ships, some sunken, some never taken out of the water when the sea receded.

The point I’m trying to make is: “Kyzylorda is in the middle of nowhere” is a totally valid claim. But that is only a bad thing if you don’t like it here and/or don’t have the option of leaving. For a few short days, I am enjoying it.

Almaty, the big city to the east, has me living under some majestic mountains and all, but also a blanket of smog that never moves. So my first love poem to Kyzylorda would probably be a hundred pages long and focused entirely on the subject of clean air. The air is so clean, you can see really far. The air is so clean, my hacking cough of two months got better as soon as I got off the plane. The air is clean because it’s really windy all the time, but it’s not so cold anymore so it certainly works for me.

It’s been raining off and on for the past few days, so my favorite clean air effect so far has been the clouds. In Almaty, every day is either clear or hazy with nothing in between. In Kyzylorda, every time I look up there is something to take a picture of.

Marin Headlands

One foggy San Francisco Sunday, I finally made it to the Marin Headlands. Stupidly inaccessible by public transit, the headlands have been the single most elusive day trip of my five-year Bay Area existence. It’s a beautiful area, a straight 20 minute drive from where I live near Daly City, and now I own a car so no more excuses.

AGENDA:

breakfast stop at sufficiently greasy diner in the Outer Sunset
mile-long hike out to the ocean
four-mile loop through the hills
run around like a hippy with flowers in my hair

Mountain View Cemetery

Took a walk in Mountain View Cemetery this weekend for some prime Bay viewing. It was too hazy to see across the water, but it is arguably the best place to go for views of downtown Oakland.

Mountain View is well known for its fancy mausoleums bearing the names of the Bay Area’s rich and famous, from the transition period between Mexican and American ownership of California (mid-1800’s) into the present day. A lot of the grave sites continue to be maintained by the descendants of the original families, giving the hillside a weirdly polished look.

Among all the old money and titans of industry, I do have a soft spot for the grave of Domingo (Domenico) Ghirardelli, founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate company. To this day they make the only well-known high quality American chocolate.