It was 9 o’clock in the morning, and everything in sight was bathed in the brilliant, blazing light of an Arabian Peninsula sun. I had my sunglasses on and still felt the need to hold up a hand to shield my eyes from the glare. Around me stood men buying fresh produce, men selling khat for camel feed, men chatting amiably in long white dishdashas with colorful kumas perched atop their heads. I was standing in a souk in Ibra, Oman—the lone female and the lone foreigner—surrounded by Omani men going about their morning business in a market scene so customary to them it surely felt banal. Little here seemed ordinary to me, though, and I was savoring every second. I was the Other, the outsider, the ferenji, and my senses were heightened in anticipation of the unfamiliar, my eyes wide open to novelty. Situated somewhere between the dunes of the Wahiba Sands desert and the mountains of the al Hajar range, Ibra is an old city in a very old part of the world. Not for the first time, nor surely the last, I found myself wondering how did I get here?
Peru is a country of color. There are the terraced hillsides of carefully tended crops whose greens range from basil to emerald to pistachio. There is the Andean sky built like a layer cake of ever-varying blues stacked high into the atmosphere. There are the 3,800 potato varieties plucked out of Peruvian soil whose outer skins range from canary yellow to beige to aubergine. There are the fish markets of Lima with their dark red tuna steaks, mottled brown squids, blush pink whitefish fillets, and mounds of mossy seaweed. And, of course, there are the densely crowded markets from which goods and foods explode out of tiny stalls—white alpaca ponchos and multicolored tablecloths with an orange-pink-green-blue pattern best resembling neon Sour Skittles draped along the walls; vibrant red wool blankets and hand-knit rainbow belts heaped atop chartreuse skirts and cobalt scarves; and bouquets of cilantro sitting alongside spicy scarlet and orange peppers next to mounds of purple potatoes all spilling out onto the sidewalk.
The eyes feast in Peru.
“Let’s go somewhere. We need an adventure,” a dear friend once said to me. We were sitting on the couch in my Denver, Colorado apartment, digesting Thai food and drinking wine. I had just earned a Master’s degree; Nicole was slated to begin medical school in the fall. We were both feeling equally free and adrift and antsy at that particular moment of our lives. Let’s go somewhere exotic. Somewhere far away. Somewhere where we could lose ourselves for a few weeks and forget our respective realities. Let’s go on an adventure—that’s what was said, but the subtext was so much greater than that statement. It took us five minutes of naming destinations—Turkey, the desert (but which desert?), somewhere beautiful in Europe—to settle on a trip so vast it would feel more like three trips in one: The Trans-Mongolian Railway. Rather than end in Vladivostok, the traditional terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway, we would switch trains in Irkutsk and venture through Mongolia to our ultimate destination, Beijing. The distance from St. Petersburg, Russia to Beijing, China via train is approximately 6,000 miles. Eight time zones are crossed en route. We would begin our trip in Europe, end in Asia, and circumnavigate the globe before it was all said and done.
“Let’s go somewhere,” Nicole said. And so we went around the world.
For a detailed summary of the St. Petersburg to Beijing via the Trans-Mongolian Railway itinerary, see the full post in the Travel Itineraries section.