The Wandering Scot

An occasional travel journal.

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I’m in Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan, visiting the Uzbek arm of the Aral Sea. I had visited the Kazakh arm of the sea in 2015, so I was curious to see the Uzbek side.

Unfortunately there was heavy rain the night before the trip, so the normally extremely bad dirt tracks became extremely muddy, extremely bad, dirt tracks.  It was a long and difficult drive to get to the Aral Sea yurt camp.  My Toyota Land Cruiser and its driver both had to struggle hard to get us safely through.

But anyway, I got to stay at an extremely muddy Yurt Camp and got a good view over the remaining, shrinking, Uzbek lobe of the Aral Sea.

On the way there, we passed through the once-prosperous fishing port of Moynaq.  But the sea walked away and the fisheries failed.  Many of the old fishing boats are preserved in the (in)famous Ship Graveyard on the old sea bed.

The dry Southern bed of the sea now has lots of scattered oil and gas derricks, making for a fine post-catastrophe sight.

(Just between us, I admit the mud was partly my own fault.  I had offered a slice of Napoleon cake to Poseidon the day before.  I hadn’t realized just how large and how delicious it would be.  And then of course it rained heavily that night.)


In the first century BC, King Antiochus of Commagene built a shrine on Mount Nemrut featuring rows of giant enthroned gods.  Including himself, naturally.

Sadly, later visitors did not approve. The gods were decapitated and their heads are now arranged in a neat line in front of the thrones.

When or why the decapitations occurred is entirely unknown.  But the decapitated remains make for a striking sight.

Despite everything, King Antiochus got his wish: travelers still come from far and wide to Mount Nemrut to gaze on his countenance in wonder!


Mount Nemrut is around a three hour drive from the nearest major city (Şanliurfa).

The summit is at 7200′. We drove almost all the way to the top and then climbed up a couple of hundred steps to the shrine.

In winter the mountain is covered with snow and the top parts of the road are inaccessible, generally into March and sometimes into early April. Some people hike up anyway, but it sounds like quite an adventure.

There are two terraces, each with a row of decapitated gods. The East terrace has the best preserved thrones, the West terrace the best preserved heads.

I was out at the Göbeklitepe neolithic site in SE Turkey today.  It has a set of monumental structures using stone monoliths, dating from roughly 9500 to 8000 BC.  Yikes.  That’s totally ridiculously old.  It makes Stonehenge look modern.   It probably pre-dates agriculture, which causes reputable archaeologists’ brains to explode.

There are an estimated twenty stone circles, of which four have been excavated, each consisting of an outer circle of tee-shaped monolithic pillars and a pair of taller central monoliths.  The largest circle I saw dates from about 9000 BC and has an outer circle of 3 meter pillars and two central monoliths about 5 meters tall.

There are many carved designs, often of foxes, boars or birds.  There is a striking 3-D carving of a lion on one pillar.

The site seems to have been deliberately buried before being abandoned, which explains why so much ancient material has survived so well.  Archaeologists are in hog heaven, interpreting, re-interpreting, controverting and disputing.  Were the structures temples?  Was this a cult center?  Why were circles abandoned and new ones added?  Was this also a pre-urban (!?) settlement?  Were there ancient astronauts?  Stay tuned!

I also visited the neighboring site of Karahantepe.  This is from the same culture, but has at least one stone circle carved directly from bedrock.  And a carved projecting human head.  Various statues that have been found here are in the Şanlıurfa  museum (currently closed due to flooding, alas).

French Guiana: Ariane 5 Launch

I was in French Guiana, to see the VA259 Ariane 5 launch from the European Space Center at Kourou.

I managed to snag the best launch viewing ticket available to the general public, at the IBIS viewing deck, but that still put me 13km (8 miles) away. It was still a very fine launch to see!  As usual, it started with odd plumes of smoke and flame that made me briefly fear an accident, then a fine fiery ascent.  Even at 8 miles, it was notably bright.  Hurrah!  Not a Soyuz, but still fun!

Here are a couple of snaps, with my telephoto zoom from 8 miles through a slight haze…

Look at this charming Tropical Island! A palm-filled paradise, complete with the rustic “Cabin Dreyfus” to house visitors!
OK, the name “Devil’s Island” may deter some travelers.  That plus the strong currents and hidden rocks that have caused the authorities to ban boats from trying to land.  Details, mere details.  I’m sure someone will build a holiday resort soon.
I’ve been visiting the former French penal colony in the Îles du Salut, off the shore of French Guiana.  The prison was spread over the three islands and was a notorious hell-hole, but back in the day the islands were actually regarded as a healthy refuge from the fevers and horrors of mainland French Guiana.  Which was where the main hell-hole prison was.  We got to land on two of the islands, but Devil’s Island itself is off limits because of the currents and rocks.

Cell block on Île Saint-Joseph

Indonesia: Dragons

I’m in Labuan Bajo, Indonesia.  I successfully took a speedboat tour over to Komodo Island, to see the famous Komodo Dragons.

I got there early, ahead of the main tourist rush, and met up with a Park Ranger guide.   Fairly near the harbor we encountered our first dragon.  This one was clearly well habituated to humans and looked like he was the “dragon on duty”.   But he was a real live Komodo Dragon and a very big one, with a massive neck and a flickering tongue.

My guide kindly took a photo of me behind the dragon.  The photo makes it look as though I was quite close, but actually I was a safe 8-12 feet away.

As we were getting ready to leave this one, the ranger spotted another large dragon nearby.  This one was very clearly a wild unhabituated dragon and he ran away very quickly when he saw the nasty evil humans heading towards him.  We tried to follow but lost him.

We strolled through the woods, seeing occasional wild boar or deer.  The dragons typically dine on deer.   The ranger told me that sometimes the dragons build their own nests for their eggs, but often they will coopt a nest built by megapodes (a local bird species), which build very large nest mounds over many years.

We visited a viewing platform where in the past they had fed the dragons and tourists had been able to see lots of visiting dragons.  But that has been discontinued.

As we returned towards the harbor we saw another large dragon.  This one was sitting in the shade, as it was starting to get too hot for them.  This one was also well habituated to humans and let me get some good shots.

So three dragons in total.  Hurrah!  But we actually saw no dragons in the main section of the hike, perhaps partly because the wild unhabituated dragons try to avoid people.