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From Central Asia To Puerto Rico (Of All Places)

Going back to the real world from the “other world.” Leaving Central Asia, on my way to . . . Puerto Rico. Seriously.

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“Where are you going next?” I’m asked pretty much daily.

Responding to this question is usually straight forward: I just say where I’m going. However, this time doing so
didn’t feel quite so matter of fact.

I’m going to Puerto Rico. I’m going to the sunny beaches of Puerto Rico straight from the frigid tundra of Astana in the winter. As I looked around at the ice that covered everything it just felt sort of unbelievable that I would soon be walking around in shorts and sandels and playing in the waves. When I told people this I felt as though I was lying.

But it’s true. I’m on my way to San Juan. I’ll be meeting my wife, my daughters, and in laws there.  I guess you could say that I’m going on vacation.

I’m actually surprised that I was invited to go.

“Really? You really want me to go?”

I was kind of flattered, so much so that I decided to take a break from Central Asia.


I’m now going back to what could be called the real world. My fifth bout of New Silk Road research travels — yet another foray into the “other world” — is coming to a close. I met with and interviewed key sources in Astana, took a trip back out to the Khorgos Gateway dry port, returned to the China / Kazakhstan free trade zone and was surprised at what I found, was taught about modern Kazakhstan art by a woman who is prohibited by law from wearing underwear in public, met with the COO of the Khorgos SEZ and other friends in Almaty, was deceived in Dushanbe, accidentally spent a week partying in Bishkek, went out to Aktau and visited the port, and returned to Astana where I did some media engagements with Kazakh TV and the Astana Times as well as hung out a little more in the conspicuously empty first McDonald’s in Kazakhstan.

I just went through just six weeks with my head down running. Now I’m transitioning back to the real world — the world where I’m a dad and a husband, the world where I work out life with other people, and can’t just do anything I want to whenever I want to (well, sort of).

Transitioning between these worlds often require complete personal paradigm shifts — Edward Norton / Brad Pitt kind of shit. It’s really two diametrically opposed lifestyles that get smashed together as one regularly becomes the other, ad infinitum. When I first go out on these research trips I’m a little reluctant, heavy hearted, like an animal being released into the wild from captivity who hovers around its crate sniffing the air for a while. I say I don’t want to go. But once I’m out for a while it’s sometimes hard to go back inside.

I just passed through immigration here in Astana. I paused for a moment at the no u-turn sign that was stamped on the floor at the brink of nomansland. I stepped over it. I’m leaving Central Asia again, and again I feel a little heavy inside about it. I had fun here during this bout of research travels — perhaps a little too much fun.

But I should be returning to Central Asia in three weeks. Too soon to shed any tears of preemptive nostalgia.

Filed under: Kazakhstan, Puerto Rico, Travel Diary

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3704 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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