Sunday, October 12, 2014

Transit through Turkmenistan (07.09.2014 - 10.09.2014)

Turkmenistan, one of these countries you may have heard from in the news about their massive oil and gas resources. It was ruled for the first twenty years after freed from the soviet yoke by a proper lunatic, president for life Saparmurat Niyazov.
Famous for his mad laws and decrees, here some examples: 
  • People only had to read two books in their lifetime: the koran and his collection of garbled thoughts, Ruhnama. 
  • Banning news reporters to wear make-up, as he was having trouble distinguishing their sex. 
  • Banning dogs from the capitol because of their "odor". 
  • Renaming all days of the week and the months of the year after family members 
  • Entering Ashgabat with a dirty car is punishable (the only reason we washed our car...)
Some of his more obscure laws have been reverted by his successor, but not all of them...

Even more over the top than Baku, Ashgabat exists mostly of 12 story white marble buildings. It seems every ministry got its own "temple". Highlights (if your into this kind of things) were the building with the tallest indoor ferris wheel and biggest building in star shape in the world. Both acknowledged by the guinness book!? Or the house in the form of his own book, which reads (every day?) a page from it out loud. At the outskirts he let build a many kilometres long concrete walkway (the Walkway of Health, lol) which every government employee, had to walk once a year. With no shade at the borders of a desert, many were sick the day after :D

So when we entered this shiny place with our little beater car, there were almost no other cars around! We had a brand new 6 lane highway all for ourselves. Sadly the many CCTV cameras prevented us from fooling around too much ;)

Genti had done some research and the conclusion was that all the hotels were crap or expensive. So we went for the second and checked in at the Sofitel. ^^ Maybe one of the thirty rooms on each of the fifteen floors were occupied, not so crowded ;). We relaxed at the pool and had our first beer since Baku, nice!

Ah, we also visited the ancient city of Nissa. Sadly not much to see, but as it lies outside of "new" Ashgabat we had the chance to see where the common people lived. Of course after this little tour our car was dirty again ;)

The following morning we left and drove south east to Mary. The highway follows the Turkmen canal which is one of the main reasons the Aral sea is drying up. Nevertheless there were cotton fields all along it. Soon the new pavement and uncountable potholes started...

On this less than 400 km long journey we got stopped 9 times by random police checkpoints! And there were even more which let us pass unhindered...
It seems english (or any form of education) is not a requirement to become a policeman in these parts, so our conversations were mostly in hand signals. Luckily we had our fancy paper from the border with the many stamps and signatures. Anyway it was important!! to enter our names and licence plate into big books many times on the way...
It probably didn't help our cause that we had lost our front licence plate during the day on the bumpy shitty roads. Something we only realised in the evening (we made a new one from cardboard the next day ^^).

In the morning we visited the huge ruin field of close to Mary. Over 150km² lies the remains of the once magnificent Mary, a major city on the silk road. Without a car it would have taken hours to walk from sight to sight. 

Afterwards we headed on the Turkmenbat at the Uzbek border. A couple of police checkpoints and a drive through the desert later we arrived at another rundown and expensive hotel, hooray.

The border of course was closed for lunch break when we showed up the day after but otherwise not too complicated and lengthy.

Next Uzbekistan!

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