Monday, 15 June 2015

Turkmenistan - the crossing

What to say about a country when you lived it only for 74 hours?
Say that it was flat, it was damn hot. And that we cycled all day long.

Give it a second thought: finally, we had more things to share about this country. But above all, we cycled really all day long :-) :-)

So here is our story.

Wednesday, may 20th + 84km, 5h30 of peddling

7AM, we were the first to enter the border gate, Iranian side. We even had to wait for the custom service to arrive. They were a bit confused about our Arktash visa, probably seen for the first time.
Things were more complicated at the Turkmen side. I had entitled to the question " What is your nationality?" (hey dude, you have my passport in your hands) " oh, but you don't look like French" (sorry dude,  but one can be black, red, yellow and French!!!). They made us wait for a loooong time without any apparent reason before letting us in, without any further question. Then, they scanned all our luggage. All the Turkmen passing before us had seen their bags open, their belonging looked through carefully, minutely: all the clothes were unfold, all the boxes opened, all the medicine checked.... We were a bit annoyed: if they did so with our tons of bags, it would take the whole morning.

Fortunately, the beautiful young woman at the Custom Service was just interested in our pictures (which were not so many because I loaded most of them before on my computer), insisted on our (non) purchase of medicine and nargileh in Iran.

Curious about our trip, she bursted to laughter when we said " We worked hard to save money" and asked, amusedly "but how old are you?". We felt at the same time pleased and also vexed a little bit :-) :-)

10AM, we finally entered for real on Turkmenistan side!!!! Yupiiii!!!! It was not that bad!!!!
The first statement about Turkmenistan: women are beautiful. At first, it was a bit strange for us to see women without hijab and with dresses which enhancing their forms rather than hiding them, like what we were used to in Iran. I had to wait to get out completely of the border service to put away my hijab. It was good to feel free again!!!

After lunch break, just to confirm that Turkmen women were all gorgeous, we put ourselves seriously at work at 1PM - not the best time to cycle, it was indeed so hot, around 40C. We took a short cut, which would save us some 40-50km on the way to Mary. But the road was bad, we were warned. Well, we knew what bad road is, and 50km was a heavy argument!

(this cute school boy tried desperately to drink out of the empty tap and emptied haft of my bottle!)

Actually, the road was real bad. But that was not the point! The point was the wind. Strong. Not completely on our face but most of the time at 3/4. Normally, at windy time, I try to take refuge behind Alessio. Which I couldn't do this time. Because of bad roads. There were full of potholes, big and bigger, and deep. And randomly "distributed".

We rode for some hours to realize that we were lack of water and there was no way to supply. We took a "desert" route, no shop, no village, even cars were rare. We tried to filter some water from a pond by the road: pffff, the water was salty!!!! What the hell a salty pont does in a middle of desert? After that, we saw very often white trace on the road side, a proof of salty water and had no more idea to filter any water anymore.

We grew more and more concern about water. When we were almost alarmed, we saw a firm beside the road. Yupiii, we were saved!!!! We filled water with everything we had. It added more than 10kg to our luggage, but who cares, now we have fresh water :-) :-)

We stopped around 6:30PM, at a rare place by the road, protected from the wind. But infected with mosquitoes.... We had to set up the tent, prepare dinner quickly, more than quickly in order not to get eaten by those agressive mosquitoes.

(a beautiful wheat field, that changed from the desert)

Thursday, May 21st. 145km, 7h40 of peddling

We got up at 5AM. It's better to cycle early, so the body could get used to the heat. Also, we could have more time: we had a long road ahead. Some mosquitoes had succeeded in infiltrate in our tent and had a feast on us.
Quiet at first, the wind started to "wake up" along with the sun. It blew of course on our face. 8AM, after one hour and a half, we finally got back to the flat asphalted road: what a pleasure for the arms, and bums. Our bicycles felt relieved too I guess.

We made a breakfast stop at the first sign of "civilization": a small stall by the road's side.

The scene reminded me a bit of Vietnam. Here, we tasted "samsa" for the first time, after some endless 40 minutes of waiting - we were too early. We loved them right away!

The asphalted road, unlike we expected, was some parts good but some parts in very bad condition. We cursed (this time, we had enough strength!!!) against the President and his megalomania: instead of building all those luxurious marbres palaces and monuments,

(like this one)

(or this one, with his big picture in front...)

it would have been much better that he would invest some money on roads....

We realized later that almost we were not the only ones (cyclists) to do that :-) :-)

At Mary, for the first time, since long, we saw women working outside - cleaning the streets, removing weeds..... Did I tell you that Turkmen women were gorgeous? They all had beautiful asian features, were all svelte with generous forms. Unlike men in their ordinary T-shirt and trousers, they all had colorful slim waist dress which emphasized even more their form. It was almost a revelation to see bare silky arms here and there.

(schoolgirls on their uniform. They are beautiful, aren't they?)

Lots of them covered their hair. Not under a hijab but a beautiful headdress, of course of matching colors with their dress, the whole made them so pretty, graceful and proud. And they got dressed this way even to work in the fields.

Here, we practiced our poor Russian with some Turkmen: they were all so nice and cute and polite and funny. A great pleasure!

We took off from Mary at 3:30PM, always with this opposite wind. We had some way up at 12% but it was a joke: we know what real 12% is! In our opinion, Armenia, after an over-production of road signs, had offered some (of the 12% sign) to Turkmenistan who just put them in the stiffest roads they had....

Otherwise, it was quite monotone rolling in the desert: it's flat, sandy, with lots of bushes. Sometimes it changed a bit: you have yellow bushes on one side, and green on the other.

(a rare attraction when dromedaries crossed our path) 

We stopped around 6:30PM, after 145 km, happy at we just made a new score of rolling without exhausting ourselves. The two young men living near by welcomed us warmly and showed us a perfect spot to camp. They spoke very little Russian but we could see how they were eager to help.

Friday, May 22d, 170km and 9 hours of rolling from 6:30 PM to 6 PM

We got up at 5AM,the two young men were still sleeping in their simple little house. As usual, we left a little postcard to thank them before hitting the road.
We rolled quite fast, around 20km/h. Anyway, there was nothing else to do nor to see. The scenery was as flat as what Benoit - my fellow from the old time used to say " your dog ran away and three days later, you still see him....".

From time to time, we looked at each other, nodding pensively "so, this is it, rolling in the desert. What is the fun? Why on earth there are people want to run in the desert? Why Tim and Karina would want to roll on Taklamakan desert? Maybe after the Turkmenistan crossing, they would have changed their mind?" (Did you change your mind by the way????). We did change our mind and don't want anymore to go Nukus and give up altogether on suffering one whole week in Uzbek desert.

Lunch break, we gave ourselves this little luxury of having it in a Camping-Hotel's restaurant. It was kinda "chic": the restaurant was made of several distinctive yurt-like tents, with aircon and richly decorated.

The price was reasonable so we had 2 "corba" (soup). Delicious. And fat. As we love :-) :-).

Very kind, the guys from the Camping-Hotel offered us a free shower but Alessio put his veto on my 10mn shower break's request (it's no good on having a shower now, you will get dirty in 10 mn). Very annoyed, I finally agreed to hit the heat and the dust again. Hum, who ever said that I am stubborn???

(cyclists globetrotters to be)

We crossed some dead snakes on the roads, smashed by vehicles while trying to cross. Brrr it meant the were much more of them somewhere in the sand, under the bushes (moreover, they all had this sandy color which made them very difficult to be distinguished...). So we decided not to camp on the sand,  which, on the other hand, meant "there's no place to gooooo". We kept rolling over and over: 130km: no spot, 140km: no spot possible, 150km: not a dam spot to camp, 160km: where in this %$#@*%$ desert could we set our #@$%&^ tent!!!!

Finally, at 170km, we saw some tiny house near a railroad. Oufs!!! We set once more a new record and we were quite exhausted. My wish of the day was not to break never ever this record again!!!

So we went till the railroad and got greeted by a troop of barking dogs. Grrhhh. We were not afraid but unlike wild dogs, home dogs could spend the whole night barking at intruders whom they think are invading their space.... Finally, we set the tent a bit further, right behind a what we thought at first an abandoned house.

The owner, answered to our request (we always try to ask whether we and our tent would bother someone) by inviting us home, offering us tea, fruits, bread cheese... and sausage!!!! We didn't expect this "answer" nor the "pork". Turkmen definitely were not very religious. The neighbors, as the two young men the night before, hastened to help me bringing the water, showing the way to the bathroom, to enquire whether we needed anything... At the same time, they stayed discret and gave us our needed space "Turkmenistan is soooo relaxing after Iran", one cyclist fellow had said.

From our camping spot, we had a wonderful sunset, unfortunately, our photography skills are not good enough to capture all these magnificent colors.

Saturday, May 23th, 188km and 11h of rolling from 6AM to 9:30PM

The alarm rang at 4:30 AM, it was still dark but we were determined to cross the border in the morning and to reach Bukhara as soon as possible. We expected to make some 150 km that day (but as you see, we under-estimated the distance a great deal!)

(some encounter on the road)

After a "breakfast for champions" of 400gr of pasta (!!!!) we set our peddle at 6AM. It was fresh, no wind, the road, as usual, was flat but I felt weak with a horrible chest pain. It got better slowly but then, the wind rose and to change a bit, we had it right on the face (The wind rises, we must try to survive!!!). The last bit to the border was really challenging and we got there only around noon, after covering some 90km.

(a village on the desert way: flat, hot and dry)

We got stuck at the Turkmen border because the man in charge of the X-ray machine was at lunch break!!!! What a limpid explanation that the young solder gave us. But we didn't accept to wast two hour waiting and protested and protested again. In English, in Russian, with hands, facial expressions.... until he got bored and went looking for some superior. The man, apparently annoyed to be disturbed, asked a few questions "do you have drugs? guns?" and didn't even bother to open our bags but was surprisingly interested in our tiny Holy Bible in Russian - a gift from Vlad's family in Armenia. He checked over and over again, probably afraid that we would be some Witnesses of Jehovah under cover (we met some of them near Mary and ran away as soon as they introduced themselves... ).

The custom service on the Uzbek side was more into medicine stuff and checked all my pills.... But everything was smooth and we finished all the blablabla and entered the Uzbek land only 2.5 hours later.

Here ended our Turkmenistan experience.

We spent the rest of the day rolling and rolling and rolling till 9:30 to reach Bukhara. We were quite skeptical about our goal when we saw "Buxoro: 97km" outside the border. But we kept going on.

We cheered ourselves up by asking mutually "hey baby, where do you want to sleep tonight?" "In a hostel, with a real soft bed" "yeah baby, what do you want to do tonight?" " I want a real fresh shower and a COLD beer!!!!".

I guessed the beer was the biggest argument for all our efforts!!!!

We ended the day, completely exhausted but we took time to savor every drop of our cold beer. Anyway, my wish of the day was to NEVER EVER break this record again!!!!

Stay tuned for more Potatoes coming updates!!!

1 comment:

  1. i have never visited the country but it is definitely on my list. i have read a lot about it. and this post is really thorough and well written with its small peculiar details