Day 150

“One more coffee, one more cigarette. One more morning trying to forget” Van Morrison

150 days… ouch.

Right, where to begin… Justifications and excuses first followed by lewd stories later.

First a big thanks to Vali and his son for the hospitality. The trip to Kang was memorable for more reasons than just being in a car crash. Why i had a premonition before it happened i till to this day do not know.. Anyway… thankyou to the people of Iran for your help and kindness and just so you now your next door neighbours are bastards.

Turkmenistan did not enamour itself to me from the very start. After seven days waiting for a five day transit visa in Mashhad I visited the consulate with Vali and they refused to accept the extortionate price I was being forced to pay in US dollars as two of the notes had a crease in them… Luckily a Hungarian was at hand to swap the bills and a very expensive piece of paper was added to the passport.

As my Uzbekistan visa had already started by this point I decided to team up with George and Giselle a french couple in their sixties who where heading in the same direction. So… once again the bike went in a taxi and we drove to the border. Two hours of currency declarations, jumping through hoops and forced smiles allowed us in. We walked out of the ramshackle building straight into the desert.

Losing a third of the value of my money due to the sheer complexity of the Turkmen money system in combination with my own stupidity and the thieves that change money there left us in a taxi with a man who after telling me that my money change was ok, stopped for a cigarette then told me i was crazy for giving away so much money. This is the same man who careering wildly down the road to avoid the potholes said the taxi ride would cost 16 dollars then demanded sixty… Lesson #1: Central train stations and borders are an international magnet for the flotsam and jetsam of the human gene pool it would seem.

But we made it through the desert to Mary. Amidst hurricanes of sand, camels and a thermometer that stubbornly persisted in sitting at 43 degrees in the shade.
Sat in the front seat of the car all I could see was death. Death is all around you in this environment. I am scared to even drive through it. If you have a mechanical problem or a crash there is nothing, and I really mean nothing for miles… to think that people have cycled it in the past… well they are better (wo)men than me. In winter I would have a crack but in the height of summer you are taking a very serious gamble with your life…

We arrived in Mary had a shouting match with the aforementioned taxi driver then booked into an overpriced ex soviet hotel. Being shown the rooms when they finally fixed the lift we here show a single room for me, a double for the french and the option of a very large room with red curtains, red sheets and a red lightbulb… ahem, thanks but no thanks.
Out of the hotel round the corner and then my good god, beer and teenage Russian girls in tight shorts serving it. After not drinking since Goreme it was all a bit much suddenly being able to see women and alcohol again.
Maybe aware of this fact the Turkmen operate a curfew for foreigners. So off the streets at 11pm despite being able to see a night club directly across the road from the hotel…

In the morning we went for a walk to see the golden statue of Turkmenbashi who is just your average dead crazy dictator.
Read the following links to get a general idea:
http://www.neatorama.com/2007/06/11/craziest-dictator-ever-turkmenbashi/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saparmurat_Niyazov

Maybe George taking a photo of the guard outside the national ministry of security no less in a highly paranoid country was not the best of ideas. Cue twenty minutes of justifying why he had taken photos of old ladies at bus stops… Lesson #2: Men with hats and uniforms do not think. At all.

Another fight with a taxi driver left us in Turkmenabat. More sand, more oppressive heat and just one tyre blow out on the car in front as we raced at 80mph across the road that was reminiscent of the quality found in Romania. That bad.
The driver of the car in front swerved into the sand when the tyre went, somehow regained control and then got out nonchalantly smoking a cigarette in a manner that suggested it was all just too tiresome and it was the second time it had happened today.. Kids in the back with no seatbelts, 50 degrees, driving like a teenage boy… The taxi driver said the last one he saw like that left four people dead.
Lesson #3: Treat people like children and they will behave like children.

Turkmenabat is situated next to the Amu-Darya which gives enough water to sustain the second largest city in the country. It too is a mess of soviet planning, decay and general feeling that if you where to end up living there you would choose walking into the desert or the bottle.
The people surprisingly though are nice. Not a patch on the Iranians who have won a special place in my heart but good people as a whole.
My own highlight was the floor lady of another dilapidated soviet hotel holding up the shower hose with the shower head conspicuous in its absence, flashing a broad smile with her gold teeth and simply saying “turkmenistan”. Mosquitos, beds harder than the floor, no locks on the door and a bathroom that left you feeling deeply uncomfortable for only 15 dollars each. If you had not already worked it out you are not wanted in this country so take it on the chin and smile.

The floor lady did take a particular shine to George. At 40 years old and widowed after her first husband was killed by the Mafia she invited him to her room then whipped her dress of to stand naked but for a pair of socks, hairy legs and a shaven fadge.. Prostitution it would seem is par for the course here.. George declined and came back to sit in the bar with me as i sat there blissfully unaware of what had just happened working my way through the bar arguing in vain with a woman that it was “Steven sEgal” not “Steven sIgal”

I sit here now in Bukhara in Uzbekistan where there is Plov, water that is more expensive than cigarettes, lots of tourists surprisingly and a heat that will not decline. 35 degrees last night… When we crossed the Uzbekistan border we where told that it had hit 54 degrees the day before which makes a mockery of the doctor who examined us with a digital thermometer to check that we did not have a temperature…

From here well, three more visas are needed. So straight to Tashkent to bang my head against a wall and set fire to more of my money then I start cycling again from Samarkand to the Pamir highway.

Lesson #4: If you are going to cycle this way go north and take a ferry to Kazakhstan then come down or do this route in the winter. Or just get a ****ing flight direct…..

One Response to “Day 150”

  1. Sy says:

    Great, yet more bonkers goings on! Tim mentioned the gold statue it revolves to face the sun doesn’t it?
    Checking the blog each day at morning coffee break. Take it easy dude.

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