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Wednesday, 27 January 2016 05:16

Turkmenistan is subjective

Author: Balázs
Translated by: Greta Kojsza 

What kind of a subjective opinion can you have on a country, in which you’ve only spent 81 hours altogether? Well, a very subjective one… We didn’t stay there for long and only saw a small part of it. It might be the reason for an intensive and densified experience. We were hesitating if we shall write is or not, but our story would be incomplete without it.

First impression
Hot and dry weather welcomed us over the borderline. The wind burnt our skin. The first city we arrived to was Sarakhs, but it didn’t have too much differences compared to the cities we visited in Iran. Though we recognized one thing! Draft beer is sold everywhere and women don’t wear scarfs. Then came the familiar car brands such as Lada, Volga etc.

The begging of June is extremely hot in Turkmenistan. It’s even hotter in the second part of June, so we kind of came out well from this weather. We’ve just met Frank, who cycled the Karakum Desert through in 59 degrees. Unimaginable! The temperature doesn’t decrease for the night either, so you’re simply sleeping in your own sweat.

The main roads are somewhere dicey and broken, but somewhere smooth as glass. Like they’re fighting against each other… Unfortunately, the bad phases seem to be the winner. As a matter fact, the old caravan passage is very old, so we could go along as slowly as a camel caravan indeed. You can hardly ever see road signs or any kind of traffic signs. Though drivers have a normal style of conducting, they pay attention to bikers. Except some Ladas or Volgas, only Toyotas can be seen on streets. One liter of fuel costs around 70 Hungarian forints.

The landscape
The country is very ‘empty’. Sometimes I had the impression that we’re in the middle of nowhere. Mary was the only exception. This city isn’t that beautiful either, but has a nice ambiance and a lot of kind people at least. The density of the population is low, the roads are bleak and buildings are abandoned. We’ve got the feeling that some kind of tragedy happened and people have left. We were cycling in a watery and reedy place right after entering the border, which was truly pretty. As we’ve crossed plains and desserts, we can say that both of them have their own beauty. Compared to them, the golden statues that we’ve seen in many other places appealed us somehow less.

Food and beverages
Samsa (kind of a bundle stuffed with meat and baked in furnace) is prepared everywhere and usually sold by streets. Finding a place to eat or get something to drink is quite difficult, because there’s not even a single sign which would peg the existence of a restaurant or café, so we asked the locals. The first time we saw the square divan happened to take place in Turkmenistan. They cover it with blankets and have their meals by sitting on it. Foods and drinks are cheap in general.

People are nice and helpful. Their faces represent Asian features (much more than the Uzbek, though they’re closer to Middle-Asia).The locals and mainly women wear traditional clothes which we found beautiful. We have no idea why, but every single person above his/her thirties has at least one golden tooth. Alright, it’s not real gold, but golden colored cap (my dentist friends will tell…). They do love these bling-bling styled teeth. Russian is spoken everywhere and in bigger cities youngsters understand English. We have no idea about the employment rate of the country, but when we saw ladies washing the fence of the roads, the good old socialist times came into our minds with full employment. When a brigade dig the hole, the other filled it in. Of course we don’t know it for sure, but we really feel the necessity of washing those fences.

Watery areas possess a huge variety of birds. Furthermore, camels, 50cm long lizards and huge, palm-sized spiders can be seen, but we had the opportunity to meet a lost turtle and a lot of insects.

I doubt that many tourists would choose Turkmenistan as a main holiday destination. I guess foreigners simply pass through the country. In our views, it might be related to the following reasons
- It seems like the government doesn’t really desire any kind of tourists.
- Tourist visa’s only obtainable if you participate in an organized trip. We’re honestly curious about what they can show to tourists during such a holiday and how much money they can get out of these excursions?
- Lack of infrastructure.
- But at least they’ve got the system of presidential republic. It has developed since Nyyazow, though the government has still a lot to catch up with.
- The country doesn’t have a lot to offer in case of natural sights, historical cities or spots. Mary is the only exception.
If we’re in Turkmenistan, don’t miss:
Hitchhike a truck and ask for travelling on its platform for 100-150 kilometers. Why? Because it’s illegal and it is the most exciting thing you can do in that 5 days you spend there, let alone the bearable and nice climate. As a second option, look for a sand storm and check it from the inside.