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.
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 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.
Translated by: Balázs Koltai
On Wednesday we had a tearful farewell from Mina and Habib with whom we built an inseparable friendship. We found our way out from Teheran easily, the only challenges were the huge smog and the burning sun. My knee started to hurt in the afternoon, first only the right but later both, after loading the left stronger. We were 50km-s away from the capital. The plan was to ride up to the Caspian Sea and from there to go down to Mashad using a bus. In Rumehen we received some bad news: the way leading to the sea was being blocked by a rockfall, the road remained closed at least for a few days while debris cleanup takes place. We were just enjoying our lavash (Iranian thin bread) topped with chocolate cream when Ali Reza offered his help. The conversation turned into an invitation that ended up in 4 days with him. Ali Reza and his cousins transported us with their car up to the sea, we slept in a 100-year old village house, ate kebab made of goat innerds, I beat everybody in tablesoccer and we bathed in the sea as well. In Iran it’s so easy to make friendships like maybe nowhere else in the world. They come, ask, invite and then they hardly let you go.
Because of the visas we still had to leave. We had to enter Turkmenistan on the 5th of June and exit the country on the 9th after keeping a tough pace through 460 km. The guys helped us arranging the cash exchange then they transported us to the bus port as well and we departed towards Mashad at 8:30 PM.
The journey with the bus was the usual: long, boring and uncomfortable. At 9 AM Farid (our host in Mashad) and Andrea, an Italian biker guy were waiting for us. We were hosted then by Farid’s girlfriend, Sarah. Some talks, backgammon party, visiting Imam Reza’s grave and unique Italian gnocchi cooking were the highlights of that day. On the next day we picked up the Turkmenian visas and spent the rest of the day with resting and chatting. We really got to like Andrea. An open-minded, cheerful, helpful guy having a good sense of humour and we managed to teach him to play backgammon. He rode to Iran to spend there 1-1,5 months after working as an English teacher for half a year in Biskek. Then he flies home to Switzerland to work a bit then sits on the saddle again in October if everything goes well.
At 9 AM on the next morning we were already rolling out of the city towards the border city of Sarakhs 200km away. Thanks God Masshad is the warmest city of Iran and we have experienced that as well. No worries, we thought, that’s gonna be a good preparation for the Turkmenian Karakom desert. We spent the first night on a concrete cube. A bit hidden from the main road the waterworks had some pumpstations and those were covered with the cubes. We climbed up there on a ladder and set up our beds on a square of ca. 3x3 m. Weather was ideal and the anti-mosquito spray was used as well. We had dinner at full-moon, it was beautiful to see the whole countryside lit by the moonlight. A local man found us very interesting so he joined us for our breakfast. He liked our mush. I personally liked that day’s etap the most, despite of suffering from thirst for a few hours in the morning. We undercalculated the needed amount of water and had half a litre per person for 28km. A truck driver seeing our worn faces took pity on us and threw a half litre bottle out of the window. On that day we learned what that means: water is life. Small things that you can easily access at home can turn into the greatest treasures. We had lunch in a small city and filled up our water tanks as well. During this, a family was watching us from the house opposite of us and soon a little girl and her brother appeared, came to us and started to talk with us. They offered us tea and we got a hand-drawn souvenir as well from the girl. In the afternoon a tough climbing was ahead of us, followed by a long downhill and that’s where we reached Iran’s probably most beautiful landscape. Hills covered in grass everywhere, like if they would had been formed by God out of green and brown marzipan. Golden cornfields and bare cliffs with the tiny road carving in between of them.
We planned a caravan seraglio to overnight there and for which we had to get off from the main road 6 km away. We were quite tired and still had to climb 3 steep hills but finally we made it. Our smile drooped quickly seeing that the seraglio was surrounded with fences and closed. At the same moment Ali appeared, the caretaker of the site who opened up the gate for us. We set up our tent next to an old Mercedes truck. It felt great to wash off the 2 days’ dirt with our travel-washbasin. Nothing special has happened during the night except that a horse kicked out one of the tent anchors.
In the morning we had a look on the huge, 1000 year old seraglio. The Turkish seraglio in which we were previously (and which is the third largest in Turkey) would fit in one of the corners of this one. Ali showed us around, covering up everything like the water reservoir, the King’s and Queen’s suite and the “dorm” of the poorer travellers. He asked us to write into the guestbook. It surprised us to see how many bikers had already been in the Robat Shariff Caravan seraglio, for example from France, Poland, Italy and now from Hungary as well.
We reached Sarakhs at around sunset. First we went to the border to find out that we have to be there the next day at 7 AM to avoid queues. Our search for accommodation ended up on the police. No worries we didn’t make anything illegal, just asking the police where to set up our tent. First they recommended in the middle of a roundabout but luckily a smarter person suggested the red cross where we can sleep for sure.
The friendly guys at red cross who were there on a first aid course welcomed and hosted us warmly. We were offered a room to sleep, we could take a shower and our bikes were safe as well. We did not need anything else on that evening.
We woke up early the next day and at 7:30 we were already on the boarder where we bumped into Marko the Slovenian cyclist and experienced a unique middle-Asia border crossing. But about all these you can read next time from Eni.