Only with a 5-day transit visa I did not expect to see much of Turkmenistan. I had to cover 500 km in four days according to my planning and on the 5th day, cross into Uzbekistan early and get to Bukhara at around 5pm.
The border crossing took a long time, especially on the Iranian side. They provided a exit stamp, but the official gave my passport to some superior officer. He asked if Im from South Africa, which my answer was… Well Yes. The guys shook his head, said no and walked off. So there I stood not knowing what was going on, found a bench and sat down. After an hour I returned to the desk to ask if something is wrong or some kind of problem. The guys told me to sit down… so I did. Another hour past and then finally the superior came back… He probably checked if I stuck my photo into an African passport. He asked me many stupid questions and then started to scan through my passport. “So, you went to Vietnam” he asked. “Yes, last year” I replied. “Why?” So I started to explain why I travel. He took about 20 minutes to go through my whole passport asking questions on each visa and stamp.
Finally he gave me my passport and said ” a white African” and his comment was followed by a loud laugh. I returned a smile, took my passport and walked off. I normally get looks when I tell people Im from Africa, but it was about to get even worse in Central Asia!
I finally got to the Turkmenistan side of the border and the first thing I noticed was very, very young military boys controlling the border. As always I smiled, greeted everyone, walked into the office, handed them my passport and was again laughed at which was followed by lots of no, no, no’s… “You white… Africa black”. By now I already had a way of indicating that there are more black people than white people and was not born in Europe. They just looked at me in amazement. Then their superior arrived, took my passport and said “aaahhhh, Nelson Mandela, very good man. You have nice country”. I smiled, thanked him and then he disappeared with my passport.
While waiting I had to go to a doctor for a checkup and he was convinced I had Ebola. Trying to explain in which areas Ebola was a problem and that I have not been in any of that areas, but he still believed himself. Burning to ask why he was not wearing protective clothing, but decided to leave it there. After the 20min checkup I was back in the waiting room… Ebola free. I kept looking at these young military children. They must between the ages of 16 to 18 and nothing older. All of them found this white African very amusing and kept asking questions. They were very nice and after about another two hours received my passport. My bags was finally checked by an extremely beautiful Turkmen lady. After all the locomotion it was time to get on the road as it was already around 13:30.
I decided to take the shortest route to Mary (town name) and the road slowly started to fall apart. The first 100 km in Turkmenistan was hell. Potholes bigger than in parts of Mozambique, not much tar, lots of sand and rocks. Crawling closer to Mary, the sunlight was getting less and less. Normally not even considering to cycle at night, I decided to give it a try on this day… for only one hour. In this hour only covering 7 km… what a balls-up that turned out to be. The road was just to bad, so I decided to pitch my tent and get ready for a big one the next day. The second and third day went pretty good with distances of 186 km and 156 km. This was exactly what was needed and made it to the border on the forth day around 3pm. Pitched my tent on the border, as my Uzbekistan visa only started the next day.
Turkmenistan was even drier that Iran and the hottest day was just over 50 degrees!!!! I have never felt heat like this. There was luckily a road stop in the middle of nowhere, where I could enjoy cold cola and water. Each day in Turkmenistan provided great camping spots and even better sunsets over the desert. Always trying to be at-least 500m from the highway where it was quite.
The sunsets and desert (during the colder times of the day) made Turkmenistan worth the visit, even if it was only four days. I met some interesting locals and many with gold teeth. Some locals gave me melon, coffee, tea and lots of cold water during the hottest times of the day, such a blessing and hugely appreciated.
Wish I could go to the gas craters, but this must wait for another visit maybe in the future… Now off to Uzbekistan! More gold teeth, worse weather, closed borders, crazy hooters and beautiful cities.
Cheers for now…