In the land of golden teeth
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Right on time at 8:00 am we were standing on the Iranian border in Sarakhs. From today we had 5 days to travel through Turkmenistan with our transit visa. The approximately 500-kilometer route leads mostly through the desert. The early morning and evening hours are best for cycling. We wanted to cross the border as fast as we could to avoid time pressure.
The first counter was called, we should sit down and wait. After 30 minutes, an official appeared, who said we have to bring our bikes to the terminal. Of course there are only high levels that are really fun to carry the bike up there! Wait another 10 minutes, it was said afterwards. An hour later, another frontier guard appeared. He registered our personal details in a huge book and then helped us to carry the bicycles out of the hall. The whole action had been completely meaningless. At the next checkpoint, we were sent back. The dear officials had purposely not printed a stamp in our passports. This experience once again confirmed my impressions of the Iranian authorities. Throughout my stay, I experienced a totally inefficient way of working from this site. For the population it has to be hair-raising.
At the Turkmen border, the nightmare continued. First we should fill in forms. A young soldier purposely gave us Russian papers. We requested English forms. Another soldier finally brought us an English-language template. After 5 minutes, the young soldier reappeared, asking for $ 10 and taking the forms. Afterwards it was again Velos carry up the stairs and put all luggage on the conveyor belt. Another soldier came and demanded 12 dollars entry fees. It became clear to us that the young soldier had put the $ 20 in his own pocket. If you are confronted with corruption at the border crossing, the first impression of the country is quite negative. After 4 hours we were finally on Turkmen soil. Through the whole clearance we had already lost half a day. Many thanks to the border officials! At least now came the moment I had waited for a long time: down with the long pants and finally go back with shorts. What a feeling!
Road signs are virtually nonexistent in Turkmenistan. The quality of the roads is not great either. So we soon realized that we had complete procedures. In addition, an extremely strong headwind blew. After two hours we had just made 20 kilometers. A day to howl! Away from the road we found an old stable that provided optimal wind protection for the lunch break.
By dusk, just 50 kilometers were done and that still in the wrong direction. In addition, the water supplies were slowing down and just four days left to cycle to the Uzbek border. Surprisingly, it was windless every night as soon as the sun went down. We crawled into our tents pretty worn out.
The next day was just the opposite of the previous day. No wind in the morning, more pleasant temperatures and beautiful green fields. After two hours we even found a shop and were able to replenish there all food and water supplies. Only the streets remained catastrophic.
Cyclists have many friends and enemies. The biggest enemies in Turkmenistan were definitely the mosquitoes for us. That evening we pitched the tents next to a cotton field with a beautiful view of the desert. At dusk, the ... mosquitoes came and sucked the blood from our bodies. Neither mosquito spray nor mosquito net could ward off the pests.
The next morning, we reached Mary, the first city, which was pretty much bitten.
Again, the supplies had to be replenished. Amazingly, it's pretty clean all over the country although there's almost no trash can left. Next to the shop, a few old ladies sold fruits. They gratefully accepted our old plastic bottles and when we photographed them they gave us two sacks full of vegetables and fruits.
The women here wear very colorful skirts and scarves scarves. After two months in Iran it was just nice to watch (that's how life is fun!). You clearly see people their descent. The Russians are very different from their Turkmen compatriots. The Soviet Union has transformed this nomadic people into a modern state on a Russian scale. In front of all public buildings are policemen who are careful not to shoot any photos. Nevertheless, we got some nice shots.
Most of the larger towns are surrounded by greenery. Apparently huge canals were created here in laborious work. The tractors are also specially built. Many only have three wheels.
Such machines would have to be imported in Switzerland. That would be a technological revolution and still looks funny. In addition, a lot of money can be saved. Three wheels are cheaper than four.
After Mary followed a 250-kilometer section through the endless desert. The nice wind did not let us down and the road was always uphill. Once again, camels appeared and are herded here.
However, when you are a couple it is a bit easier and you have someone to cry out. Adam and I were just philosophizing when an English ambulance stopped next to us. The two Englishmen travel from Manchester to Mongolia to deliver the vehicle to a local hospital there. Shortly thereafter, a French camper stopped. Josė and Colette travel through Asia for two years. During the conversation, we found out that they met Chantal and Patric a month ago. I traveled with them through Southeastern Anatolia. The world is sometimes small.
Again in the evening our water supplies declined and in the middle of the desert. The railway line runs parallel to the road and has a few stations that usually consist of three to four houses. After 60 kilometers we found such a station the next morning. One man sold us water for two manatts per bottle (1 manat = about $ 0.50). The rescue!
By noon, the thermometer rose again to 48 degrees. There was not a single shadowed spot for the whole morning. For the two French campers overtook us with their vehicle again. They had also spent the last night in the desert. Mile-long cane mats were laid in the ground along the side of the road, so that the ground can not be removed by the wind. That must have been a huge project.
Suddenly a container settlement appeared, which even had a restaurant with air conditioning. For the second time that day we were lucky. In the evening there was the last night in the Turkmen desert with a beautiful sunset and four course food.
According to our calculations, tomorrow it should still be 50 kilometers to the border. Easy! Already at 9:00 o'clock we were in Turkmenabat. On entry, we had exchanged $ 70 and still a lot of it left. We looted the first shop and ate breakfast like I had not eaten in months.
We had to lie down for the first time after this orgy. I liked the street signs in Turkmenabat best. A lifting ban is really comfortable for us cyclists.
After map and GPS were now still 30 kilometers to drive. The way is quite difficult to find. Again, there are no signs. The locals are extremely helpful and always show the right way.
Only at 13:00 clock we were at the border. It was closed for lunch. But an hour later everything went pretty fast. As the dear officials just wanted to search our bags, a German tour group appeared. Now all we had to do was fill out the forms and continue. A few soldiers even gave us chocolate.
The Uzbek border formalities were by far the oddest ones on my journey so far. The body temperature was measured, in the form you had to specify how many gold teeth stuck in the mouth and then they wanted to know the value of my camera. Comic country. After only two hours we were in Uzbekistan. This was much more speditiver.
The last five days each of us had drunk 40 liters of water, caught countless mosquito bites and consumed a liter of gasoline for cooking. In addition, there had been significantly more miles than stated on that day. Namely 80 instead of 50. Also on the last night before Bukhara the dear insects sucked the blood from our bodies. Adam then had two holes in the tire the next morning.
While I was making tea and Adam was fixing his tire, many people came by and inspected our activities. We arrived at Bukhara near Lauzi-Han at noon, where we met José and had dinner. In the guesthouse there was the first shower for six days and large clothes. What a feeling!
In the evening we also met the Cologne Herbert and Philipe and the three Swedes Oskar, Emil and Manfred, whom we had met in Mashhad. We all went to dinner together with sunset.
Bukhara is a beautiful city. There is a lot to see here.