Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan
The story of flying cars and Satan’s bonfire.
Arriving at the Turkmenistan border, a happy military guy signals me to come closer. As soon as I stop my bike a few other soldiers approach me and start talking in some kind of strange Turkish language. I ask if they speak English, but of course, no luck. With some sign language I finally understand that I need to park my bike, enter the building and go wait in the queue.
To my surprise all the women are dressed in amazingly and good-looking clothes. Bright colors, beautiful patterns, contoured clothing and matching hats! It was quite a pleasing shock to see some color again in the women’s clothing after being in Iran for more than a month, and thus mainly seeing scarfed women with loose clothing and more subtle colors or patterns.
After 20 minutes it’s my turn and I present my papers and a happy smile. They look a bit strange at me and ask how I arrived here. I answer them:” by motorbike” but they don’t get it. After showing my helmet they finally get it and point me to go to another building, which is probable the customs building. Walking outside, I don’t see any sign of customs.
Looking a bit sill, sweaty from the heat and disoriented, a soldier helps me out and guides me in the right way.
Finally, someone who speaks English! The custom officer is a kind, middle aged man with a bald head and a prominent belly, very prominent. He explains to me that today is a hard day and everything goes a bit slower than expected. He drank a bit too much last night and has a hangover…I look into his eyes, perform an understanding nod and we start laughing at each other! I kindly show him my papers and we start the custom clearance.
After a while he explains to me that I need to go to “the bank” and pay a few taxes, insurance, bike disinfection, bike registration and other funny things. I go through the main entrance again, greet the soldier again and knock on the “banks” door but no answer. After waiting 15 minutes and several knocking attempts, the soldier approaches and helps me by knocking harder on the door. 30 minutes and 10 attempts later, still no luck.
Finally, a woman approaches and opens the “bank” which in fact looks more like an interrogation room: no windows, a table, 2 chairs and some office appliances…
With 80USD less, I head back to the hangover officer and complete the rest of the papers. Now I need three signatures of different people. Of course, these people where in another building, different floors, different offices, and not present at their desk. Finally retrieving all the signatures, I move on to disinfection but again nobody present. So far “disinfection” … Another soldier waves at me to move on for luggage inspection. I open all my luggage and they start asking if I have a Satellite phone, medicines, drugs, guns, grenades or drones. Most of the words, and their gestures, I understand so I friendly say no every time.
Except, while showing my tripod and gorilla pod, my last No-respond to “drones” becomes lost in translation and things get a bit unclear. They think the Gorilla pod could be harmful (or a drone) so they get an “experienced” English speaking lady to translate the situation. She asks me if I have “flying cars” with me.
Trying to hold my laugh, I answer her that I’m not Harry Potter and don’t have a flying car and that this is a tripod for my camera and not some kind of railgun. She doesn’t get the joke and continuous. I wonder if the dictatorship and censorship have something to do with the lack of knowledge? I could also be just a bad comedian…
Being a little saturated with the Iranian immense heat and having even higher temps now (40 – 45ºC), I decided not to stay too long and drive straight to the “gates of hell” or Derweze gas crater located in the middle of the Karakum desert. This failed Soviet project is actually quite hilarious.
In 1971 Soviet geologists were drilling for gas or oil and tapped into a cavern filled with natural gas. The ground beneath the rig collapsed and a 70-meter-wide crater was created. Since there was poisonous gas escaping, they decided to burn it off. The geologists hoped it would stop burning after a few weeks but 50 years, it’s still burning!
I set up camp, pop a 40ºC-hot-beer and enjoy my biggest bonfire ever. The next morning, I continue my 500km desolated desert drive north in hope to find colder weather in Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan Is a whole bunch of nothing, sand, desert, camels and heat!
Arriving in Khiva (Uzbekistan), I am unfortunately treated with even more hot weather. Luckily this city is one of the most beautiful and picturesque Silk Road cities I’ve ever seen! The old center is very well preserved, restored and not too much destroyed by mass tourism. Inside the old center several Minarets are built over time. The Islam Khoja minaret measures 44m and is therefore the highest (finished) minaret in Khiva. What a beautiful city to stroll around!
The next stops were Buchara and Samarkand, which are also amazing Silk Road cities but sadly due to the extreme weather (45°C every day), I didn’t stay too long and decided to continue to higher grounds in a desperate search for colder weather in Kyrgyzstan.