Today was tough. Today was really really tough. It was one of the toughest days for me in GDR.
I started as early as 5am and rode 200kms on route 22 to Sarakhs, the Iran – Turkmen border. In the beginning, it was a very fun ride as the view was amazingly incredible. I almost skidded a few times due to focusing more on the view, rather than the narrow, winding, and hilly road. There were lots of amazing gorges up the hill which formed a cliff (when looking from below). My GPS only showed me the magenta colour driving guidance approximately 35kms to the border, after being malfunctioning since Tehran. This proved my theory that the government blocked the satellite, so, certain types of navigator gadgets will be influenced and disturbed.
Unlike when entering Iran the other day, exiting this country took a while as there is lots of checking and paperwork to be done. Two officers (one after another) asked to check all my boxes (I really don’t understand why they must be checked twice. It’s really a waste of time. Then I had to wait inside the building before I got my exit stamp, which was a blessing as it was a very hot day and I was fasting. After that, one more last report at another office near the gate and I was led out. In total, I spent 1 hour to settle everything, and many thanks to a kind guy who helped me. It would have been longer if he hadn’t help. Khoda Hafez Iran. I had a nice time here, and had a ‘family’ and good friends here. I won’t hesitate one second to come and visit this country again for the 3rd time.
Then I rode towards Turkmenistan. A soldier checked my passport at the bridge and later pointed me towards immigration. Then it was about 1km off road ride to the immigration and customs building. Unlike the negative remarks about this country which I had previously read and heard, my experience was totally different. A military staff welcomed me with a broad smile and asked me to sit down first as it was lunch time. I waited 30 minutes and after that, an officer called me for registration. Then he told me (in his language) to do some stuff which I understood only a little. With my limited Russian, I asked him to help which he agreed. I was ushered from one room to another. Lots of registration to do, but it was very fast and smooth as there was always someone (the staff) who happily assisted me. I had to pay USD14 for registration, and USD63 for insurance. Then I had to submit my declaration form to the customs officer, went to another building for another registration at another custom’s officer and finally a simple check of my boxes which was done by a group of officers. It was laughter all the way. All the staff and officers were very friendly, always said “welcome to Turkmenistan” and not just that, they’re very handsome too.
In total, I spent 1 hour to settle everything at the Turkmen side (minus the lunch hour waiting time). I must say that this is a very fast Turkmen entry, as I always heard of delays for hours from previous overlander friends. In my opinion, besides my ‘luck’, I think it has got to do with how I trained myself to be when dealing with officers. My methods are very simple. Firstly, SMILE your sweetest smile when dealing with them. Doesn’t matter how tired or how stressed you are, smiling is the first attempt to melt people’s heart. Second, take the initiative to learn some simple phrases. This is another way to tackle officers. Doesn’t matter if you pronounce it wrongly, it could be hilarious to them, and once you make them laugh, you have already won their hearts.
It was all fun and smooth before I exited the gate, but very soon the ‘hell ride’ on AH75 began. From my reading, I knew that this stretch of AH75 was bad, but I had ridden on too many bad roads since GDR, so what could be worse? Well, this one was one of the worst. It started with badly sunken road to gravel to dirt with lots of pot holes, sooo big and deep, they could easily fit a family of elephants to have their morning breakfast together. There were countless times when I didn’t know which trail to ride on as the whole road was filled with holes, one after another. At times, I could only move at 13kmh.
After a while, I started to get very tensed with the situation. I rode faster and GD went ‘flying’ through the potholes many times. GD landed roughly on the ground and the landing’s hard impact caused the top box monorack to bend. Honestly, I felt like knocking the handsome Mr Presidents head off for his lack of concern in giving his people a better road, when the country is so rich with oil and gas. He could build his giant statue made from pure gold in Ashgabat (the capital city), but he couldn’t be bothered to give better facilities to the country!!
The most tortured part for me was the soft sands which go on for kms. I didn’t check how far it was as I was so dehydrated due to fasting. I felt like I was going to faint anytime. There was some wind though but it didn’t cool me down as it only blew hot dusty air into my face and I felt so much pain on my cracking lips. I was so dehydrated that I didn’t have anymore saliva to at least wet my drying throat. There was no shelter at all. It was a hell ride for me. Can you imagine what I had to go through? Riding under the blazing heat of summer, crossing the desert with temperatures at 50’C? Well, this is Garagum Desert, what do you expect, Anita?
I had to stop many times to check on my top box which was already bent very low. Every time I gave it a push, but after a while it bent low again. I was worried the top box would fall down so I kept on looking back from my shoulder while riding to make sure that the box was still there. It took me 4 hours to cover the 118km stretch before I met M37 paved road again.
I managed to ride faster on M37 bypassing the beautiful city of Mary. I should have stopped for pics but I was very exhausted and what I had in mind at that time was to reach my host’s house as soon as I could. Finally, after riding 440kms in 13 hours, I reached my host’s place which was located in between Bayramaly and Marv. I noticed the old city walls but was too tired for any pic. I felt like dying already. Begench, my kind host, welcomed me and asked me to take a shower first to cool myself down. After that, I had my iftar of Turkmen’s dishes, made by Begench’s mom after fasting for 17 hours. Phew.
Before leaving my host’s house the next day, Begench helped me to fix the bent Monorack of the top box. Both of us gave the rack a hard push but the really tough Givi metal bracket didn’t move at all. This made me wonder about the impact after landing when GD went flying, that it could bend the tough Givi bracket. We tried to lift the top plate up instead and succeeded to lift it only for few millimetres. I had to be satisfied with that and continued riding to Turkmenabat which was 260kms away. I made a mistake by not refuelling since I still had half a tank of fuel. I didn’t know that there would be no fuel station at all until Turkmenabat. It was desert all the way. I had to ride very slowly and was so relieved to be able to reach the city.