Published: June 6th 2012May 1st 2012
Getting our visas
You’ve got to be a lucky chuck to get a Turkmenistan visa. We had no intention to get a tourist one as too many obstacles in receiving it. So we aimed for a transit visa, normally issued to cross the country in 5 days. It did not sound too little.
We applied for one in Teheran, Iran. We handed in copies of our passports along with Uzebekistan visa copies, and had collected it in Masschad, northern part of Iran, very close to the border with Turmenistan. Unfortunately we had to speed our crossing the country as recently it happens to be 3 but not 5 days rule. We still count ourselves to be luckier, as hitching still a quicker process than cycling. Couple of dutch cyclists intend to do it in the same time. Good luck to them…
The first steps in Turkmenistan
The border control officers with names of at least 14 letters curiously flipped through our passports. The younger ones encouraged the elder officer talk in English. He slowly asked the basic questions, and we were looking forward to end up this ‘border’ lessons. Iran restrictions were over, so I finally put down my scarf and dress.
Karakumų dykuma. � Karakum's desert.
After having sent the taxi drivers away, we finally put up our backpacks in the ‘safe field’. The trucks have barely moved. The gossip went around that Turkmenistan allows only 20 oil and 20 usual trucks in. We couldn’t garantuee this fact, but the number of trucks was scarce indeed. There were no ohter cars either. One of the smarter taxi drivers came to enlighten us. ‘You won’t be able to hitchhike here. The trucks are no longer allowed taking the passengers due to some accidents last month. Some nasty people took drivers documents, so road police officers have forbidden them to take anyone into their cabin’. It sounded like a perfect bail to get us into a taxi. We shook our heads and stayed where we were. The trucks indeed have crossed their hands whilst passing. It seems the taxi driver was right this time. So well, we dusted our backpacks and got on our boots to make 10 km way on foot.
Turkmenistano vaikai. � Turkmenistan's kids.
This taxi driver was as stubborn as we were. He slowly followed us. ‘How is it possible – to go without money’ he mumbled to himself. ‘The people in other countries – Iran, Turkey, Uzbekistan and others were kind and generous. We are sure we are going to find some good people over here too’ we did not exaggerated the hospitality of the countries we have visited so far. ‘Get in the car – I’ll get you to the main road’. We have exchanged a fact or two in Russian – we finally can communicate in familiar language once again.
The roads in Turkmenistan are dreadful. We have hitched a jeep and this time we were truly lucky. The driver tried to get away from the pots in the pots, and we were holding strongly the rails not hit our heads to the car ceiling. The car owner – Hassan – have invited us to his home for a meal.
The house was spacious and fairly empty – it seems the Middle Asia home style is modest. There are no couches, tables or armchairs. There are carpets which they are proud of like persians are. According to the family ladies, even in Iran the most common carpet weavers are actually turkmens living there for a long time.
Spalvingi aprėdai. � Colourful clothes.
Hassans wife was a like a cannon ball – she jumped around to show the house, the little shed with some sewing machines. She has worked hard besides being a teacher to organise her small bussiness. ‘Thanks to our dad we had to be educated and all eight of us became teachers, apart from our brother who is a doctor now’. As a rule women often don’t work here, but stay at home raising up kids and do not need to pursue the career ambitions. Even marriage seems to be according to the old habits. Love is not a factor to get together, and often (like this family) bride and groom get to know each other only at the weding day. ‘Are you able to love each other then?’. Some women do. Then to obey their husbands it’s a pleasure rather than a heavy duty. ‘Have you managed to fall in love?’ we inquired. ‘Well, if I managed to bear 3 kids for him, I suppose I did’. The divorce is uncommon here. Even if your husband turns out to be a drug addict or agressive towards his wife or kids, women stay faithfuly in wedlock.
Per tris dienas spėjome pabuvoti, ir su žmonėm ir gamtos pamatyti. � Over those three days in Turkmenistan we managed to see some nature as well as meet some interesting people.
We have been eating our communal dinner in the candlelight but surely not because of the romantic atmosphere. Often here the government cuts off electricity to certain regions with no warning. People say the electricity is being sold to neighbouring country hence the locals have to adjust to it for shorter or longer periods of time. On the other hand they are lucky enough not to pay for either electricity or gas.
The Karakum desert
We had only one full day for our Karakum desert experience. We filled our bottles with water from the Iranian truck driver (he wasn’t afraid of Turkmen police and took us into his cabin despite the warnings), and set off to the sandy and bushy dunes. We have checked our compass cafefully: where is the road, where are we heading to, and how we are going to return. You have to be carefull in the places. It seems very clear at the beginning, but soon after few dunes you feel you don’t exactly know where you should go unless you have some clear land marks as electricity poles or railway lines. Hence we followed the showings of compass precisely.
With our 30 kilos backpacks – we filled our bags full of food still in Iran – we only heard our feet touching the sand sound. Once we stopped, the silence surrounded us instantly. You can only find such a silence up in the mountains after the wind has calmed down.
Nuostabu kiek dykumoje mes sugebėjome pririnkti malkų laužui. � Fantastic how much wood we gathered for the fire in the desert.
Sun was slowly setting down. The pastel hues softened up. We have been guessing, what footprints have we are finding on the sand on our way. Slowly we started to search for some good place to set up the home. You can get lost among such a variety of superb places for a fireplace and even surface to pitch a tent. The rising full moon has lit the desert like it was a day. The fireplace soon offered us some warmth. We sipped our tea and ate our soup with full spoons. This was the day and the night that we have to count in as another great experience.
Hitching a car in the desert contains pluses and minuses. During the course of an hour you can count cars on one hand, but most probably one of them is going to stop because of the pity. After an hour (we have exceeded our maximum waiting time), the car has even drove backwards to pick us up. The faces looked friendly even though slighly drunk. Soon we realised that even a driver has made a shot or two. Soon the police stops us, and we are waiting for a disastrous end. One of the passengers winks at us – ‘soon he will show a document, and everything is going to be ok’. It turns out to be true, the driver and the policeman soon shook each others hands, and the noisy equipe continued the road journey. Apparently, they are frontier-guards, going back to Turkmenistan-Afganistan border. They have just had their hunting day out, and now enjoying freshly grilled venison and lots of vodka too.
Our time to reach Turkmenistan – Uzbekistan border quickly was coming to an end. We did not want to pay 1000 dollar fine for being late. When only few hours were left till the border closes, a young man stopped to us. Some time ago he was a student in Scotland, and one man was very good to him upon his arrival. He didn’t know anyone, and was needing help badly. The Scottish not only hosted him, but also bought him a railway ticket to get to Aberdeen. He didn’t forget such a deed, and didn’t want to stop the chain of goodness. After getting us through unknown maze-like town, he got us into a taxi, and in half an hour we were crossing the border with no problems.