The diaries - 15   

26 July

Ashgabat - Turkmenistan


19 July and the Kyrgyzstan visas run out. We make it over the border into Uzbekistan in a record time of 40mins, sad to be leaving our new friends from the hotel in Osh, Mira and Erkin, and we wish them both well.

Once over the border in Uzbekistan the change is immediate. Flowers everywhere, bordering the edges of the roads, the streets are tidier and cleaner, but the landscape is oh so flat!  Where have the Mountains gone?!

We head for Tashkent. Not that we had planned to go there, but there is a distinct lack of roads around here. We do two sides of a triangle to get to Samarkand  and Bukara.

The cities are very beautiful, but we go into the museum in Samarkand to escape the heat and the beggars and find we are accosted by the museum attendants at every corner of every floor, of the building. They make craft items and try to sell them to the tourists. The British Musuem was never like this!

Our bikes are well looked after in Samarkand, hidden away in a clothing factory next to the small B & B hotel, Bonu-Sh, we have found in the old part of the city. Mine is not running very well at the moment, especially when cold. The petrol is probably to blame because, despite having put a new spark plu
g in, she cuts out when coming down the gear box to a stop. She goes like a treat when warm though, so I am not ready for sacking her yet! Petrol has been varied throughout the trip so far, poor in Mongolia when 76 octane had to be used. We have had 80, but always try to use 95 if available. We have not run out ... yet. Supplies have been pretty good, but here in Turkmenistan it seems to be really good quality. (Good price too - costs about  two pounds to fill BOTH bikes up!)

Tourists have been minimal throughout the 'Stans' , probably put off by the unrest in Andijan, and the elections in Kyrgyzstan, and we have yet to see any other long distance bikers. The chances of seeing any other bikers where we are at the moment is probably 1 million to 1.

Turkmenistan - 5 hours of paperwork at the border, though with the most helpful of border officials I might add, and a cost of 188 dollars to get both bikes in to the country.

We originally had a 7-day transit visa, but it was explained to us that we in fact only have 4 days left to cross from Turkmenbat to Turkmenbashi, via Mary & Ashgabat and the penalties for being late are dire! (people in transit do not have to register with the authorities, but they have to clear the country before 5 days).

Turkmenistan has a dictator, his picture is everywhere, he is a "King". He can walk about in the city, hand money out to who ever he fancies. I understand he decreed a day's holiday for his people - 'Melon Day' when everybody was given a free melon and a day off work (unpaid I might add). He has banned gold teeth and beards and allows his citizens to carry a small amount of a noxious weed in their pockets. Hotel rooms are routinely 'bugged' and people get into trouble for talking to 'tourists'.

Road blocks are a fact of life, probably every 30 kms or so there will be a post. We were pulled in 10 times one day, and when night fell and we were still on the road, those ear plugs of Jim Brown's proved their weight in gold, when Mick conveniently didn't hear the whistle being blown at him and ploughed straight ahead!

We have spent the last two days, and just over 500 miles, crossing desert, in temperatures in the high 40's, not awe-inspiring desert like the Gobi, but scruffy scrubby stuff. Water is non-existent, cafes at a premium. Unlike Uzbekistan where stall holders had chilled water for sale in fridges, here there  are one or two soft drink stands where I dread to think what the quality of water is like when added to the orange.

We still have about 350 miles of desert to do tomorrow and then sort out a ferry across the Caspian before our visa runs out - or we run into trouble - and Turkmenistan is not a country I want to run into trouble in!


I know that Sue mentioned that she had dropped the bike on the way to Tash Rabat, but did she tell you what really really happened?!  Well.... when her rear brake packed in I did offer to take my master cylinder off and fix it on her 'bike but, being the 'iron lady' that she is, she wouldn't hear of it... so I did the next best thing!  Foolishly I offered, nay insisted, that to keep things all fair I wouldn't use my rear brake.

So riding out to Tash Rabat, we left the unmade road for the fifteen kilometre unmade track that then leads you into the mountains, and everything was fine. While descending a rather steep, gravel-strewn and rutted path that led to a washed-out bridge, I rather thought that I might need my rear brake.... but no, I wouldn't use it. No... not going to use it, Sue hasn't got one, I'll not use mine.  Aaaagh! I used my rear brake to maintain control, for if not I would have fallen off, and stopped just before the river crossing to hear a "Aaaagh" .... crash!  Turned round and Sue had dropped her 'bike at the same spot.  No damage, so we crossed the river and went on the Tash Rabat, and the rest is history, so to speak.
A tearful farewell from Osh.... Mira and Sue hugged, Erkin and me hugged... we all hugged.  Mira is a cook at Hotel 3MA'c and Erkin a waiter.  Mira is a trained teacher but such is the economics of Kyrgyzstan that she can earn more as a cook than in teaching, and as a single parent her family comes first.  Erkin will continue his studies and hopes to travel to Europe in the future.  We rode the 180 miles to Tashkent through regular police checks. It was hot and dusty, so booked into the Inter-Continental Hotel (well, we were taken there by the police, and assured that the 'bikes would have a full police guard overnight, so that was good enough for us!).  I have never stopped in as 'posh' a hotel as this, and neither have I ever been made more welcome.  Smiles and greeting... I take my hat off to the lovely people of the Inter-Continental at Tashkent.

On to Samarkand, an ancient city of the old Silk Road, that we had heard so much about.  We walked and talked the 15th Century Bibi Khanum Mosque and other ancient buildings of this remarkable city, but the best was yet to come when we had a further couple of days at the old town of Bukhara just 170 miles away.  Sceptical as I was about the young lad wanting to take us to a hotel, I much preferred his style to the taxi driver wanting to take us to a better hotel... Sue went with her instincts, the lad, and we ended up at the Nodirbek Hotel in the old part of the city.  The 'bikes were ridden, pushed, and pulled up into the private courtyard, where they would be safe for a couple of days.

old town of Bukhara is a delight, with its ancient backstreets, old buildings, and we got the impression that maybe things here haven't changed for many years.  Occasional glimpses into the courtyards of old houses and it was like a time warp..... The bikes went in to Hotel Nodirbek.

I bought a carpet...  It will be just great as a runner in my downstaires room.  Pure wool, 250 US$, cheap at the price... just need to get it home now! (It's all rolled up and in with the camping gear....)

We left Bukhara with one thing on our minds... the border crossing into Turkmenistan, and the transit visa's requirements that we can only pass through....

The border crossing took a record five hours or so, and I have nine separate pieces of paper, all official, all bearing from three to five stamps, every stamp having a signature, to show for it!  Not only did the crossing from Kyrgyzstan into Turkmenistan take five hours, but we covered some 245 miles that day also.  We rode well into the evening to get to Mary, (a town silly!) on our transit route to the Caspian.  At one point, in the dark, the route was a little dubious, so I stopped to ask a couple of people on a cart being pulled by a donkey.... I got more sense out of the donkey, for I'm sure it pointed its left ear at the other exit from the roundabout and said "Eeeeaw... eeeaw... down tharrrrr!"

So we ride through Turkmenistan to get to the Caspian Sea... we need to keep moving for our transit visas don't allow us any time to explore... but then who would want to? The Karakum Desert is inhospitable and very hot, and yet every thirty kilometres or so there are road checks, where we are stopped and the details of our passports and transit papers are written down in a ledger, at the side of the road, by hand, by a polite, courteous and smiling policeman.  I often wonder what he did wrong to get this particular job!

Into Ashgabat to get some more dollars, for the currency here is very questionable.  People don't want their own Manats, the US $ speaks supreme.  Although we can fill the petrol tanks up cheaper than buying a bier, we had to pay some dollars at the border to offset fuel transit amendment costs!!!

We found the only money exchange facility to be open was at the Sheraton Hotel.... so stayed!


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