Thursday, September 13, 2012

Mind Numbing Turkmen Dash

Usually when I enter a new country there is at least half a day of excitement because it is new.  Entering Turkmenistan that excitement wore off very quickly.  Getting in the country took a few hours as they checked our stuff through their x-ray machine.  After that it was just boring, crappy road for kilometers on end.  All the way to Mary we had the worst stretches of road we have experienced yet.  Pretty much had to weave all over the road to avoid the never ending bumps and cracks.  Apparently the country has profited from vast oil and gas reserves but doesn’t believe in improving their infrastructure.

On the third and fourth days the road was tolerable but the wind was not.  Through the Karakum desert we had to fight strong head and crosswinds that never quit.  It was very frustrating and demoralising.  We had read about the horrible road conditions and headwinds so it was expected.  But I must admit, this dash through Turkmenistan was quite tough.  Purely because it was so boring just cycling on a straight, crappy road and never seeing an end. 

We were given 5 days to cross Turkmenistan on our transit visa.  It is now the end of day 4 and we are pretty much done as we are 10km away from the Uzbek border.  Kind of relieved we made it in time.  Once we get into Uzbekistan we won’t have to worry so much about time constraints.       

Massive bumps, cracks, potholes everywhere on these crappy, Turkmen roads.  Toyota ruled the roads as we saw many makes pass us by.  Goes to show it is an excellent brand if they can withstand these roads. 

Passed many cotton shrubs through the country.

The city of Mary.

The never ending Karakum Desert.

The hospitality continued into Turkmenistan.  We had two sit down melon sessions with some nice Turkmens, this being one of them.  Trevor wasn’t keen on stopping, he usually never is.  But I thought this was a great stop as that watermelon was really tasty.  The guys were very nice and once we were done eating we just left. 

Saw half a dozen camels roaming about including this one. 

Another reason Turkmenistan was so tough was that there weren’t many places to park our bicycles and take a break.  Posts and signs like this one were few and far between.  And finding shade was also tricky. 

The never ending straight, flat, crappy, dull road that leads to nowhere.  

Because I was stupid, we didn’t stock up on enough water the day before in Bairum Ali (30km after Mary) and had a full day of nothing the next day.  As such, we were dwindling on water.  I was very dehydrated on day 3 and had only a few gulps left for the fourth day.  Luckily early on day 4 we passed a Kafe and the lady had water and lemonade.  Life saver.  While slurping down the lemonade we were entertained by the dogs running about. 

Here was the star of the show. 

There probably would be enough money to greatly improve the infrastructure if it weren’t for vanity projects all over the country of their late president.  Just saying…

Nice camp spot right by the river on our final night in Turkmenistan.    

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Through the Iranian Desert

Shortly after Garmsar we stopped at a roadside mosque where many people were out and about.  I pick up some food at this shop and come out to find Trevor with three men in ordinary clothes.  One has his passport and then asks me for mine.  I insist on seeing some ID but they just say they are the police.  I then grabbed Trevor’s passport from the man and said they aren’t seeing mine without some ID.  I read before that sometimes there are phonies out there who try and get your passport so I have always been a bit paranoid when it comes to handing over the passports.  Anyway, I begin to leave and Trevor slowly follows.  The one guy who had Trevor’s passport is on the phone and looks all disgruntled.  Then one of the other guys drives up in a police motorbike to stop me from leaving.  Shortly after a car pulls up and two police officers jump out.  So I was wrong, they were cops.  Whoops.  One of the officers had a pad in hand so I thought I may get ticketed for trying to escape the law.  Luckily they were all quite friendly and nice.  In the end we showed them our passports and one of them went off to photocopy them.  After that was done we were able to leave again.  Again, I didn’t really understand why we were held up but I was glad to get a move on without too much hassle.

Not a whole lot of excitement en route to Mashhad.  Had a fair bit of head and crosswinds which are always frustrating to deal with.  I thought there wouldn’t be that much traffic but a lot of the time there was a lot more than both of us would like.  Seemed like everyone in the country was heading east. 

Anyway, Iran and the Middle East are complete.  We enter Turkmenistan tomorrow and have 5 days to sprint across the country.  I won't be enjoying the strong headwinds I have read and heard so much about.    

Trevor washing up after eating a complimentary watermelon.  I have to say, the people of Iran are extremely generous with all the free food they have given us while we pedaled through the country.  There have been many more occasions just like this one en route.  I can’t remember all of them but not a day went by where we didn’t get some offering. 

We ate lots of vegetables throughout Iran because it was really cheap and there were plenty of fruit and veg stands around.  To add flavour to my dish I liked to add some spice.  Sadly I finished my Montreal Steak spice from Canada and here I am chucking it in the garbage.  That was a really delicious spice.  I will miss it.   

There were some rather long stretches of nothing going through the desert in Eastern Iran.  We didn’t see any camels but according to the sign in front of me here, they are in the area. 

The desert ground.

Trevor just packing up after camping the night in this tunnel.  I was contemplating camping in there as well but it felt a bit too claustrophobic and it was extremely dark behind him so I camped just outside.  Downside to just outside though was the possibility of a vehicle ramming through the railing above and crashing into the site.  Luckily that didn’t happen.  But it was a risk I took into account!

Here I am munching on these flavoured sugar cubes in Vali’s Non-Smoking Homestay in Mashhad.  I discovered these late in Iran and probably best because they are very addictive.  I think you have them with tea but we just popped them like candy. 

Since we had to wait a few days more for our Turkmen transit visas, we camped for free around Mashhad.  Our first night we ended up at this Ghadir campground.  The guards let us camp at no cost and they enjoyed speaking with us while I scarfed down about 4 buckets of bread and veg.  Many others approached us and wanted pictures.  It was a bit tough to get some shut eye since we were set up next to the sinks and electric charge area.  Our second night we went to a nearby park and stealth camped.  It was pretty crappy.  There was sewage running through the park so it was difficult to breathe all night with the revolting smell.   

It was really frustrating that we didn’t get the Turkmen transit visas a week after our documents were submitted.  As a result, we were forced to extend our Iranian visas.  I went in on Tuesday and the information guard was really nice and helped me along the way.  I submitted the application and was told to return on Thursday.  We returned and I go in and it is chaos inside as there are so many Central Asian nationals trying to extend their visas or do whatever else.  I wasn’t sure.  Anyway, the nice guard that helped me before returned and ploughed through the crowd and told the guy working the desk to expedite our passports.  A few hours later I am told to sit in this back office and just wait.  I sat there for a few hours as the thing holding our extension back was approval by the boss of the whole operation.  Seemed like everyone was vying for his attention.  Finally it was signed off and we received our extension.  Phew.  Still annoyed though because I didn’t expect to have to extend the Iranian visa. 

Well, it happened again.  This time it was blatantly direct.  And quite disturbing if you ask me.  Trevor and I decided to burn some time at this small park before making our way to find a stealth camp spot.  I was preoccupied doing some stuff on my netbook while Trevor was just listening to some tunes.  Then this young guy approaches Trevor and sits next to him on the bench.  After a long chat I notice the guy trying to touch Trevor’s face.  I then think something might be up so I pack up my stuff.  Then the guy comes over to me and starts to chat with me.  Same old questions are asked: where are you from, where are you going, where have you been.  Two elderly ladies approach and I think they all know each other.  They insist I go back to their place and shower.  I politely decline and say it’s all good, I am okay.  Then the ladies go away leaving the young guy and these kids.  He then tries to shoo away the kids.  Once they are gone he looks at me and penetrates his fore finger through a circle he made with his other fingers and asks straight up if I would like to go back to his place and get it on.  I was very creeped out.  After immediately declining his invitation he leaves shortly thereafter.  I then ask Trevor if he understood what just went down and he said to me the guy tried the same thing on him!  We left the park right after.  Mental note to self: there are a lot of creepy people who frequent the parks.

Finally!  With the help of Vali, the Turkmen transit visas are in our hands.  Very pleased that we could get a move on once again because all these delays have been quite annoying.     

Trevor fixing an overnight flat at probably one of our best camp spots in Iran.  It was peaceful and secluded.  

Trevor in front of some nice desert scenery and about to head downhill towards Sarakhs.  The road was kind of crappy en route with many bumps.  I think it is a sign of things to come in Turkmenistan unfortunately. 

We got to Sarakhs today but have to wait until tomorrow to enter Turkmenistan as there is an exact entry date in which we can enter.  As such, we scoured the small town looking for a stealth camp spot but found nothing.  I tried my luck with the firemen to see if they may offer to let us camp at the station but that didn’t happen.  Instead, they told us to go to the police station and see if they can help.  I then chat with a nice policeman and he tells us to go to the Red Crescent which is like the Red Cross.  And as luck would have it, the Red Crescent comes through and lets us camp out on their grounds. 

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