16th July 2015:
Turkmenistan —- 15 & 16 July 2015
We crossed into Turkmenistan 3 days ago now. It was a hot slow process. As usual easy getting out of the last place and through into no mans land . Then you arrive at the border control for the new country and its hundreds of trucks. Cars get move through a different lane so that is ok.
You park up at the control point and start the paper work.
For Turkmenistan we had been required to pay US $570 for a letter of invitation. We had organised through Dilshod from Golden Steppes travel company in Toshkent the capital of Uzbekistan. He had also organised for a guide to meet us and assist in getting visa etc. Her name is Gulzar Kurbanova, a well travelled young lady who speaks German and English and local languages and works to help people across the border. This however was her first time assisting cars across the border. But she did a great job.
The Turkmenistan officials where all generally helpful, just doing there job. It took a couple of hours to get visas and the car paper work sorted out. Plus more US $ s … $65.00 for us and about $100.00 for each car. This includes $40.00 fuel levy to provide some tax income from foreigners ( including truck drivers ) as fuel price here is down to approx 40 cents a litre.
Any way after all the paper work is done, it’s now time for the actual border control team to check the cars. We are sandwiched between trucks and Guide Gulzar earns her US $50.00. The guards want us to take all the stuff out of the car and take it inside for inspection inside. She stands up to the guys and they finally agree to allow the inspection to happen by us unloading most of the stuff out of the car and then an inspection of content. But this can’t happen until lunch break has finished at 14:00 hrs. Ok …so we wait, a little confused , and sit a read or rest in the shade of the inspection area. It is around 40 degrees. Finally it’s our turn for the inspection which happens without to much pain and we get moving around 15:00 …a 5 hour process.
Then it’s a 30km drive to the Turkmanabat . For once I don’t have to navigate through another new town. In every country there is something a little different in the driving habits. So we follow Gulzar’s bother or cousin who has been waiting patiently in a car outside the border control compound.
We find the hotel … A bold and somewhat ostentatious white building , next door to the Presidents meeting room ( bigger white building which is used when the President comes to town ) and on other side a wedding reception , equally as bold.
Before I forget. We crossed the worst condition bridge we have seen. It crosses the Amu – Darya River which feeds the Aryal Sea. The river current was flowing at an enamours rate. I don’t think I have ever seen a river flowing in flat terrain flowing as fast. Irrigation channels take water back into Uzbekistan, probably because the head waters come from the mountain back across the border and they have a long standing arrangement from the Russian days.
The irrigated lands and quality of the horticulture we saw in Uzbekistan was amazing ….a wide fertile plan. Crops of sunflowers, corn, tomatoes and melons etc etc. Fruit of many kinds including amazing mix of stone fruits and grapes.. And extensive areas of cotton ( it took a a few days to work out that crop … I had never seen the plant up close before and the cotton was not yet forming. )
Back to Turkmenistan…. But still on the theme of agriculture, the soils here appear to be not as fertile, but there is still extensive irrigation and vast areas of cotton and other intensive horticulture But between the green bits … Where the air temperature drops significantly are vast areas of flat and rolling country. Some formally referred to as desert ( the Karakum Desert which we crossed yesterday.
I am getting ahead again … Gulzar invited us to dinner after we had rested a little ….her Brother picked us up and we went to interesting little café called Asbate Café. No one there as it was a Monday night, but blaring western music and walls adorned with pictures of western movie stars. !!!
A nice simple meal , but Barry took crook and could not eat. He thought it was heat stroke, but it turned into gastro overnight …both ends for a while …fixed with some of the dugs from our stock of medicine …. And day of not driving . We recon he might have swallowed some water in swimming pool at the last hotel … No one else got crook… Thank the gods …
So next day we head to the City of Mary , via the ancient city of Merv. Not much there, but old eroded mud walls ( a little like our first experience of the Great Wall. Plus a huge restored Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar who live in the 12 century and established Merv as an important centre of Muslim culture. A proud and quite calming / spiritual place to sit for a while ….the heat out side at about 10.00 am was starting to build.
Then on to Mary …. Found the hotel and again in a similar style …gaudy grand … But older …and again no wifi … Our connection to the outside world broken again !!!!
Barry and I visit the museum next door ….which really was worth the visit … An amazing mix of archeological material and more contemporary art. It provided an insight into the history and culture of Turkmenistan .
One the way out we meet Charlie… A mid 30ish Pom travelling on his own ..he was staying in the same hotel next door . We arrange to meet for dinner and safe some travel stories and info.
We had a nice simple meal at the hotel and left early the next morning for Ashgabat… We had been warned of what to expect via stories in Lonely Planet and by Charlie that Ashgabat is the city of white ….and we have now seen a little of that . A process over the last 10 or 20 years of knocking down the older Russian town and turning it into the Dubi of Central Asia ….they have a lot of oil and gas $$$ here .
Amazing big wide roads … 3 or 4 Lane each way and large government buildings and commercial buildings all in white marble …. But luckily our hotel is in an older part of town … Not that old because apparently as 2/3 of the city was destroyed and 100,000 people died in a major earthquake in 1948 . It seams this is common factor in the central Asian countries as we had heard a similar story about Alamty.
Our biggest mission in Ashgabat is getting our Iranain visa … We find out this happens only in the mornings …so we rest and swim in the pool and meet a couple of 30ish German guys who checked in at the same time as us.
So today we set out for the Iranian Embassy ….armed with our visa reference number and a letter from the University which has invited me to give a talk. Mostafa , whom I meet in the middle of last year had helped us get our invite and had arranged for the pre approval required for the visa …this is called the visa reference number …( we had hoped this would happen back in Oz …but timing issues mucked that idea up..
So along with 30 or 40 Turkmenistan folks we wait for the embassy to open . Supposed to be 9:00 am …but off course this happen at around 9:30. We manage some how to be close to the front of the huddle of people …and our passports and letters and visa reference number is taken away .
20 or 30 minute later we get called over and are told that we need to come back on Monday ….!!!!!!
Why … Why… Why…. Because this reference number does not exist and the ministry of Foreign Affairs is on holiday. …I say no, no, No…NO !!! Our Turkmenistan visa is for only 7 days we can’t stay here that long and you have the number …this all happens via some broken English .
Finally they take the passports and the paperwork back and go hunting for the number which appears after a while on set of forms that have been in the back office all the time.
Ok … You’re on a list …now go pay the bank 80 euros for the Australian and 100 for the kiwi ….so I hunt the bank ( which was further away than indicated – while Barry finds Pete who has disappeared for a while into a shop. Then at the special Iranian bank especially set up for this purpose I get told only Euro …this finally gets resolved and they accept US $$$ and I loose a little on the exchange rate …that is accepted . I have receipts that’ve have paid …that is all that matters.
So back to the embassy and hand in the applications, proof of payment and our passports and we are asked to wait.
We wait ….and miraculously we get our visas in a 3 hour arolla-costa ride …. What a relief.
Then in the afternoon we set out to cash up for Iran … A country with no access to credit cards etc. We get a great English speaking taxi driver who gives us tour of the city and visit to all the places that are supposed to work to get cash out to find out that no where accepts MasterCard …only visa …This is of concern !!!!
In the end we accept our fate and add up all our $$$ and manage to trade $300 Aust for about 200 euros and send a message to my son Tom who we are meeting in a day or two in Iran …and he has cash and will try to get more …so we recon we can make it from one side of Iran and into Turkey with our cash supplies ???
It’s been an eventful few days in Turkmenistan…. Seen a site or two and a little of the extremes of what the country has to offer …