Once upon a time Mister Saparmyat Niyazov created his own fairytale country. sheltered from the rest of the world by crazy visa-rules and banning certain books, art forms and internet he created a country just the way he liked it. Build buildings he thought were beautiful. And banned the things he didn’t like, smoking for example. And opponents… He put big pictures of himself on every street corner and called himself Turkmenbashi the Great (father of the Turkmen) If you were to fall in love with one of his ‘children’ you’d have to pay him 50.000$ to be allowed to marry. The rest of the world called him a dictator but 6 months ago he died and the whole country was in mourning. Now there is a new president who is unanimously chosen…
I do have to tell you, I really like it there. It’s a country full of happy, friendly, colourful, helpful and extremely funny and good-natured people. If I would have my own country to play with I would only do few things differently. I watched the news one evening, wich is broadcasted in 7 different languages and it was all happy news! It told me the new school year was about to start so the markets were open for new uniforms and school stuff. Or a whole item about waterfalls and how there are different ones but all beautiful…
And all the time different pictures about Ashgabat and the natural wonders of Turkmenistan.
I crossed the border the 16th cause when I got of the bus at Sarakhs around noon the day before, I was called over to the petrol station across the road. Owned by mister Mossari Jad, who is one of the few, if not the only person I’ve met in Iran that stands completely behind the Iranian regime. It was good fun discussing religion and politics with him but I was told to agree with him a bit more. He is a very important man in town. But I didn’t cause I REALLY didn’t. He was still very friendly and when I left the next morning he gave me a present for my dad and his best regards, never even mentioned my mum…
In Turkmenistan people like their golden teeth, everybody greets you with a blinking smile. Cycling is such a relieve after the chaotic madness of Iran. Not only could I finally get rid of that headscarf, one day I actually cycled in shorts! ok, in the dessert and no one around but still..
One thing I don’t like is that everything is 5 or 6 times more expensive for foreigners, there are double price listst everywhere so you can see exactly how much more you have to pay…
As I left Mary early one morning I went to have breakfast at a small cafe where the girl working there told me ‘I want no money’. Surprised and happily singing along with my new mp3 player I continued to Merv. I cycled around this Unesco Heritage site that consist of a bunch of ruins dating back to the time of Alexander the Great. It used to be a big city on the Silk route and the inspiration of ‘the thousand and one night’. In 1221 a bunch of Mongols arrived to slaughter every one of the million people and burned the place down. Not a very nice thing to do.
Moving on I stopped in the town of Bayramaly to get some lunch and was immediately offered a meal with potatoes in it! whoohoo I love potatoes! And I got invited to stay the night at the shop owners house. It was only early and I hadn’t cycle much yet but I figured how often am I gonna stay with a Turkmen family.. (3 times as it turned out) I accepted the invitation and ended up staying two nights to come to a wedding with the family. They dressed me up in traditional clothes and showed me how to dance Turkmen style. It was great fun! The night before the wedding we went to see the bride-to-be and all women peeled potatoes and veggies together while talking about the important things in life. As before in Iran and Turkey I’d told them I was married too. Normally that’s enough but not here. Got so many questions, how old is he? whats his name? job? how many people on your wedding…? :-s
The road across the desert was warm, as expected, but not too bad. every 20km or so there was a place with shadow and I met a friendly girl who told me she has ‘many friends on the road’ she makes her money ‘hitchhiking’ with mainly Turkish and Iranian truck drivers and invited me to stay in her place in Turkmanabad.
Six years ago Anita Trimaylova stayed in the Hostel in Derry and wrote in my book ;’If you’re ever in for a real adventure come and see me in Uzbekistan’. And here I am! Too bad Anita lives in Switzerland these days but she set me up with some of her friends who are helping me out.
It’s a bit more touristy here and I spend two relaxing days in Bukhara with another cyclist from Austria just wandering, talking, having a beer. real nice.
I had to take the train from Bukhara to Tashkent since I arrived nearly 20 days late on my visa. Now I have to try to extend it and also see if I can get all following countries here. I arrived on the day of Nigora’s 30th birthday so we went out for dinner with her mum and friends at a lovely restaurant along a canal.
The coming week will be filled with visa application forms and running around town. not looking forward to that.
I am looking forward to just continuing my way, cycling up the mountains in Tajikistan and not running after visa all the time… I’m now planning to cross the Qolma pass to China which, everybody keeps telling me, is closed to foreigners. But I want to find out myself.
I don’t want to go to Pakistan anymore, but continue to Tibet instead. The timing isn’t brilliant, it might be getting chilly by the time I get there. But I worry about that later.
ps. Mum Dad, HAPPY 31st WEDDING ANNIVERSARY!!!!