Bokhara to Sayyod 53km
To Turkmen Border 55km
To Turkmen Desert 85km
During the last two days in Bokhara, twice I was held up in traffic while a convoy passed. The convoy consisted of over 100 buses, and 50 large trucks. The buses were filled with young people. The trucks with folded beds and bundles of possessions. Of course, we assumed the worst.....some sort of relocation, after all this is Central Asia. However, after some asking around, we found out it is the annual "cotton pick". The government pays volunteer students very well, to go out into the cotton fields and harvest the cotton, and that's who we had seen being "relocated".
Cotton is a major earner here in Central Asia, third only to Natural Gas, and oil production. The Soviets initiated the cotton production, forcing these satellite states to produce cotton, and making them dependant on importing all the other necessities. They set up huge irrigation projects, using the Arial Sea as the water source. Bad planning, and management has resulted in the sea being incredibly depleted. The Arial Sea is now less than half it's original size, an environmental disaster.
So Claire, Rob and I took two days to get close to the border. We took our time, getting used to the heat and the terrain. We thought the border was about 130km away, but in fact it was just over 100km. We camped in an apple orchard the first night, and at a truckers stop the second night, which set us up for an early start at the border crossing. We arrived 30 minutes before the officials, and snuck past a line of about 30 trucks, to the head of the line. After the three hour crossing into Uzbekistan, and the many horror stories told by other cyclists, we were pleasantly surprised by the cursory checks this time. It's not simple, you are never sure where you need to go, what they want you to do, or what they are looking for, but today's inspections were pretty relaxed, on both sides of the border. Why we had to pay $12 to customs on the Turkmenistan side is still a mystery.
We were not alone at the crossing today. In particular there was one rather large, big breasted Turkmenistan lady. She was in a hurry, and very proficient at pushing her ample bosom in between you and the officials window. She did just that, several times, to all three of us, very polite kiwis. What we really wanted to do was elbow her roughly in the ribs, and tell her to not be so bleeding rude, but chose to let her have her way. We did however, team up to prevent the equally rude and pushy Armenian truck driver from doing the same. These people obviously have to push and shove to survive.
Once we were through both borders, it only took two hours, we were keen to find an icecream shop. It was a long time since breakfast. Trouble is, in a new country, nothing looks the same. It took 20km to find a shop, but the icecream was pretty damn good. We had also picked up a guide. An older gentleman on a rusty old bike, who wasn't keen on us passing him. He would rush ahead of me, then slow down in front of me. I would pass him again, and he would rush ahead again. I thought I'd lost him, but we had to cross a very interesting floating bridge, being held in place by barges, and with huge gaps between each floating section. This slowed us down, and our guide caught us again. He obviously wanted us to follow him, so we thought why not. We were led over a series of train tracks, (Turkmenistan has some very nice new Diesel Locomotives), and onto a one way system. We almost lost him again, when Claire and I slipped into a Bazaar and bought some fruit, ( the bazaar was really nice, with some pretty nice looking food), but he had noticed we weren't following, and was waiting when we returned. Eventually he got us back on the main road, and made several hints that we should pay him for his services, which all three of us pretended we didn't understand....... tight buggers us kiwis.
Flags are pretty topical at the moment, and we all agreed that we liked the Turkmen national flag, but decided that it probably wouldn't meet the criteria of being simple for a child to draw. Oh well. Who would listen to our input anyway? There certainly seem to be four million other ideas being discussed.
I didn't take long for us to get out of the city, and into the desert, and to begin enjoying the tail wind. If you stop, it is very hot, but with a tail wind, and the slight breeze you create when cycling at 25 kph, it's not unpleasant. I know alot of cyclists who have ridden east towards Uzbekistan in July and August don't want to hear it, but guys, we reckon you were going the wrong way.