Turkmen Desert to West of Mary 118km
To Cotton Fields 122km
To Sarahk Iran 60km
We have a five day transit visa, to cross Turkmenistan, 500km. We haven't got time to sightsee, but then again there's not much of interest to look at along our route, just lots of sandy, unproductive desert, that hides some pretty rich oil and natural gas fields. So the roads are pretty good, and lots of money is being spent on new bridges. The people seem better off than in other Central Asian countries, and gone are all the old Soviet vehicles. Turkmenistan is a Toyota and Mercedes country.
We find camping spots in the desert, one night in the dunes behind a Kafe, another on a disused driving school road layout, and the third, because we were really late, just 100m from the road amongst canals and mosquitos. We had stopped at the bazaar in Mary, and then at a restaurant for kebabs, and before we realised it was getting dark, so we scooted out of the city to find a camping spot.
We saw some BIG bugs, pretty damn scarey actually, and I had a couple scratching outside my tent one night, but Claire and Rob had a donkey trying to get in their tent, so they win that round. I did, however, have to deal with a couple of very grumpy camel, who wanted to cross the road, but were a bit scared by Fiona and I. They didn't spit, but as they trotted along the verge in front of me, one of them kept growling over his shoulder at me.
The police are very sure of themselves and their power. They wave at us to come to them, but generally we just wave, smile and keep cycling. However, yesterday, I got the whole treatment. Magic wand pointed at me. Whistle blown. Big "Come here" wave. Oh, oh. What have I done? "Hello Mister. Akouta (which country?). Have some watermelon." We had just been given a full watermelon for lunch, and eaten far too much, and now I was being ordered to eat more.......poooohs.
And then yesterday, we got the famed tailwind, after a couple of days side wind... and we flew. 35kph in big chain ring, along the flat......woohooo... until we had to turn off onto the short cut to Iran. Then the road deteriorated. Broken bridges, bike swallowing holes, and km after km of "pump track". Very few vehicles, and those that were attempting this road, were very slow. They couldn't handle the pump track hollows and humps.
Around dusk, Rob suggests staying with a family would round off our Turkmenistan crossing, and...... A tractor pulls up. We're invited to chai. It's a cotton farm. We get the tour. Really interesting. About 30 women out in the massive fields, picking by hand, supervised by a few men. Chai turns into mutton stew and bread, and then it's too late to move on, so we bunk down in the"lounge", with five other people. The rest sleep crowded in small rooms, or outside on platforms, but for the first time in ages, it's really cold.
Yes, it was a close look at Turkmenii people. It seemed to us as if these men were being incredibly abusive to these women, physically, emotionally, and mentally. It was not pleasant to witness, but it seems the women have little choice. Put up with it, or have no job. Certainly an eye opener for us all.
The last morning, and I start riding with my puffer jacket on, its so cold. More roller coaster pump track road, and then suddenly we are at the border. A very uneventful border crossing, and before we know it, we are on the streets in Persia (Iran). The only change is..... Claire has to wear a scarf over her hair, and be fully covered, while Rob and I have to wear longs...... Grum in longs? On a bike? Yep. This is Iran.