28.09. - 02.10.2012, 465 km by bicycle, 60 km by truck



What a crazy plan: Over 500 km on the Silk Road through the desert in just 5 days. After the usual procedure at the border, where they scanned each one of our bags and where we had to fill in a customs declaration, which all took us 1.5 hours, we had finally arrived in Turkmenistan, willing to accept the challenge.  Despite Sonja's objections, I was convinced that we would be able to pay here in dollars, which should prove as a mistake later, so we left without exchanging money. But in which direction? We knew that there are 2 different options, one quite bad but 60 km shorter road and a longer one with better asphalt. After asking the police, locals and also truckers we opted for the longer but better paved option. Later we learned from 2 other cyclists, that this was the right decision, because the two had taken the bad road and highly complained about it.

A major highlight on the first day was our first camel on the roadside and what's more, we were immediately doused with helpfulness and hospitality: A trucker gave us Coke and water, another one candy and a jubilant family gave us 2 loaves of bread and an apple out of their moving car. The road conditions were indeed the worst we had seen so far on our trip, but not extremely bad and we made good progress. The temperature during the day was very pleasant at the end of September: at noon we had a maximum of 30 to 35°C (in summer 50°C), after sunset at 6 p.m. it got quite fast quite cold (9°C), but not a problem at all for our down sleeping bags, and the notorious headwind only slightly bothered us now and then. Until Mary, before the Karakum Desert begins, water and food supply is not too difficult, but we had to cancel taking showers in order to save water. We also tried from the beginning to get as far as possible each day (100 to 150 km), to still have enough of time towards the end, which meant navigating through all the potholes in the dark.

It quickly turned out, that it's possible to pay with dollars in the small Kafes and grocery stores along the roadside, but then the dealers demand exorbitant prices and can't give you change for large bills. Soon, our few smaller dollar bills were used up and nowhere a possibility to change, except for Mary, where we arrived late in the evening and immediately went on. When trying to find a truck driver, who would take us through the desert, we were lucky to find an Iranian driver, who changed the rest of our Iranian money (only a few dollars of worth) to Manat (Turkmen currency). A ride, however, is difficult to find, since the trucks are all locked and sealed to prevent drug smuggling. Finally, we were able to convince a gravel hauler to give us a lift. But he only took us 60 km to a small village in the desert, where we had to get out again. With a short lunch break we wanted to fortify ourselves for our onward journey through the desert, when we were invited by the locals to tea and sweets. When we asked for water, they gave us water from their well out of the arid desert ground, which tasted really good. Between Mary and Turkmenabat you have to cross 200 km of barren, dusty, sandy, dry, boring and lonely desert. In Mary the roads are very good, but soon their quality decreases dramatically. All day you have to navigate around the potholes and deep ruts in the asphalt, always slightly uphill and downhill (1 - 3%). And you far and wide just see sandy hills with thorny bushes and from time to time a camel on the roadside, dead or alive.  The bland wasteland wore us pretty much down mentally and you think it endlessly goes on like this without making headway. To camp at night under a full moon in the deserted and lonely desert was also a completely new experience for us, especially when we heard wolves howling in the distance. That's the real wilderness and adventure! 

On the evening of our fourth day in Turkmenistan, we had finally made it out of the desert and arrived in Turkmenabat, which is only 30 km from the border. When we wanted to cross a military bridge, where you normally have to pay a fee, we just cheated our way over it in the dark by playing the stupid and friendly waving tourists who don't understand anything ;) Our last night we were allowed to spend in front of the house of a nice Turkmen. To warm ourselves up, he offered us tea and Turkmen vodka that tasted like solvent ;) Sonja was brave enough to try it. But when he offered us sheep sausage together with bread we politely declined and tried to explain that we are vegetarians. He then thought, that we are Muslims and smiled at us with his countless golden teeth ;) We are really curious what awaits us in Uzbekistan?

<- previous report   ---   next report ->

7237 km Guestbook