Sunday 5 August 2012

The race to Ashgabat

2-3 August

A few days later than expected we arrived at the Turkmenistan border, we knew this had the potential to be a difficult border to cross, but still hadn’t anticipated how difficult Turkmenistan makes things for foreigners. We had to buy our visas at the border and pay in advance to get the car into the country. Not to difficult you might think…. Think again. It’s not possible to get Turkmen Manat outside the country and there are no money changers on the border. So inspite of having a large stack of Kazak Tenge and Euros they wouldn’t accept our money. It turns out they do  take US dollars. But we didn’t have enough.

Luckily for us team ‘to infinity and Baatar’ had a healthy stack of dollar, so we very gratefully borrowed some of their dollar to get over the border. We entered the country at quite a remote border pass, so we had miles to drive oover salt flats and past an abandoned sodium sulfate works at Bekdash..

We pulled into the sea for our last night by the Caspian, in what happened to be a Turkmen holiday resort. We were taken around by the locals who were as friendly as the Kazaks, the beak had some hot springs, the guys were taken off to the mens side where they had an ’interesting time’.  I chatted in broken English to some of the girls on the ladies side. We  re-convened as we’re fed fresh fish and chocolates by a local, before going to a slightly awkward disco.

In the morning we moved on to Turkmenbashi where w hoped to be able to exchange some money to pay back infinity, but no joy. The lonely planet guide told us that there was one bank in the capital Asgabat where you could use foreign cards to get money. So all three teams filled up using ‘Infinity’s money and began the long drive to Asgabat. Fortunately fuel is subsidised in Turkmenistan so it only cost the equavilent of £4 to fill the tank.

The drive into Ashgabatr was not terribly pleasant,having turned inland from the Caspian we there was no cooling breeze. I sunck into Red dog racing’s car to cathch an hours worth of Air-con before taking my turn driving in the heat.  We finally go into Ashgabat at 11pm and spend about 3 hours trying to find a hotel. We eventually succeeded and after long showers went straight to bed.

In the morning we had a bit of a goose chase around town trying to find the bank that would give us. Money, we eventually managed although they only accepted Master card. Relieved to be able to pay back ‘Infinity’ we re-stocked on food and water and headed out of the city.

Ashgabat is acompletely insanse city, the last dictator they had decided everything should be clad in marble, even the drains are marble. Everywher you go there are  golden statues of the great leader and pictures of him hanging up everywhere. We have some pictures of the city but not to many because if the police catch you taking photo they make you delete them.

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