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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Turkmenistan - 6 September, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Bush camp north of Darvaza, Karakum Desert N4057.277' E05828.494' 64 meters .
Darvaza . . . .
Jerbent . . . .
Finish Bush camp north of Jerbent, Karakum Desert N3924.735' E05832.319' 86 meters

212 km

Total Leg 2:

1,959 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

4,977 km

 

Weather: Clear, sunny, windy and very hot.  Cool/cold at night.

 

 

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Today we carry on with our journey south through the Karakum Desert to Ashgabat.  As we drive along the desert road, we pass many herds of camel just walking along.  We are not sure where they are coming from or where they are going or if any one is tending to them.  But they are a regular sight as we head south.  Sand is blown up everywhere as we drive along and soon everything in the interior of the truck has a fine coating of sand.  Glad we brought along so many zip lock bags for our sensitive equipment such as cameras.

 

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The strangest sight as we drive along is seeing on man sitting all by himself on a spare tire hundreds of meters off the side of the road.  Nothing else is in sight and all he is doing is just sitting there.  Who knows what he is waiting for.  Just before noon we arrive at Darvaza, a small town in the middle of nowhere.

 

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This is your classic god-forsaken place in a desolate waste land.  It comes complete with a huge hole in the ground caused by a gas explosion in a well.  The blast must have been tremendous as demonstrated by the size of the crater.  You can still smell the gas wafting out from the bottom of the hole.  There are no real barriers around the edge of the crater and you can just walk right up to the edge, where it drops straight down to the bottom over 100 meters below.  It is an impressive crater.  But we have to be careful not to get too close to the edge - the walls clearly crumble and cause a landslide on a regular basis.

 

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We are told a number of possible stories about this town, which include that it was a secret Soviet military complex for nuclear weapons.  What is left now is just a Mad Max scattering of homes, people and animals with a gray brooding sky and a wind that slowly sand blasts away everything in its path.  We take some time to wander around the village with the local kids following us as we go.  The cinder block houses all have corrals out front with camels or other animals enclosed inside.  Junk lays everywhere.

 

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We come upon the local "bakery" which is in the open air.  An old lady makes bread in an open-toped oven that is exposed to the elements.  She bakes bread for the entire village.  We can not figure out how they can make bread without it getting full of sand carried by the strong wind as she handles the dough in the open air, slapping it on the walls of the oven and then removing the baked bread and stacking it up on a wooden table.  Why they do not put of a rudimentary shelter to protect it from the wind is beyond us.

 

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An hour in this desolate place is just about all we can handle and we head on our way for a while before stopping for lunch by the side of the road.  We drive around a rock outcropping to try and get some shelter from the force of the wind (and sand).  After lunch we drive for a few hours before arriving at the village of Jerbent.

 

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This village is an interesting contrast to Darvaza, which we visited this morning.  While it is also in the middle of nowhere in the Karakum Desert, it is a much more pleasant place.  It seems warmer and more comfortable.  It is not as run down.  The people seem happier and more content.  They are better dressed and groomed.  We take almost two hours to visit this town.  First we ask if we can fill up our jerry cans at the main well then go in search of some carpet weaving.  We are invited into a house to see a small carpet being woven by the women of the village.

 

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Then outside we see how they make the felt carpets.  It is back breaking work watching how they roll the piece of felt backwards and forwards on the large platform - this can take days.  But they just sit their patiently doing it.

 

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As we make our way back though the village, we come across a women just about finishing milking a camel.  She sees us and seems to understand that we would like to watch this in action, so she goes and chases down another camel for us to watch her milk.  The entire process is done standing up with a bucket hanging from the neck to catch the milk.  The camel's calf comes over and tried to get a drink at the same time.

 

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She shows us the milk and then invites us over to her house.  She goes inside and comes out with a sealed container that she then proceeds to open up for us. Inside is the fermented camels' milk which she offers to us to try.  How can we refuse such hospitality.  After trying the fermented milk, which is not too bad just a bit sour, we take a Polaroid picture of her.  She is very excited about this.  She then invites us to visit her yurt.  We are please to accept her invitation and all of us enter her yurt and take a seat on the ground in a semi-circle.

 

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Soon the yurt is filled with us, her family and friends and then some goats.  The goats just wander in and walk around and through us.  The locals do not seem to mind, so we just have a god laugh as we try to keep the goats from eating the bread that our host has kindly handed us.  She offers us some more fermented camel's milk and water. Many of us feel more comfortable with the fermented milk rather than the water.  Then it is time to head back to the truck and go and set up camp for the night.

 

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We pile into the truck and then turn around and head a few kilometers back up the road to a nice bush camp on the side of the road.  We set up camp (including digging the usual latrine and gathering firewood) and it is very windy and some people need help with their tents.  Then we just hang around and relax and enjoy another beautiful desert sunset and dusk.  After dinner we get another fire going - the heat is welcome in the cold desert night.  We pull out the sheesha and just lounge around shooting the breeze.  

 

But as there was limited firewood here, the fire is short lived and we retire for the night to our tent.  It is quite cold with the wind blowing and we are pleased to curl up in our sleeping bags, especially as we are not using the tent's fly so the wind just blows right in. But we do not want to miss the wonderful desert night sky.

 

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