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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Turkmenistan - 7 September, 2002

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Bush camp north of Jerbent, Karakum Desert N3924.735' E05832.319' 86 meters .
Finish Ashgabat (Hotel Nissa) N3755.750' E05823.220' 253 meters

194 km

Total Leg 2:

2,153 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

5,171 km

 

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

 

 

We wake up early with the sunset to find ourselves and the inside of the tent filled with a fine coating of sand from the strong wind overnight.  We lay in our tent and watch the sunrise before getting up and packing up.  Lotta is cooking pancakes for breakfast and they are a great treat.  We use up all the Nutella eating them!!

 

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We are off at 8:30 AM heading south to Ashgabat.  We soon come upon the train track that the government is building at great expense from Ashgabat up north to Jerbent and maybe even further.  They want to develop businesses up here in the middle of no-where.  Not sure who would want to start a business up here, but good luck to them.  It is a brand new track and runs parallel to the road for most of the distance down to Ashgabat.

 

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We arrive in Ashgabat around noon and before we head off to the hotel we go and visit what is called the eight foot monument.  I was wondering what was so special about this monument, being all of eight feet (there are a three and a five foot monument).  It turns out that the number of feet refers not to the height of the monument, but rather the number of feet that it stands on.  And this is a huge monument in honor of Turkmenbashi - the President of Turkmenistan.

 

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This president has created a personality cult revolving about him that makes the Soviet era personality cults look tame.  His real name is Saparmut Niyazov - he assumed the name Turkmenbashi (meaning Head of all Turkmen) in 1993 after winning the 1992 election with 99.5% of the votes cast (in 2002 he won 99.9%).  There are clals for him to be named president for life.  Anyway, it is hard to escape Turkmenbashi - his face appears on every banknote, on every building and on countless monuments.  His slogans are plastered all over the place on buildings, sidewalks, cafes, restaurants, businesses, etc.  Everywhere you turn you see him.  He caused a minor crisis in 1999 when he had his silver hair dyed black and all the portraits had to be replaced with the newer, younger image.

 

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Well, the eight foot monument is 75 meters tall with a 12 meter high revolving golden statue of him at the top.  All around the monument are statues with further images of him.  It is actually quite an impressive place with the many fountains spewing water in the middle of the desert and green, lush lawns.  The place is hopping - two wedding parties are here to take photos and videos.  We get in the act and take some of our own pictures.  One lady is wearing the traditional headdress.

 

We arrive at our hotel - Hotel Nissa - just before one and go and get checked in.  It must be the best hotel of the trip and is quite impressive for us over-landers.  They must not be impressed when we walk in all dirty and disheveled after three or four days without a shower having just crossed the Karakum Desert.  We drop off our bags and then go and sort out some local money.  This is real funny money with about 20,000 Manats to one dollar.  But at least they have large size notes here, so we do not have to carry around huge wads of cash.

 

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Then it is off to see the carpet museum.  It is not open tomorrow and closes early, so we skip our shower and race over there.  We walk and it is like walking through a movie set to get there.  We now understand why the locals call Ashgabat the "Marble City" - Turkmenbashi requires that all new buildings be clad with marble sheets.  Everything is clean and immaculate.  Images of the the president are everywhere.  And the policemen and soldiers - well they are at just about every corner and make sure that you do not take pictures of the wrong buildings.  Along the way we pass the Presidential Palace - a new one that was just built.  The old one must not have been good enough.  And we pass the three foot monument - nice, but I can understand why he wanted a newer and bigger one.

 

We arrive at the carpet museum just in time.  And it is well worth the visit, especially for us who have an interest in carpets.  The guided tour was well down and we saw very many impressive carpets.  The lady even gave a very good description in English and answered all our questions.  We were also, of course, shown the two biggest carpets in the world.  They are impressive, but so much work just to hang on the wall in a museum.

 

Well, we finish with the museum around 3:30 PM (it closes at 3 PM, but they finished the tour for us).  Outside we met our tour guide once again and she asked if she could take a picture with us.  We were a bit embarrassed given our unwashed state, but what to do.  Then it was off to get some lunch.  Our last meal was breakfast - good thing it was the filling pancakes.

 

We headed to a pedestrian walkway where we were told they had good shashlyk.  At first all we could find was one stall, where we stopped for a couple of sticks.  But this was not enough, so we kept on walking down and found the area with multiple stalls.  They even told us that the had beluga which we could have has as shashlyk.  We decided to try it, but in the end decided that the lamb or beef were tastier (maybe the spices they add).  The stall owners were very friendly and helped is trying to order what we wanted.

 

After finishing our snack we slowly walk back to our hotel, taking a different way to see other parts of town.  It could actually be a very beautiful town if a few things are cleaned up and organised a bit better.  There are lots of trees everywhere.  We get back to the hotel just before 7 PM and take it easy and wash-up before heading out to explore the city at night.

 

We head back on foot to the center of town.  We decide to check out a number of casinos that we have spotted just for a bit of fun.  But they are nothing special and the minimum bets are a bit too rich for our blood, so we wander out of them again.  We continue our wanders and admire all the special lighting that has been set up on some of the buildings with lights that change colors.  Also many of the pictures of Turkmenbashi are illuminated and there is even a high-tech looking one that appears to be a flat screen TV.

 

In the end, we end up at the infamous Florida bar, famous not for its drinks and food, but for the women that show up.  It really gets going around midnight and is packed.  The dance floor is full of blonde Russian ladies dancing away on the look out for customers.  They are also staked out at various strategic tables, hoping to lure in some "gentleman".

 

We leave just as it really gets going and walk back through the deserted streets to our hotel.  The night air is quite cool, and we briskly walk back.  We take the route that goes by all the government buildings with the many policemen hanging out in front - feels a bit safer.

 

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