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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Turkmenistan - 10 September, 2002



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Bush camp, Kelkor Salt Pan N39º16.696' E054º35.330' -24 meters .
Balkanabat . . . .
Turkmenbashi N40º00.361' E053º00.930' -25 meters 217 km
Finish Aboard the ship Professor Gül on the Caspian Sea


~ 16 km/h

-28 meters


Total Leg 3:

664 km

Total Leg 2:

2,153 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

5,835 km


Weather: Cloudy at sunrise, then clear, sunny and very, very hot.  Cool at night.



We make it through the night with no mishaps on the gas pipes and get ready to head off for the day.  We drive back up towards the main road and continue our drive to Turkmenbashi (by the way - yes, he did name a city after himself).  After about an hour's drive we arrive at Balkanabat, where we stop at the local market to pick up some fresh bread.  It is a lively but small market and we eventually find some bread.  We take a selection of different types and head off.


After about two more hours of driving, we near Turkmenbashi on the shore of the Caspian Sea.  We come up and over a set of hills and head down the winding road to the city below.  we go and drive into the port area where we should be catching the ferry and check to see what is happening.  We are told that the ferry will arrive at 4 PM and that no immigration or customs processing will begin until then.


So we decide to have some lunch and then to head into the city itself to check it out.  It is a quiet little city with not much to offer us, other than a boat ride to Azerbaijan.  We park the truck and a bunch of us just hang out near the truck.  After a while a group of young people come and approach us and start talking to us.  They head on, but are soon followed by a couple of teenage girls still in school.  They speak pretty good English and we have a bit of a chat.


Turkmen02_CD18_09_web.jpg (81038 bytes)

After a while, one of them asks of if we have a place to stay.  we say that we do not, that we will be taking the ferry.  She then tells us that she would like to invite us to stay at her house, but that she would have to check with her mom first.  We say that we would love to, but we are moving on soon.  She goes away for a while and along comes another middle aged lady who comes up and offers us to go and rest in her house up the street.  She says it must be hot and that it would be more comfortable there.  Then a lady working at a small kiosk on the street corner comes over and offers us a drink - she says it must be very hot.  Finally, the teenage girl comes back and asks again if we would like to come and stay at her house.  We say we cannot and chat for a bit more.  She shows us their "second book" (after the Koran), which is a book put out by Turkmenbashi, just like Mao's little red book.  They take it very seriously.


By now we must head back to the port, so we say our farewells and head off back to see if the boat has arrived yet.  It, of course, has not, and we sit around waiting.  It finally pulls in at 5 PM and after another two hour wait we can start the paper work at 7:30 PM.  And what a nightmare it is.  They are rude and surly.  They make us empty out our bags, just dumping stuff on the table and making a big mess of it all.  


Then out to the truck where they go through it with a fine tooth comb.  It seems that they are searching for Turkmen rugs, which are famous, and they require an export certificate to take out if they are old or bigger than 6 square meters.  They searched everywhere on this truck for carpets, but found nothing except for one small carpet with Lenin on it that someone else bought and about 10 bags made out of some new carpet material that we had bought for Christmas presents.  They are inexpensive souvenirs that have some small weaving and pieces of what are clearly new mini carpets.  They went crazy and said that they wanted to see the certificates for export.  As they are clearly just cheap "junk", we did not get such certificates (besides the place to get them is closed on Sundays).  To make a long story short, after much toing and froing in the office and outside, they said that if we wanted to keep them we would have to pay a $250 penalty (they said that while they are small, they may have a "history" behind them - if so, they sell their history for cheap!!!).  Well, we told them that we paid less than $50 for all, so forget it.  In the end, we gave them to our local guide who was leaving us here to take back with him (the customs people seemed surprised that we would do that). 


All this fuss delayed us and then we had to finish the other paperwork - the boat was ready to and was waiting for us.  It is a train ferry and all the trains had been loaded in and the boat prepared for departure.  We madly load everything back into the truck and then rush through the paper work making sure we get all the passports back while the boatmen are yelling at us to drive into the boat.  In the end, we drive onto the boat with no hassles and with our passports one and a half hours after starting the process.


We unload all our gear - bags, food, water, dishes, spices, etc - and then begin the difficult trek up the narrow and near vertical steps to the main deck of the ferry.  We are just about the only passengers on the huge boat.  We are led to the main reception area where an old, fat Russian lady takes charge and starts to issue us cabins.  If you have stayed at an old Soviet hotel where they had the witch ladies on each floor, then you know what she is like.


Well, all hell breaks loose.  It seems that she wants to put four people to a cabin.  We have booked for double cabins.  She starts screaming and yelling when she realises that we will not sleep with four to a cabin.  It is not clear how Lotta and Rick sorted it out in the end as there was a total language barrier (and with the lady screaming and yelling, it would have been tough to understand her anyway), but I imagine a little greenback talked a common language.  She was all love and hugs after that.


Turkmen02_CD15_08_web.jpg (72911 bytes)

During this scene, the ferry has departed from the port and we are on our way to Azerbaijan.  We are in our cabins by 10 PM and then we have to go and prepare dinner.  We are working in Lotta and Rick's cabin preparing the meal.  It is very cramped, but after an hour hour we are able to cobble something together.  Once dinner is done and we clean up, we head off to our cabin to wash up and head to bed.


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