unreal Turkmenistan

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As I’m writing this I begin to realize that all of the following blog posts will be very long, with lots and lots of pictures (and hopefully with some videos as well). I think this is because Turkmenistan was a special experience for me, after waiting for such a long time to get in. There will be dancing, and there will be tears.

But let’s start from the beginning, from the time I left Bukhara. It was very early in the morning, and I felt a bit intimidated by what was about to happen. Bukhara didn’t care. It was as calm and peaceful as ever:

last look at Bukhara

I hopped in a cab and tried to sleep during the 100-minute ride to the border. But I couldn’t. When we got there, the Caboose was ready:

Caboose ready to go

I said goodbye to everyone, and then I went in. I cannot show you anything from the border itself, as taking pictures is strictly prohibited there. I can tell you that it took several hours to get through, though. It was the most thorough border check I have ever experienced.

My guide picked me up on the Turkmen side and helped me deal with the border guards and customs officials there. And still it took forever.

But at some point I was through.

I… was… in… Turkmenistan!

Here’s what I saw:

first piece of road in Turkmenistan

I made a little video about it:

The Caboose seemed happy, too:

Caboose in Turkmenistan

We weren’t alone, though, because the only way to get a Turkmen tourist visa is if you book an actual guided tour. So that’s what I did. It doesn’t come cheap, but it was important to me for some reason to walk through this country. So I booked a tour, which meant that a guide and a driver were to be with me basically 24 hours of the day.

They were in a car:

my guide and my driver in their car

At first they tried following me at walking speed, but then they decided that it was probably better to drive a little bit ahead and wait for me there. Then drive a little bit further ahead and wait there. And so on.

So I was walking into this country called Turkmenistan.

I made a Let’s Walk video about it:

And then I saw my first Turkmen houses:

first houses in Turkmenistan

And a car with a house:

house with car near the Uzbek border

But people are more interesting than houses or cars, and I was very happy when I ran into this kid who was riding a donkey:

Turkmen boy on donkey

Not knowing anything about the place, I felt very shy about taking photographs, especially photographs of people. But then this lady came storming out of a cotton field and said: “Take a photo of me and my husband!”

And so I did:

Turkmen couple

It felt unreal. And yet too real.

I saw water:

first water in Turkmenistan

And I saw fields:

Turkmen fields

I saw a car that someone was trying to protect from the sun just like I was protecting the Caboose, with a piece of white cloth:

car in Turkmenistan

And then I came to a road sign that said “Türkmenabat”:

road sign to Turkmenabat

Unreal. I had mumbled this name to myself for so long. Turk-men-a-bat. And here it was. As if it was real. As if I could just walk there!

There was a police checkpoint, but my guide had already taken care of everything, and the cops just waved me through and said “welcome”, and then I was on a bridge across the Amu-Darya:

bridge across the Amu Darya

This river used to be called Oxus in the ancient Greek world. You know, in Alexander’s times. Remember how excited I was to cross the Syr Darya many months ago? Well, imagine how this felt to me: here, under my feet, is the fucking Oxus, and I am crossing it on a bridge, walking!

the Amu Darya

Unreal.

The city started with some rather bland roads and houses:

first houses of Turkmenabat

I asked my guide if I could go into a shop by myself and buy some water, and he gave me a funny look and said: “of course you can!”

We had changed some of my dollars into Turkmen manat before, so into this shop I went:

shop in Turkmenabat

And it looked just like any old shop in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan or Tajikistan. A shop that sells a little bit of everything. I got some water and some juice.

When I got back on the road, a car stopped, the driver came running across the street towards me, and then he handed me a bottle of pepsi, shook my hand, returned to his car and drove off.

I stood there with my pepsi:

a gift on the road

And just seconds later I had a nang-bread to have along with the pepsi:

they gave me this nang

This family had given it to me:

family in Turkmenabat

I said thank you, thank you, thank you! Then I found a sidewalk to walk on:

sidewalk in Turkmenabat

The sidewalk wasn’t ideal, because there were many steps and holes, but it felt safer than walking on the road, because traffic here was basically the same as in most of Central Asia – there just seemed to be a general propensity of reckless driving.

Then I crossed another massive bridge in the center of Turkmenabat:

bridge in Turkmenabat

These guys offered me help and insisted that we take a picture:

cool dudes in Turkmenabat

I walked past a little monument to the First President of Turkmenistan:

Turkmenbashi monument

And then another monument to the fallen of World War II:

WWII monument in Turkmenabat

I saw a young mother with her child:

mother with child in Turkmenabat

And I saw a café that served cappuccino:

cafe in Turkmenabat

It was almost dark when I reached the main boulevard with its representative buildings, its monuments, and squares:

monument square

I particularly liked what I figured to be the theater:

theater in Turkmenabat

And then I reached the hotel:

Hotel Jeyhun

Most food places in Turkmenistan apparently closed at nine in the evening, so we had to move fast, drop my stuff off in the room, and go right back outside to look for a place to eat.

We ended up in this rather chic restaurant that played lounge music and had witty remarks about coffee on the wall:

restaurant in Turkmenabat

They offered burgers, pasta, chicken – the usual. We ordered three lavash wraps, and I got fries and lemonade with mine. The taste was alright, the waitress was beautiful (as were many women in this town), and the place seemed to be pretty well-frequented:

in a restaurant in Turkmenabat

Then we went back to the hotel.

It was only then, when I looked at myself in the hotel elevator…

I look shitty

…that I realized how shitty I looked.

Maybe it had all been a bit too unreal for me.

Or too real.



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