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:
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:
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:
I made a little video about it:
The Caboose seemed happy, too:
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:
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:
And a car with a house:
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:
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:
It felt unreal. And yet too real.
I saw water:
And I saw 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:
And then I came to a road sign that said “Türkmenabat”:
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:
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 city started with some rather bland roads and houses:
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:
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:
And just seconds later I had a nang-bread to have along with the pepsi:
This family had given it to me:
I said thank you, thank you, thank you! Then I found a sidewalk to walk on:
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:
These guys offered me help and insisted that we take a picture:
I walked past a little monument to the First President of Turkmenistan:
And then another monument to the fallen of World War II:
I saw a young mother with her child:
And I saw a café that served cappuccino:
It was almost dark when I reached the main boulevard with its representative buildings, its monuments, and squares:
I particularly liked what I figured to be the theater:
And then I reached the hotel:
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:
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:
Then we went back to the hotel.
It was only then, when I looked at myself in the hotel elevator…
…that I realized how shitty I looked.
Maybe it had all been a bit too unreal for me.
Or too real.