Mary

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Okay, today’s post is going to be a deluge of photos, and it’s going to have the longest Let’s Walk video to date. It might be a bit much. But again, I thought I’d share with you as much as I can about Turkmenistan the way I saw it.

But first, breakfast:

breakfast in Hotel Mary

It wasn’t the best. Of the few things that were there, I took only some eggs, some cheese and some bread. But the dining hall was awesome:

dining hall in Hotel Mary

We rode back to the place where we had left the Caboose overnight. This friendly gentleman was the owner of the restaurant where she had stayed:

dude who kept the Caboose overnight

When I started walking, I knew it was going to be a long day.

The first thing I saw was a building in the distance that reminded me of Turkmenabat’s white grandeur:

big building near Mary

Having had my eyes closed during our car rides to and from Mary, I had only the vaguest idea that Mary would probably be a lot like Turkmenabat in this respect. But for the time being, the road stayed rather simple:

bus coming out of Mary

The smoke you can see in the distance was from this place a bit further down the road, where these gentlemen were burning something:

guys burning something

Looks pretty serious, doesn’t it? Well, not for long:

dude having a good time

The people that I met in Turkmenistan were a pretty humorous lot. Lots of laughter, lots of little jokes.

I went into a little shop to buy some ice-tea:

Yakup’s shop from the outside

This is what the shop looked like from inside:

little shop near Mary

Walking around here looking the way I did meant that everyone knew that I was a foreigner. A lot of people stared at me from afar. A lot of people waved or yelled hello. And some came over to say hi or take selfies.

These car wash employees came for a selfie:

car cleaners

The road started getting busier at this point. I passed a few cotton trucks:

cotton truck

And then there was a road sign to Mary:

Mary or Ekspedisiya

I was surprised when I passed some ancient ruins that apparently belonged to Merv, once the biggest city on the face of the Earth:

walls of old Merv

I had been dreaming about seeing these walls for such a long time, and now they were here next to the road, in the dust and smoke that came out of countless exhaust pipes. It was beautiful in a way because it was so simple.

And then I was in the city, or rather, in the outskirts of the city:

road in Mary

These two gentlemen stopped me and asked me to take their picture:

“take a photo of us!”

These school children looked on, and when I showed them the picture we decided I should take one of them, too:

school children in Mary, Turkmenistan

I loved the school uniforms in Turkmenistan: suits and caps for the boys, traditional dresses and caps for the girls. The girls’ dresses had a different color depending on their age group:

Turkmen school girl

I could see them everywhere, walking around with their little school bags:

school girls on the sidewalk

And I found myself wondering if it would be hypothetically possible to introduce traditional dresses as school uniforms in Germany.

I passed a monument to some historical person:

monument in Turkmenistan

And I passed a monument to Barcelona:

FCB graffiti in Turkmenistan

I passed a very old bus:

old bus in Turkmenistan

I passed a wedding hall:

wedding hall in Mary

Big weddings seemed to be equally important in Turkmenistan as they were in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, or Uzbekistan. I remember saying the Kazakhs would be world champions in the Olympic Wedding Games, but after visiting Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan I wasn’t so sure anymore. The further south you went, the bigger the weddings got.

I only saw one car that was decorated for a wedding though:

car decorated for a wedding

And it (and its following vehicles) flew right by and was gone.

There was a large flyover:

flyover

And then there was a gate that celebrated the Asian Indoor And Martial Arts Games in Ashgabat that were supposed to start the next day:

Aziada 2017 gate

The people here called it “Aziada”, and the mascot seemed to be some kind of happy sporting animal, possibly a dog (though I figured it was probably a specifically Turkmen animal that had been picked for this purpose):

Aziada 2017 mascot

Then the road opened up again, and I realized that what I had seen before had been an outpost rather than the outskirts of Mary. There were fields and little villages next to the road now:

road to a village

I was not so shy about taking photos of people anymore, which was a good thing, not only because many people were rather photogenic, but also because many of them enjoyed having their picture taking, like this little girl with her mom and her brother (who was a little less enthusiastic about his modelling assignment):

mother with children in Turkmenistan

Traffic got busier at this point, and I saw more buses than before:

full bus in Turkmenistan

There was another “hey-take-my-picture” guy:

“hey, take my picture!”

Then there was a river:

river near Mary

And then the city started with this:

hippodrome

The hippodrome, a place where horse riding competitions and games were held. The Turkmen are very proud of their horses, so the hippodrome was naturally one of the biggest structures I would ever see on this trip.

I don’t know how I knew that this building was a shop:

strange shop from outside

It could have been anything, really. In hindsight, I think I was just very hungry at this point (the Boss and I had agreed to not take a lunch break today, because I wanted to have more time for walking), so I was frantically looking at all doors and windows. And if you look closely at the sign at the door it says “Dükan”, which sounds like the Kazakh word düken (дүкен), which means shop.

So anyway, it was a shop, but it was a particularly strange shop:

strange shop

It was just very empty and very orderly, and if you look at the wall in the back you will see that this shop sold alcohol, which I had never seen in any other shop in either Turkmenistan or Uzbekistan:

strange shop overview

Alcohol was sold in both countries. But never in regular shops, always in liquor stores.

I figured that this was probably a government-owned shop, since the lady operating the cash register was wearing a uniform:

strange shop cash register

(By the way, i always try to ask before I take pictures of people, especially in environments like these.)

I ended up buying some fruit juice and a muffin that had the charming name “top keks”:

top keks

Then I crossed a large bridge:

bridge into Mary

There was another canal or a river and some heavy industry:

industry near Mary

And then the fountains told me that I was in Mary, and this time I had really made it to the actual city:

fountains in Mary

The residential buildings got higher:

residential buildings in Mary

And there were little shops worked into the bus stations next to the road:

roadside shop in Mary

I passed a large hospital that reminded me a bit of Gehry:

hospital in Mary

And then it was just big, representative, imposing buildings.

They came…

big building in Mary

…one…

another big building in Mary

…after…

strange big building in Mary

…the…

theater in Mary

…other:

not sure what this is

Mary had recently gotten a new mosque that looked pretty nice:

new mosque in Mary

I was told that it had been built by the new President Berdimuhamedow, though I didn’t know what that meant. Had he financed it or just decided it? Anyway there was a large picture of him praying at the foot of the mosque. I didn’t take a picture of it.

But there were also little things, like these scribblings on a wall:

scribblings on a wall in Mary

The government had done away with the Cyrillic alphabet, but it had lived on in places like this.

I came to a roundabout with a monument, and the cars were so many that it almost looked like a little traffic jam in the city:

monument with traffic

Note also the quality of the cars – the economy of Turkmenistan had apparently improved a great deal over the last decade or so (ever since the government started to seriously tap the country’s enormous gas reserves).

There was a massive flagpole in the center of the city:

Turkmen flag in Mary

Though at “only” 100m it was a lot shorter than the one in Dushanbe. Oh, and I just looked it up, and there is this company called Trident Support that builds almost all of these super tall flagpoles. They’re from San Diego, and I wonder when Trump is going to order the highest flagpole in the world for the Confederate flag.

But I digress.

After 42km, it was finally there, the hotel, and – surprise, surprise – it too was massive:

Hotel Mary

Here’s the loooong Let’s Walk video of my walk into Mary:

We parked the Caboose in one of the hotel corridors:

the Caboose stays here in Hotel Mary

Then we went to a large restaurant:

big restaurant in Mary

The Boss had promised that there would be beer tonight, and there was, and it was Turkmen draft beer the name of which I have forgotten, and it tasted a bit fruity and was quite pleasant:

beer in Mary

I was in a strange state where I felt tired and excited at once. You know, how little kids often feel when it’s time for them to go to bed but they really don’t want to. And then they usually get cranky.

I didn’t get cranky though. I had a great, if somewhat nebulous, time. Maybe it had to do with my allergies, but at one point I walked off only to end up in the place where some of the food was made:

shashlyk stand in the restaurant in Mary

Everyone was very friendly and patient with me, as I took a ton of pictures and asked a ton of questions.

They apparently used big chunks of wood to grill the meat:

shashlyk master at work

Turkmenistan, being eighty percent made up of desert, didn’t have very many trees to begin with. So this seemed like a rather posh thing to do.

The food was good, but the Boss and I agreed that it was not quite as good as the Don’s desert cuisine.



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