Central Asia is a nightmare when it gets to visas, every country has its
own regulations and obtaining a visa is usually expensive, so you have to
plan things in advance and stick to that plan, especially because visa
dates are fixed, meaning that when you apply for the visa you have to
specify the exact date of entry.
I obtained all my visas back in Ankara at the end of January, so now I had
to stick to the plan I made at that time. It was not a bad plan, the only
problem being that Turkmenistan is a particularly paranoid country, I did a
small mistake in the visa application and, making a long story short, I was
given a 5 days transit visa to cover 650+ km, instead of the usual 500 km.
This fact made particularly happy the owner of the hostel I was staying at
in Mashhad: he offers assistance to get a Turkmen visa for a 20 dollar fee,
had I used his service, I wouldn’t have had any problem. And also two dutch
guys I met in Mashhad and later also in Bukhara and Samarkand were quite
amused by that, they kept telling this story to the other tourists they met
and I soon became ‘the-one-who-messed-up-with-the-Turkmen-visa’, a mixture
of stupidity and stubbornness. Because yes, I wanted to try to cycle
across Turkmenistan, it was all flat after all, but to do that I needed a
quite rigid cycling schedule.
5 hours of cycling in the morning, 2/3 hours break to escape from the
unrelenting heat, other 5 hours of cycling in the afternoon, cooking,
setting up camp and, exhausted, go to sleep. It goes without saying that I
had little time left for anything else: taking photos, speaking with
people, reading, and all that is left of Turkmenistan in my memories is a
blurred image of a potholed road mixed with some images of colorfully dressed women, something that came as a news after Iran. But these
pictures made me wish I had more time to explore a quite mysterious
country, known as the ‘North Korea of Central Asia’.
I am not sure I enjoyed those five days in Turkmenistan; while riding along
the potholed Turkmen roads, or along the 200 km road that crossed the Karakum
Desert, I often daydreamed about how rewarding it would have been to get to
the border on the 5th day, with a big happy grin on my face; I am
sure it would have been so, had I not decided to have a beer, the first in
two months, in Turkmenabat, 30 km from the border. All the tiredness of
the last four days suddenly erupted, cycling became as hard as ever
and those last 30 km seemed to be endless; I even fell asleep in front of
the Uzbek guards while they were putting my data on the computer and
immediately after having crossed the border I slept a few hours on the
first tree I found.
Alat was the first village after the border, a good place where to spend
the night before heading towards the Silk Road city of Bukhara.
People working at a service station where I spent one night
In Turkmenistan there were more camels, but still not that many as I expected
The Karakum desert
The main road