30.04.2008 - 01.05.2008 38 °C
So the first part of the "real" Silk Road from ancient Merw onwards passes the Garagum desert perpendicularly to reach Turkmenabat and the Amuderya river plain. We crossed the 180km desert stretch in two days and it required some guesswork from the map and a good provision of water bottles to get from one supply point to the next. To make things a little more complicated, some of the settlements didn't have a shop, other supply points were closed and yet others had practically nothing to sell. The only companions are the frequent Iranian trucks carrying cars to Uzbekistan, speedy (and dangerous) cars on the straight road, the railway line in the distance and plenty of insects on and above the ground. The Repetek natural reserve about at about half way preserves the zemzem, a threatened desert crocodile feeding on snakes, but luckily we encountered neither.
And because the the supply points (called Kafe) didn't really offer much of a choice for eating and drinking, I managed to spoil my stomach on the last day in Turkmenistan with a portion of manty, the Asian ravioli, here prepared with goat meat that I have found fairly difficult to digest for a while already. The goat meat is present in all of the common meat dishes (besides manty also the meat pies called somsa, soup corba and the omnipresent shashlyk). Hot vegetable dishes are practically non-existent and the salads contain their own health risks caused by poor hygiene. Anyway, it will take me some time to regain my appetite for meat, and leaving Turkmenistan after 16 days and 1300 km of cycling let's me hope for better times.
About eating, there is a simple dilemma: if you can't understand the menu of the day for linguistic reasons, you have to go into the kitchen of the facility (to call these places restaurants just doesn't meet the common definition of the word) and check what they have. Both smell and sight destroy your appetite immediately but of course you have to agree to an emergency solution, because cyclists need quite a bit of energy...
One way to relief problems with food hygiene is vodka but the effect is possibly more mental than physical. Unlike some of the truck drivers we met we stick to the rule:
Courtesy 9C, Kulosaari Secondary School, Helsinki
When getting to the Uzbek border after Turkmenabat, it is saying good bye to a weird country, plastered with gilded statues of nation-builder president [i]Niyazov, his Ruhnama quotations on all roadsides (of course I couldn't read them but their display did nothing to raise my interest in the Turkmen language) oversized images of his successor, backward technology, rapidly devaluating already nearly worthless money coming in huge bundles and hopefully to excessive heat and poor food...
Getting drink and making our contribution to the irrigation of the desert
Camels and barchan dunes in the evening sun
Money doesn't fit into wallet. For 50 dollars US you become a millionaire in Turkmenistan
GPS track and photos of the desert between Merw and Turkmenabat: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=25360
Track of entire route through Turkmenistan (1461 km): http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=26826