Where should we start? Turkmenistan, what a bizarre country!! Actually it’s all we need to say. But to make you laugh with us, about all the weirdness in this country we will spend some words about it. After North-Korea, Turkmenistan is the most closed country in the world. Every year there are just a few tourist allowed to visit the country. These tourists will be joined by a tour guide 24/7 and together with this guide they are allowed to drive a preset route. This guide will cost you only a €150,- per day and all other expenses like hotels and meals you have to add up on you daily budget. Good value for money we think. But there is another, more cheap way to see Turkmenistan. A transit visa. If you’re on a transit to one of the neighboring countries then you can apply for this type of visa. However the approval rate of this transit visa varies between 10 and 30 percent. We were the “lucky” ones and somehow we obtained this transit visa. And now we’re finally at the Turkmen border let’s see if we’re allowed to get in.
White buildings with light colored cars, how they prefer it in Ashgabat.The first part of the border crossing, the part where we had to leave Iran, was quite chaotic. Nobody exactly knew what they had to do with us and we were sent from pillar to post. In the end it took us over an hour to get out of Iran, but we managed it. We drove to the Turkmen border. When we entered their territory we had to park our car and both directed to the passenger hall. That’s the place where we had to register ourselves, pay €12 euro for each of us just to get into the country (not to be confused with the visa costs, this is a different fee) and we got there the entry stamp. Nothing could go wrong from now on or not? Dani had to go to a different part of the passenger hall where they check the baggage you’re carrying into the country. The fun part of this is that Dani never has any baggage because it’s all in the car. But this is not something that only happens in Turkmenistan, in Iran and Armenia it was the same story. While Dani was going to these totally obsolete checkups Tom had to do the paperwork and a lot of payments for the car. You pay a temporary import tax, a car insurance and the most expensive part is the one for the fuel compensation. Yes you’re reading this correctly fuel compensation. The fuel in Turkmenistan is ridiculously cheap but this price is artificially held low by the government. The government is subsidizing the fuel, well you have to do something to keep your citizens satisfied, however foreigners are not allowed to profit from this so you have to pay a fuel compensation.
Until then everything was quite normal, and we read about all the costs on the internet. But the fun part actually started when Tom was in the office with a man who pulled up a form where he started to draw a route in the direction of Kazakhstan. The reason for this: you have a transit visa so you only need to transit Turkmenistan. That’s it we got a preset route and were not allowed to deviate from it. After he finished his drawings and writings on the papers he said to Tom, “I’m a nice man do you have present for me? Maybe 5 or 10 dollar?”. Tom answered that he would pay him fucking $20,- if he would draw this stupid line in a different direction. There were two tourists attractions we would like to visit in Turkmenistan one of them, which was the highest on our wish list, is a gas crater already burning for more than 40 years. Unfortunately this crater was not on our route so we were not allowed to go there. Same story for the other tourist attraction. The man really considered Tom’s offer, but then decided that this was even too risky for him. No tourist attraction for us so no present for the guy. To make this whole outlined route situation even better we got a nice GPS device to make sure we would stay on track. What a bizarre country!!
After Dani had finished, the in our situation, totally obsolete checks she walked in the direction of the car. Immediately a few guys came to here to tell Dani that this was not allowed. From a distance of approximately 10 meters she had to watch Tom with 8 guys checking the car. Of course they asked about the thing on our roof, but this time we had to completely open our roof top tent. One after the other climbed up the stairs to have a look inside the tent. And they kept questioning Tom if we were carrying guns in the car. The made hand gestures and said pam pam, definitely the way to explain guns. No of course we’re not carrying guns with us, but despite this they started to turn the car inside out. When they started to ask about medicines and Tom started to scream to Dani where the hack these medicines were Dani was allowed to come. What a fuss, but fortunately everything happened with a laugh and the guys were actually nice. After about two hours at the Turkmen border we were finally allowed to drive into Turkmenistan together with our GPS device. We drove into Ashgabat with a bullet the weirdest destination during our trip.
Everywhere we were looking it was white, buildings, street lights, street signs and traffic signs really everything. Including a golden finishing touch. It feel like you drive into a fake world, everything feel so sterile. The only missing things were those futuristic self-driving cars and UFOs. Of course we saw some pictures of Ashgabat on the internet but when you drive there yourself it feel so different than you ever could imagine. You can’t catch the feeling of this city in a photo, besides there are many places where you’re not even allowed to take pictures. From our care we tried to make some footages of Ashgabat and all the white buildings and the extreme spacious road. A city that is just so different from everything we have seen in our lives. Everywhere you find school boys and girls, the boys dressed in suits and the girls in long green or red dresses and two braids in their hair. You have the feeling that every building is not even one year old, so spotless white is everything. Things are extremely huge, the white big mosques with golden minarets, the enormous palace of the government, the monuments and statues on every roundabout and the picture of the leader of this bizarre country. Next to all the white and gold Ashgabat is almost sterilized clean. Every turn we took we saw again somebody with a broomstick removing the last five grains of sand from the street. The difficult part with all these white buildings and blinded windows is that you have no idea what you’ll find inside. Therefore, it took us a while to find a supermarket.
The people in Ashgabat seems to live their lives in a bubble, with expensive cars and white golden houses. How they experience this themselves? We have no idea, it’s not that they are unfriendly but it’s very hard to get in touch with locals. Many of them smile to you with a mouth full of golden teeth and the fuel station workers make sometimes a joke with you but you always feel a distance.
When we left Ashgabat the world around us changed a bit. From all the white buildings in Ashgabat we drove into villages where it was obvious people had less money to spent and houses were cheaper. The extreme poverty we saw in other places is not something we found in Turkmenistan but there is definitely a large gap in wealth between people from Ashgabat and the rural areas in Turkmenistan. At noon we found a spot on a field, again between lavender bushes, where we could stay for the night. The next morning the sun was shining and we took it easy, in the end there was not much to discover for us anyway.
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