Only one word got stuck into our minds: Why? What do you have to hide? Why is this country so closed? Why are we only allowed to drive from A to B? why do all buildings have blinded windows? Why are only a few tourists allowed to go in? What’s going on here? We didn’t get answers to any of these questions, actually when we got closer to the Kazakh border we got ourselves in a situation that only raised more questions.
On our way from the camp spot back to the main road we pulled over to see and capture some old truck wrecks. It’s quite weird but somehow it’s always interesting to see those wreckages, probably because you can fantasize about their past and how they ended up at these random places like this one. The second day we headed for Turkmenbashi. A port city and holiday “paradise”. This was the city where people relax on beaches and party at night. At least that’s what we read on the internet. Of course it was not the time of year to spend your days chilling on the beach, but still it could be interesting to have a look around. Like we did from every country we wanted to send postcards to Dani’s grandma and Tom’s grandfather and -mother. Something what should be no problem in a touristic town like Turkmenbashi. In Ashgabat we couldn’t find any postcards so hopes were high for Turkmenbashi. After driving almost 600 kilometers through no man’s land we found a spot to sleep 30 kilometers from Turkmenbashi. Only a short ride ahead to reach Turkmenbashi the next day.
Our hope to find postcards disappeared instantly when we were not allowed to enter the “international tourist area”. It’s quite funny that the only two international tourist around were not allowed to enter the tourist zone. The road was blocked by police officers and the only word they could bring out in English was “closed”. We are still guessing why it was closed especially after we saw another car entering the area. Anyway there was something going on and we were not allowed to get close to it. We changed our plans and drove back to the city center and found a post office. Maybe they would have postcards or at least they might know a place where we can find them. At the post office they had no postcards and they sent us to the bazaar. Where we either couldn’t find postcards. With no options left we decided to write an old fashioned letter. After we posted the letter and doing a few groceries we decided to head for the Kazakh border. What else could we do restrained by our route and gps system. When we drove out of the city in the direction of the border we were stopped again by the police. Fortunately, we had our papers with our route so time to show them. After a thorough inspection the officer let us through. For once the stupid paper worked in our advantage. The first 10 km after the police stop we saw every 300 meter men in suits hiding/standing between the bushes with those in-ear communication devices. Maybe there was something serious going on. But we’ll never know.
We drove further to Garabogaz, which looks like one of the worst places on earth to live. The 180 km road leading to it wasn’t good either, the first part is okay but after 120 km the tarmac seemed to have had better times. Almost nothing of it was left, resulting in a road full of bumps and potholes. After a few hours we arrived in this hellhole. The plan was to fill up the tank, this way we could make optimal use of the cheap petrol and at least take something in return for the fuel compensation we payed at the border. Unfortunately the only fuel they had consisted of an octane level of 80 something our Suzuki is not made for. And to make sure to reach Almaty we decided to skip this part of our plan. Because, again, there was nothing else to do in this place we decided to head further to the border. Frome Garabogaz to the border was only 40 kilometers, but unfortunately this isn’t a road. It’s something with shitty holes and bumps and a lot of sand and dust. If you can do there 30 km/h on average than you did great. Because it was already running late we couldn’t make it through the border. So we started looking for a place to stay for the night. We thought we saw a nice spot at the sea to have a better look at it we decided to leave the main road and have a look around there. It turned out it was not the best place to stay, too windy and too open. We drove back to the main road and there the real adventure started.
After maybe 100 meters driving on the main road we were stopped by a young man in army clothes and wearing a rifle. He directed us back to a side road. There the fun really started another guy came running to our car and just before he reached our car he quickly loaded his Kalasjnikov. After a few seconds the others arrived, heavily breathing because of their chase, at our car. In the end they were standing there six men strong around our car. We decided to get out of the car in the hope we were able to communicate with them. They explained in a combination of Russian/English and hands and feet that they saw us driving down at the sea front. They were wright we had been driving there and looking at their faces we knew we were somewhere where we were not allowed to go. But how could we know if there is no sign at all saying something like prohibited area? It was our turn, try them to explain that this was all one big mistake and that we were only looking for a place to sleep. After showing them some pictures of the car with the roof top tent they started to understand. In the end we all could laugh about the whole situation. After the air was cleared we thought we were good to go. Unfortunately not. We had to wait for their chief who arrived half an hour later with two cars fully packed with solders and a dog. This made it even clearer that we were definitely at the wrong place. After another apologize from our side, they tried to explain where we could camp. Due to our more than imperfect Russian skills we didn’t completely understand. But we thought that everything on the right side of the road was okay. After a friendly goodbye we headed to the border. Soon we noticed that a car was following us. When we saw a side road where we maybe could camp, we decided to wait a little while to let pass the car that was following us. And our suspects were soon confirmed. When they stopped at our location we asked them if we could take this turn. This was probably not what they meant, now we had to follow them. We drove further until we arrived at the border. And on an empty area directly next to the border gate we were allowed to camp. Before our escort left the place the commander handed over his mobile phone “regards from Turkmenistan”. We laughed they laughed everything was okay.
We have already left Turkmenistan for a while. However, we left this country with more questions than answers. And probably we’ll never find the answers. We’re happy to experience this all but one thing is for sure, Turkmenistan is definitely not a holiday destination and if the situation stays like this there is no reason on earth for us to go back to this country.
For more pictures click here.