breakfast with Mads and Sonny with a lovely view! After taking some pictures and packing up our things we head on towards the border. As we drive off the Three Buckaneers pass us sounding their horn. A new convoy had formed.
we pass the Iranian border, all is well. We just had to pay a small scale fee, not sure if it was legal or official but we've moving forward.
We get an agent assigned to us. He is not official but it's just how thing go. There is a border guy who has a job. Which requires him to check some cars, he probably doesn't feel like doing that so he 'hires' an agent. The agent does this bit of the job and asks his own fee from the passing tourists. So we ended up paying 30 dollars. But then at least we did get stamped out of Iran.
So now to get our Turkmenistan visa. After going through the gate, handing over our passports and parking Boris we are directed into a building "visa". We go to the first window. After writing some stuff down the clerk gives us a piece of paper and points us toward the bank. Here we have to pay for our visa, everybody is very nice doing their job. Showing the amounts we have to pay on a calculator and counting back the change to us. Some of them even speak a little English.
As we are stamped into the country Saskia goes one way and Tom goes the other way with Boris. Saskia's crossing was easy and very very fast. She was outside in 2 minutes where she waited with Mads and Nicolas for the others to come with the cars. Boris needs to get his visa, which is basically this piece of paper with all his details and the route he may drive in Turkmenistan. It's not allowed for us to get off that route. We were warned that we would go to jail if we did! After that it's up to the next booth, just another stamp. Not sure what the stamp was for, but hey it's there now. Probably a good thing. After that it's off to the bank again to pay for the car insurance and other fees. When everything was paid Tom had to go get another stamp from the vet, probably declaring that we're not bringing live stock with us. We now have al the stamps we need, just a quick check of Boris and we are off. The guards however see that we do not have the sticker of The 2017 Asian Martial Arts Games on our car which will be held in Turkmenistan. This could be a deal breaker!! We had to prove now that we actually were participating in the Mongol rally. Luckily Sas had brought a copy of our registration confirmation and that was enough. The first 30 Km are still the official border so we were not allowed to stop the car for this long stretch of sand or take any pictures. We saw 2 beautiful horses on the road.
Through the border into Ashgabat. From the last border check towards Ashgabat it's this bizarre 3 lane motorway with golden lanterns, green trees on the side of the road and even the construction for the Matrix signs above each lane are lovely and gold. And now the fun part, it's completely empty! We don't know why there are 3 lanes. The capacity of the border crossing is 8 cars a day, at its maximum! So this is the first of the facade we encounter. The temperature is hot! So this much green comes as a surprise.
We now enter Ashgabat, where everything is clean and white. Buildings are made of marble, streets have 4 lanes, the sidewalks are wide and on each side of the road are lovely green trees. Once every 100 meters we see a bus stop with big tv screens on both sides of it. And all of this magnificent beauty is just there for us! We are literally the only ones on the road. There are no people and cars to be seen in the whole of the surrounding. Here we see the facade at its maximum. As we take a right we both gasp and hold our breath. This street has fountains in the middle of the two ways. Fountains as far as we can see... This is insane. As we pass numerous grand buildings and green parks we get closer towards the center of the city. There are huge buildings all white mable glistening in the sun and rising high above the surrounding parks and fountains. The traffic get busier and at some point we actually get stuck in a traffic jam. At this point we still have no idea where we are. So it's time to ask a local police officer for directions to the hotel Mads and Sonny would be staying at. As we park Boris off the side of the road the Three Buckaneers park right behind us. What a coincidence!! Saskia asks for direction, her Russian course actually came in handy and she knew where to go. Turns out the hotel was just around the corner. Parking Boris at the hotel we find the car of team Love for Tea parked there as well. Nice, time to check in at Dàhgan hotel.
Time for food and beers at the local pub! We found this lovely place where we could sit in the shade and have a couple of well deserved cold beers! Here we sit, in the most bizarre city on earth drinking beer and eating some lovely snacks from the barbecue in the blistering heat with two other teams, sharing stories and planning the next few days. Good times.
We head back to our hotel room, laying on the floor with a map planning our route we have another beer and some Pringles. We really needed the Pringles, later on you'll find out why.
While having some beers downstairs several other teams walk by. Some how this is the place to be! One Canadian resident even told us we were in the epicenter of Ashgabat. Other ralliers were meeting at the British bar near the Grand Turkmen Hotel. So that's where we will be heading as well then. Not knowing where this bar is we planned to go to the Grand Turkmen Hotel and just ask for directions. But as we approached the parking lot we see 6 other rally cars parked outside, and one of them looks very familiar! It's the car of 67 degrees north. One of the teams we met in Luxembourg! So we head inside to surprise Alex!
As we are wandering around town trying to find this British bar we realize that having signs outside your bar is not allowed here because it's not beautiful. So we open some random doors to see if there is a bar behind it. And fortunately we managed to find it! Inside were almost two dozen railers laughing, shouting and having a blast!
The bar closes and we wander around the city some more. We encounter a grand statue of some horses lit up in all colors and with great fountains around it. The magnitude of the statue is breathtaking. The last meters we have to walk all through a park where all the lights and fountains are turned off. It's like walking through an amusement park after opening hours. In Ashgabat there is also a curfew that starts at 22:00 'o clock so there was also no one on the streets except police.
Time for breakfast and planning the day to come. Saskia got some breakfast next door from a bakery/chocolatery and could practice some more Russian. As we eat Saskia is reading some stuff about the former president of Turkmenistan and some of the crazy things he did, like he changed the names of the months of the year and days of the week to his parents and families names. There is a national holiday for his parents and the watermelon. Listening to music in the car is forbidden, beards and ballet are forbidden and lip sinking music is forbidden just to name a few.
We checked out of the hotel and put our bags in Boris. After that is was exploring the beautiful city of Ashgabat. It's impossible to see everything you pass with a car. When you are gasping at a marble building on your left you'll miss the enormous golden statue of the former president on your right. And if you're looking at the statue of a golden globe on the right you'll miss the enormous square with fountains and trees on your left. So basically there is just too much to see for one drive by.
We head out of town after we've bought supplies and loads of water. Trying to get out of Ashgabat we encounter several closed roads and one way roads which make it an absolute maze to get out of. After following the signs north the motorway just stopped and we drove on a shitty road. After several kilometers we see two guys in a car and we decided to ask for directions. The guys didn't speak english, no problem they just called someone who could. We explained to her what we wanted and she told the guys. They still did not know. So they asked someone else for us. He said this was the right way to go. So we head on. After several kilometers there was a huge pile of sand on the road, it was there to make sure no one drives in that road. But on the right side was a sandy path we could take to pass this mountain of sand. So we did. Further along the road was a lake, real blue greenish. Very nice, not sure if we would swim in it. But the local guys surely did, and they all invited us to come and swim with them. We got to the motorway after this small detour over a closed road which we could only exit via yet another sandy hill. And Boris did great, loads of noise, spinning tires and dust were necessary to get the job done, but he did. Lovely.
The good tarmac ends, the lanterns are gone, the middle of the road isn't marked anymore. It's just 20 meter wide tarmac for everybody to use as they see fit. Looking left and right we see nothing but sandy dessert and sometimes the additional camel. Welcome to the Karakum dessert!
We thought we saw smoke in the distance. We were thinking that it might be the Gates of Hell where we are headed. A gas crater which was used to extract gas until the 70s when the Sovjet government for some reason decided that they did not want to use it so set it alight. However, they did not realize that the gas pocket below was so vast that the fire would still be going over 40 years later. The smoke we saw was not caused by the gas crater. As we got closer we saw what it was, a small hurricane!
At a petrol station we meet Mads and Sonny again. As soon as we are back on the road we notice that one of the relays of the car is flicking on and off at a high frequency as Boris takes hit by hit from all the holes in the tarmac. We did check the relays before but could not find the problem, because it only occures while driving. So as Saskia is driving Tom manages to crawl behind her back, laying upside down reaching for the relays which are located on the drivers side left under the wheel just above the fuses. Tom touches every relay to feel if that one is the one which is responsible for the ticking sounds. And laying in this extremely flexible position at this temperatures isn't lovely at all. But we found the relay and can look at the problem later on and hopefully fix it.
Some Turkmenistan guys pass us on their motorcycles yelling gas crater gas crater other way!! So we turn the car around and follow the guys. At the exit towards the gate of hell we meet Alex and the Danish guys again. After numerous tries to get Boris up the hill we finally manage to push both cars up the hill. But after the first sandy hill there still is a 6 kilometer drive until you get there. Half way through Saskia notices that Boris is smelling funny. The smell is burnt rubber apparently. So we think that basically the back left part of the chassis has cracked. Bending out the rear fender touching the tire. So that tire is now burning against the inside of the car. We decide to drive onward towards the gate of hell to have another look there. We have almost made it!
We made it to the gate of hell. First a quick peek inside. We have to watch ourselves not to get burnt. The sun is still up now so after a quick look we rush back to Boris to fix the problem. After we removed the wheel again we saw the disaster; the whole chassis was bent outwards, and it's all rusty so it's probably an old problem that got worsened on our drive over here. After hitting the fender with a hammer Tom thought of another solution. One of the tires Wesley arranged for us was wrong. It was 1 centimeter less wide than the normal ones. So we tried that one and it fitted perfectly! Problem solved!
All the other teams have arrived now. After sharing our last beers with Alex and Chris and Danish share there food with us we headed down toward the hole of Fire. Which was just insane! It's a crater with a diameter of 100 meters and at least 50 meters deep with fire and flames everywhere in the crater. On rocks and sand there are flames flickering magnificently. A great sight to see and we could stare at it for hours.
After watching the fire for 3 hours and taking hundreds of fotos, it's time for bed. We say goodbye to the lads and we go to Boris for a good night of sleep.
Alarm and with a smell of gas we wake up and start packing up our stuff. The locals on the motorcycle came back to help us get out of the barren area. They first get Alex out, so we started on our own, see how it goes.
It went great until we got stuck in the sand. The more we tried, the more we dug Boris into the sand. We are now stuck so bad that the complete engine is buried in sand. Luckily some local guys passed by and were willing to help us out. We meet Mads, Sonny, Chris and Alex near the main road and at 8:30 we are on our way in a nice convoy.
We hit a massive pothole and have a flat tire. So we park Boris on the side of the road, the other two cars block the road so we can work safely. It's our front right tire which is completely flat and the reason for this is that the rim has been dented by the pothole. Air won't stay in the tire, not even when we try to hammer the rim back. We decided to put on the bad back tire we replaced yesterday due to rubbing against the inside of the car. See how this goes.
We have to stop for 67 degrees, they have a problem with their back tire. It's running into the fender on the front side and it's bent out somehow, so we jack it up and start hammering. We manage to push it back enough to continue our trip.
The Danish hear something strange so they stop. Turns out it's just some fender flap stuck somewhere, so they tear it out and that was an easy repair for a change. Let's hope that was the last trouble..
Karakum desert is no place for cars. 67c has had to stop again. They had placed some kind of material in between their springs at the start of the rally which had just popped out. They jack the car up, unscrew the wheel, push it back and put everything back. The Danish are busy with other matters; they will be contacted in a minute live by the Danish national radio station who is following their adventure. Great times !
We're half way now across the desert and just drove on the wrong side of the road for a while - when we WEREN'T supposed to. We did not notice it until we almost drove on to a bridge and saw cars on our side of the road.. There are no markings for road works or anything so most of the time you share one road until another finished road appears next to it and then you move and vise versa. Confusing when all you want to focus on are the gigantic potholes and the bad condition of the road in general. Sometimes it feels more like driving on dried up lava near a volcano.
Petrol station ! And hamburger / doner for lunch. Apparently Boris is one big offense breaking several laws in Turkmenistan; 1. It's illegal to have a dirty car. 2. It's illegal to drive a car with just two doors. 3. It's illegal to have blinded windows. We are just one big illegal box of steel on wheels now apparently and proud of it.
Wrong road. Going to Konye Urgench and not Dasoguz where we need to exit the country according to Boris' visa. If Boris attempts to leave the country using a different port of exit then what is stated on his visa we risk a hefty fine of at least 1000$ and probably jail. Something we are not intending on doing as you probably can imagine. After asking a truck driver we turned round and took an exit and were on our way to Dasoguz border.
8-03 15:15 Saskia smells burning rubber..
Tom agrees; Not a good smell and seems to be coming from Boris again.. Shit. We stop and check the left rear wheel and see that the smaller wheel is also rubbing on the car and causing the burning smell; the chassis has definitely sunk on the left rear side. (Thanks for the car jack Berry! It's been used more times than our toothbrushes!) We have a number of options; wait in the desert sun for help, drive with the wheel slowly rubbing itself to a puncture and try to reach town, no spare tires to be borrowed from the others as they don't fit or we could just cry until the sun goes down. "Perhaps we can put the tire inside out or hammer the car in to stop the rubbing" Saskia suggests. Tom checks the inside of the car to see if we would break something and guess what?! He concludes that our mattress has been burning against the car where the wheel was rubbing because of the heat! Glad it didn't cause a fire and kill us!!! So, mattress aside and hammer away! Bang bang bang! and the wheel is free again, no more rubbing for now. And we are back on the road at 15:50. The Danes have gone on to try and make the border crossing today so it's just us and 67 degrees.
Enter the city limits of Dasoguz and have to drive in the second lane as people are standing in the first lane trimming the hedges.. Unbelievable. Dasoguz resembles an old Soviet town with a lot of apartment buildings, nationalistic posters and flags. Also numerous fountains and gold statues but not as well kept as in Ashgabat. Same for the greenish parks where the fountains are switched off. Enough ferries wheels though.
We arrive at the border but just too late. The Uzbek side has closed and they won't let us camp in no man's land "come back tomorrow". We meet 8 young Turkmeni guys while we are standing outside discussing what to do and they are kind enough to take us to a car mechanic to get the wheels checked and fixed. We won't be leaving the country till tomorrow so best do something useful. We did see the Danes within the gates so we were glad they did make the border crossing in one piece.
The mechanic could actually fix our tires and put some more air in them. It was a great experience as the entire street came to watch and help translate and give advice. So with Boris all bent out and our tires fixed we are ready for the next county. But as we will not be crossing until tomorrow we want to find some food. One of the locals tells us where this is possible and drives in front of us to show the way. We find a phone shop where Tom gets his screen fixed and the owner gives us all the password for his wifi! We are online - although Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, What's App and numerous other programs are blocked. We also cannot download anything and all our movements might also be monitored by the government we were warned. After Sas has a chat with her boyfriend on Skype (which wasn't blocked) we sit down for a meal.
Paying for the meal was quite an experience. The waitress had said 250 Manat, the equivalent of 70$ which did not seem right. A full tank of petrol cost around 50 Manat. Then after some discussion in bad Russian and worse English, the guy from the phone shop came over and said that it was OLD Manat. NEW Manat was divided by 5, obviously! This was more confusing than the Toman they use in Iran.. The guy then goes on to offer us a place to stay for the night at his grandmothers house. He introduces himself as Freddy. After we arrived we got a room 4 meters by 10 meters. And they are laying down beds for us. While the cars get to stay in the garage (and off the road) we try to help them prepare our room but they refuse to let us. This is nice! There are about 15 people wandering in and out admiring us and the cars. The grandmother is delighted and makes us food. We may use the shower and toilet, which is a good thing as all the guys are having issues with their stomachs.
We are now walking around town with the uncle of Freddy. After we bought something to drink we end up chilling outside a local restaurant. So we're now here drinking beer and vodka with the owner of the restaurant. The brother wants a smoke, so Chris handed him one. Just so you know, smoking is illegal in Turkmenistan. So Alex and Chris now feel like 16 year olds again. Smoking secretly. We get ice cream we did not ask for and more food we did not order. After some beers and shots we head back home.
We get invited next door, there is a party for a young woman who has gotten married that day. Tradition has it that a girl is married at a young age, 16 or 17 and after the wedding she goes home with all the females for her last night sleep alone. The next day she moves in with the boy. So we are now standing between the bride and al the bridesmaids. Not sure how this happened but they put on some music and want us to dance with them! After a while Freddy comes and takes us back to his grandmothers house next door. There is more food and tea when we get to our room. Feeling overwhelmed with gratefulness for this family we go to bed. Oh and just a note, the grandmother is famous and a celebrity; apart from the fact she is 88 years old (people don't get old here) she is the first Turkmeni woman who has walked the pilgrimage to Mekka! This one we can tick off our bucket list!
after waking up, the family washed Boris and we are ready to get on the road again. It's Saskia's birthday today but it was quite difficult to explain this in Russian and when we finally did they smiled showing their teeth. And that was that. Tom wanted to charge his phone in the car, but the charger seemed to have melted! Luckily he brought a spare. Freddy offers we get a new one in his shop, but no worries; one will be enough. A slight detour past a bazar for supplies and a dress for Saskia and we are off to Uzbekistan !
After hitting a pothole we smell burning rubber again. F*ck no! After stopping and checking the bodywork Tom did on Boris yesterday we concluded that now the other side of Boris cracked. The right rear... So we jacked it up, took the tire off and smashed the Sh*t out of it again. All done and back on the road to the border.