Sand dunes, camels and the odd bit of tumbleweed

(Emily) Tempting as it was to sit in the shade until the relative cool of the evening, we had to force ourselves to get away from Turkmenbashi; we had no chance of making in to Ashgabat (about 600km away) in the half day we had left, but every mile we could cover now meant less in the morning. Naomi and Michael were taking the train – there was no way they could cycle across the whole country in the five days permitted by the transit visa – so we said our goodbyes and reluctantly headed out into the sauna. It was about 2.30pm and without doubt, the hottest climate I’d even been in. Even James, who’s been to the outback in Australia and worked in Namibia, was shocked – it was about 54 degrees in the shade (er, what shade?!!) To make matters worse, within a few km we were well away from the sea and the city and on a lone road which stretched out ahead of us into the most desolate landscape. I have to say, I started out feeling quite uneasy; this would not be a great place to break down. Luckily, the road was actually pretty decent and, as we had a full tank of petrol and six litres of water, after a while I was able to relax into the riding and just tried to think about anything that would take my mind off how ridiculously hot it was. We stopped regularly to top up with water, enjoying the brief but blissful coolness of the wind on sweat when we first took off again. Seeing our first camels was an exciting moment and from then on we passed them regularly, often wandering right into the middle of the road. I was relieved that we were sharing the road with at least a few other drivers – my mind back on the worry of a breakdown – and there was much waving and tooting as people passed us. During one water stop, a car pulled in next to us and a couple got out to take a few photos of themselves with the bike before heading off again with a wave! Later on, a 4×4 stopped and the driver gave us his number in Ashgabat should we need anything – very kind!

At about half past seven in the evening we came upon a truck stop – literally a small shack/home where seven or eight lorries had pulled in – where there was a possibility of a cold drink (the water in the bottles strapped to the bikes was practically at boiling point!) and, once off the bikes, found that we had pretty much reached our limit for the day. The friendly proprietor happily gestured that it would be ok to pitch up on the sand behind his building and soon we had set up the tent between our two bikes and were ‘feasting’ on tuna and bread (left over from our ferry crossing rations). Darkness fell quickly and we were more than ready for an early night. It was still so warm there was no need for the fly sheet so we lay under the stars in our mesh inner shell (I still made sure it was tightly zipped up though having read about scorpions, snakes and even tarantulas in the Lonely Planet!!!) and drifted off in no time at all. It was a slight concern that there was a herd of camels about 100m away and James last words were, ‘Don’t worry, I’m sure they can see in the dark’! (James: I’m not going to lie, I had no idea, and my concerns were not helped when an almighty ruckass kicked off right by our tent in the middle of the night – I couldn’t see anything but the sound of heavy running, several dog’s frenzied barking, the braying of a donkey and a few camels making whatever sound camels make and all of them chasing each other round our tent didn’t ease my doubts. What a way to die! By some miracle, and I still don’t know how, Em slept through it. I decided against telling her until the morning…)

It was such a relief to set off while it was still a reasonable temperature the next morning – due to the desert landscape with nothing to absorb the heat, it had actually got quite cold in the night. We were almost half way to Ashgabat and reasoned that, given the good road condition, we should get there by midday. Ha. It didn’t take long before we were diverted off the main road and onto a gravel section in order to pass over a new bridge; a very bizarre set up – the bridge had perfect tarmac and even street lamps yet was over nothing but sand and was strangely misaligned with the main road. Oh well, very odd we thought. Then came the next one. And the next one. It was just the oddest thing, probably another strange vanity project on behalf of the crazy former leader (more on him later), and made progress frustratingly slow and we had to keep bringing the speed right down for the off-road diversions. There were so many of these stupid bridges, you wouldn’t believe it but, annoying as it was, thank goodness we weren’t doing it in the heat of the day. In the end, it was mid-afternoon before we came upon an ostentatious grand arch signalling the entrance to the city of Ashgabat. It might well have said, ‘Welcome to Crazy Town’….

4 Responses to “Sand dunes, camels and the odd bit of tumbleweed”

  1. Jess says:

    The ‘ruckass’ story – hilarious! I LOVE YOUR BLOG! Can’t wait to hear about Crazy Town. Stay safe pies xxxxxxxxxxxxxx

  2. Lorna Souch says:

    Hi guys, glad you are safe.Reading about those temperatures makes me very glad of the Devon drizzle today! Aah,so refreshing…wish I could bottle some up and send it to you.
    lots of love to you both, L,P, J and H xxxx

  3. mama/kate says:

    I am, as usual, totally gobsmacked by your narrative. UN-BE-LIEVE-ABLE !!! What on earth on you guys running on?! All this before you reached the relative ‘coolness’ and calm of Uzbekistan. 54 degrees in the shade? What on earth? Are you kidding? I’d be dead by now. And to think I’ve been fretting about lack of rain in our crazy English heatwave!

  4. M&M says:

    Good job you paid the bridge tax!

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