After a long clubbing night I was still very much sleepy this morning. The first big smile I was running into was the one of the Turkmenistan president whose picture was decorating the wall of the lobby in the hotel, so my day was made. It’s actually quite hard to walk more than 20 meters in a public building without seeing the smile of the president so popular are pictures of him.
After breakfast my body was still in sleeping mode so I decided to use the free morning in Ashgabat to go for a run around the city’s station which was very close to our hotel. I quickly changed into some comfortable clothes, grabbed my iPod and went running for an hour. It was very hot and sunny so it didn’t take long until I started to sweat. Back in the hotel I showered and since the run made me even more tired than awake I went back to bed and slept until lunch time.
In the hotel I was also running into Kurt, one of the new people who joined our trip yesterday. He’s an American citizen and since the US embassy is situated on the fourth floor of our hotel he went there to have a look around. They even invited him to use the internet access of the embassy since the one in our hotel wasn’t working. Kurt offered me to introduce me as friend of the United Nations and so I might be able to use the internet as well. Since there wasn’t much time left until our departure and I had no desperate need to use the internet, I didn’t made use of his offer.
We all met in the lobby of our hotel at 1pm. Our leader Jason did actually manage to hire five jeeps for the cost of 150 USD per jeep and day as well as ten tents so we were able to continue our travel through Turkmenistan. Some people, including my roommate Isabella, had volunteered to go shopping this morning since we will be camping during the next two nights and therefore need to prepare our own food.
Each jeep had one Turkmen driver and so we just needed to take place in one of the vehicles and enjoy the ride. We headed east in the direction of the Karakum Desert and the border to Uzbekistan. The desert is pretty large and covers 70 percent of the country. Therefore, Turkmenistan isn’t a popular spot for tourists since despite from sand, bad roads and small villages there isn’t much to see in this country.
I chose to sit in the jeep right next to Kurt I’ve got to know closer this morning. He’s an accounting professor from the US and even when accounting isn’t my favorite, Kurt is a very nice guy and its fun talking to him. We even discovered a few similarities such as Kurt knowing my accounting professor from Fuqua and we both are members of BGS.
After driving for a couple of hours we stopped at a shop in a small village. The people there were very shy and not used to foreigners being around them so it was hard to start a conversation with them. Especially the women were beautiful and dressed in colorful clothes. The schoolgirls had a very special uniform consisting of a long green dress, a white apron and a small colorful hat.
During our travel through the Karakum Desert we also stopped at three gas craters. They are remains from the Soviet time when geologists where drilling for gas reserves. While the first crater we saw was just a massive hole in the ground the second one had some burning gas and bubbling mud at its ground. The highlight was the third crater we visited near Darvaza. Here geologists hit a cavern filled with natural gas. In order to avoid the gas to discharge the idea was to burn it off in a couple of days. This was already in 1971 but the crater is still burning today. It has about the size of a football field and you can come very close to feel the heat and smell the gas. Seeing this massive burning crater made me aware of me sleeping on a kind of massive gas bottle tonight.
We set up our camp approx. 200-300m away from the burning crater. Since there wasn’t enough space in the tents to have boys and girls separated, Jason proposed I’m sharing a tent with our local Turkmen guide Batsy since he saw me kissing him last night. I wasn’t keen on him why I decided to better sleep outside in the sand which I enjoy anyhow when being in a desert. There were only a few bugs crawling in the sand but probably they will not be walking over my face and I will be fine. At least there is no rain in the desert.
Preparing dinner was a kind of adventure too since we didn’t have any cooking equipment and therefore needed to use our pocket knives and cook over the open camp fire. Isabella did a fantastic job in guiding the people cooking and so we had some very delicious Shashlik consisting of meat and vegetables.
At nighttime the burning crater really appeared like the gate to hell. Kurt and I went down to have a closer look at it. The both of us stood with open eyes and mouth at the rim and enjoyed the natural spectacle.