Ashgabat City Tour and Party Night in the Hotel
After a delicious breakfast in the hotel we met at 10am to get introduced to the new people joining us on the next leg of the trip which is from Ashgabat to Tashkent. While all seven travelers, who have been on the trip from Istanbul to Ashgabat, will continue to Tashkent we will be joined by 12 new people bringing the total number to 19 travelers plus one leader and one local guide. The key reason while this leg is so crowded is because it has only a length of two weeks which also attracts people on a normal 2-3 week vacation and not just long-term travelers like us. There are also only two nights camping and Uzbekistan, where we will spend the most time on this trip, is the heart of the Silk Road with many historic sights to see.
At the group meeting our leader Jason briefly explained the situation of the truck to us. Basically after the truck got fixed, Sam drove only 10km before it broke down again. He and our local Iranian guide Mehdi needed to spend the night in the truck next to the road. Currently the truck is towed to Mashhad, the second largest city in Iran and the closest city to where our truck broke down. Towing the truck to Mashhad will take approx. two days. Sam is hoping to get the necessary spare parts there in order to repair the truck. The issue is not just a problem with one of the cylinders as we thought initially but a crack in the head of the engine. Fixing it will cost a few thousand dollars, at least one week time and is only possible in either Mashhad or Tehran. Sam will also need to extend his visa and find a translator in Mashhad since our local Iranian guide needed to leave him yesterday since he has new customers to take care of. Our leader Jason is already working on a contingency plan. His aim is to not interrupt the trip and he tries to hire jeeps and camping equipment so we can continue our journey through Turkmenistan.
After the group meeting, we went on a city tour with our local Turkmen guide Batsy. The weather was very hot and sunny and I was glad to exchange the fully covered Muslim outfit, I was wearing during the last two weeks, against a mini dress. Ashgabat has only 900,000 inhabitants and therefore it’s quite easy to get around. The city’s main attraction is supposed to be the Sunday market and so we went there to have a look at it. The market is really large and you can spend hours walking around. It’s said to be the largest market in all of Central Asia. The market consists of many buildings, each dedicated to a specific range of products such as fabrics, furniture or carpets. Here people bought different things: Alistair and Andrew bought a big red plastic sheep for Chris named Chelsea since Chris loves football but not this particular club, Lauren bought a pair of roller-skates which she will probably not be able to use much on this trip and I bought a silly hat as a birthday present for our driver Sam. The market also contains a special livestock section where all kinds of animals are traded, including cattle, pigs, chickens, sheep, goats, horses and camels.
After walking around for 1.5 hours at the large Sunday market we continued to another market called the Russian market where we spent the same amount of time. The Russian market was primarily dedicated to food products and I used the chance to purchase a watermelon which is one of my favorite fruits. I also bought a German / Russian phrasebook to be able to have some basic conversations with the locals. Since I grew up in Eastern Germany I actually had to study Russian for eight years but I can’t remember much since I never had the opportunity to speak the language. At least I’m still able to read Cyrillic script and remember a few words including “сельскохозяйственный производственный кооператив” which means “agricultural production cooperative” or so.
At the way back to the hotel we stopped at a couple of sights. There is actually not much left from the imperial Russian city of the past since nearly all buildings were destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1948. Today the center of Ashgabat appears very futuristic, modern but also sterile. Most buildings and monuments shine in white and golden color. Even the benches and lanterns in the park have golden color attached to them. It feels very weird to see the entire splendor concentrated here in the capital for representation purposes only while the remaining country hasn’t even proper roads.
Although we are staying in a four star hotel the internet isn’t working. My roommate Isabella and Jason even went to a five star hotel to use their internet but same story there. The internet café around the corner of our hotel is closed on weekends. Isabella and Jason even drove to a shopping mall with an open internet café but were also not able to use their services. The reason is they wanted to see their passports in order to allow them using the internet. The problem was we needed to hand in our passport and two passport photos in order to get registered in the country and therefore had no access to our passports, so no internet access for us in Turkmenistan.
The country also has a set of other rules which appear kind of weird. For instance smoking isn’t allowed on the street which I don’t care much since I don’t smoke. For some strange reason you are also not allowed to be out on the streets after 11pm otherwise you need to pay a penalty. Exceptions are only made for people who need to work during night time and can prove it. Therefore, nightclubs are located in hotels so people who go out clubbing can sleep there. It also happened yesterday that all nightclubs were not allowed to open since some foreign delegation was in the country.
Since the nightclub was closed yesterday, we needed to go out tonight. We started our nightlife excursion in the same beer garden we have been yesterday. There I had some chicken for dinner which very much tasted like minced lamb. It was also time to bring my bet with Jason to an end (see post of May 4). Back then he said: “I bet you I have your name tattooed on my ass” and now it was time he’s dropping his pants to prove it. Actually he was right since I couldn’t read “Katja” on his ass but “Your name” so the first round of drinks was on me. After we had a couple of vodkas we changed the location to the nightclub of our hotel. There my fellow traveler Lauren, who’s beginning of twenty, was rocking the dance floor in a flashy techno outfit and moves. She has lots of energy and probably spent all night dancing.
In the meanwhile I enjoyed a conversation with our local guide Batsy and somehow ended up kissing him. There were also a number of hookers around trying to make some business with Western tourists. They charge 150 USD per job but at least I could enjoy a free dance with them.