Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First day 21/09/07
We started our day with a 1.5 hours wait at the Turkmenistan border (7:00 in the morning).
Two hours later we were fighting Ramis' front gear cable for an hour and a half. It tore and got stuck inside the shifter. There was more to come...
We reached Turkmenbashi, looking for a place to sleep. A friendly local invited us to sleep in the kinder garden, where he was a night-guard.
We left our stuff there and were taken by a neighbor family to eat. The teenage daughter spoke a bit of English, giving us a first taste of the bitterness of the locals.
On our way back, the main road was closed, due to an accident - a car flipped over. So we detoured through a dark street. 100m in front of us we saw a man trying, unsuccessfully, to cross the street. It was not the fault of the coming car, but it didn't matter. Everybody stopped, ran to help, and we turned 2 minutes later; he was dead.
Before returning to the kinder garden, we stopped at their house, and had a nice and interesting evening. The father communicated with us very well (in Russian) and told us about the social problems of the country: no work, no money.
We returned to the kinder garden and prepared for sleep. A million mosquitoes recommended we sleep inside our 'inner' tent (the mosquito net). We didn't sleep much, but not due to the mosquitoes or the heat, but our drunken friend (the night guard) who called us all night long, wanting company. We shouted at him to let us sleep, but 20 minutes later... "Rami, talk to me!".
We woke up tiered and hungry, ready to attack the next day.

Beware - camels!

Rabies Part 1 22/09/07
We cycled into the desert. We were told there is only one 'something' in the next 90 km - a cafe.
We left early; nothing was open yet.
After ~45 km we saw a house, the cafe. Rami went to the kitchen, to see what's cooking. Gal went back, to look for the toilets. She didn't find them, but she found a giant dog running at here. She started running, not noticing she was running along the rope to which the dog was tied to. He caught here arm, but she managed to get away. Rami and the house owner heard the commotion and ran, to see Gal holding her arm and crying. After cleaning the wound with soap, we started preparing for the hitch for the 'big city', for vaccination. In the middle of our quick packing, the owner came and asked what do we want to eat.
We quickly hitched to Mary (2 trucks, 5 hours). Our plan was to take the 22:00 train (10 hours) to Ashgabat, the capital, for treatment, in this back going country.
At the train-station, a friendly-sleazy, English-speaking local offered his help. He helped us buy the tickets, without waiting in line (but over priced) and in the 2 hours we had, he dragged us to the local hospital for vaccination (he told us rabies is a big problem her, and added a 'my mind is freaking-out' head gesture). The hospital was from a 3'rd world, but Gal got here first of 5 shots. Then the doctor called Rami and explained that registering a tourist is problematic, better Rami will pay him. He asked for $30, an over-charged amount, in a country where renting an apartment for a whole year coasts $3. Rami said he has less than $10, so the doctor accepted. This was our first encounter with corruption in Turkmenistan.

Train to Ashgabat
Going back to the train station, we stopped to change $ to Manat. We finally got rid of the old $100 note that no one accepted. We owed Yash, our sleazy friend 10,000 Manat for the taxi ride, but he asked for 20,000. We explained him that 'friends' don't act like this and he was very embarrassed for asking for money, for his help. We found it strange, his deep embarrassment.
We got on the train to our cabin. We discovered we paid for 4 beds (of the cabin), but we had our privacy. Then, Yash, our sleazy friend, arrived, and naturally prepared for sleep on one of the bunks. We didn't mind buying him a $3 ticket, but we wanted privacy, so we politely kicked him out. He gave us a look of a poodle that got no supper, and left.
A bit later he jumped back in, announcing he found a bed for himself. We were thrilled. He didn't leave, but stayed and talked and stayed...
Then, the train workers, dressed up in serious uniforms, entered our room. They asked for our tickets and passports. Then they started nagging about us not having a 'stamp' of the Mary police station. We showed them we have a "transit visa", meaning we need no registration, and "get out!". The insisted for a few minutes, till one of them (20 years old) entered and closed the door behind him. Yash wanted to pay him, but we refused and just laughed at this kid, not understanding what this child was trying to do. We heard stories about bribes in Uzbekistan, though we had no problems, but this was ridiculous. We explained him we had no meaning to pay and he can call the police if he wants, and he finally left.
Later we had another argument with another kid, who insisted on us buying shits for the bunk beds. An English-speaking local explained to us that the worker had already paid for the sheets and if we don't pay him he will loose money. But we bought 4 tickets, so why did he ask money for only 2 sheets?!? The worker smiled sillily and left.

Ashgabat 23/09/07
We reached Ashgabat in the morning and quickly unloaded our stuff from the luggage compartment. It's amazing how easy it is to take the bicycles on a train. We were cycling around town, searching for a hotel. We had a map and an address of a guesthouse, but it still took us an hour, because there was no one to ask for directions. The only people around were stupid policemen, who didn't know the name of the street they were posted at for the last who knows how long, and the same goes to the street cleaners. Except for them, the streets were empty!
We finally reached the guesthouse recommended by our shitty guide-book (Lonely Planet). I was simple and expensive (typical for Central-Asia/Ex-Soviet), but the inner court-yard and Benedict (a nice French girl, whom we've met previously) made it a good place to rest, relax and do some laundry after the last tiring days.
After seeing poverty on the way, one walks in Ashgabat, seeing so many huge, tasteless, extravagant, expensive buildings and groomed parks. It is a distorted contrast, found only in wealthy dictatorships like Turkmenistan.
We went with Ben to the famous 'Sunday market' (it was Sunday, luckily); it was alive, dusty and dirty, as a big market should be, as apposed to the city.

The wealth, not going to the people.

Lunch at the market, with Ben.
1, 2, 3, Push!

The escape from Turkmenistan
It was time to leave both Turkmenistan and Central-Asia.
It's true, we've been only 4 days in Turkmenistan, with 6 more days on our amazing transit visa, but the combination of our bad luck, the chase after the Anti-Rabies vaccination and the terrible atmosphere of the worst country in Central-Asia (even the best country in Central-Asia was not our cup-of-tea) made us want to get the hell out of there!
This is exactly what we did. We caught the night train to Turkmenbashi.
We woke up at 07:00 and saw the sea!!!!!!! It was blue as far as the eye could see! For those of you who don't know us, we love the sea. Since Vietnam, where we've seen the sea for 2 days, 7 months ago, we haven't seen the sea. We woke up with a smile.
From the train-station we rode to a hotel. We were told we couldn’t get a room if we don't have a bank-recite showing we changed money. No one changes money at the bank in Turkmenistan! If we ignore the bureaucracy involved, the bank gives ~5,000 Manat per $1. The black market gives 24,000! Talking about a ridiculous country!
So we cycled to the port, not knowing what will happen there.
This is a good time to tell about our fear of the Turkmenbashi-Baku ferry. Since China we've been hearing and reading (in the Internet) horror stories about it; people waiting for days at the port, waiting for days on the ship, rats in the rooms and costs between $40-$100.
We reached the harbor, and a friendly local family (later we found out that they were waiting since last night) helped us, telling that the ferry will leave in about 3 hours.
Just enough time to jump to the hospital, get the Anti-Rabies vaccination #2.

The Caspian Sea.

Rabies part 2 25/09/07
The daughter of the waiting family took us under her custody and we took a taxi to the hospital. There she talked to a doctor and all we understood was "Nieto" - no have! She explained to us that Gal would need to be registered and hospitalized, just to get the shot, oh, and to pay $130.
We took a taxi back to the port and put our hopes in Baku.
2 hours later we were on the ship, leaving Central-Asia!!!