Monthly Archives: June 2014

Uzbekistan

DSC02757You need to be careful what you wish for. After cycling through the mountains of Greece, Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan we were looking forward to some flat roads in Uzbekistan. Our wish was granted we had flat roads which would take us to Tashkent but we also had strong headwinds and temperatures in the low 40s. I think we will have to be more specific with our wishes in future!

The ride into Bukhara should have been easy but not against a 30km head wind which blew sand in our faces and when we found shelter for something to eat blew our bikes over and covered our food in sand.

DSC02769The roads were better than those in Turkmenistan and for the first time since Albania we were seeing people using bikes to get around.  The cars were nearly all small Daewoo/Chryslers because there is an assembly plant for them in Uzbekistan, plus the usual  contingent of Ladas. The driving was pretty good and even on some narrow stetches we always felt safe.

Pip with some friendly Uzbek ladies.

Pip with some friendly Uzbek ladies.

The people were really friendly as well. Whenever we stopped people would come up to us to talk, asking where we were from and how old we were. Fellow cyclists would share our complaints about the wind. There were stretches of desert but also arable land and some trees.

300,000 som= $100

300,000 som= $100

DSC02807The Middle East was certainly different. We were having to keep drinking and drinking because of the heat.  Along the roads women were selling fresh apricots and cherries which were delicious. The cities were fabulous with amazing buildings in Bukhara and Samarkand. The women were wearing bright colours and the sun was very hot. There was a big difference between the official and black market exchange rates. On the black market you could get 3,000 Som to the dollar. Money changers were easy to find but you needed to take a shopping bag with you to carry the notes back.

The old town in Bukhara was spectacular and whilst we were there the annual silk and spice festival was on. There was music and dancing everywhere. Despite the heat the bazaars remained cool.  The old town used to be covered in bazaars with numerous medrassas and mosques. A few of the bazaars remained and the medrassas had been restored. The medrassas were schools with rooms opening out onto a large central courtyard usually with an integrated mosque. Most dated from the 16th and 17th century.

Unfortunately Pip picked up a stomach bug in Bukhara which made cycling a bit difficult. We made an early start to beat the heat and made the 105km to Navoi but Pip was wiped out. We found a hotel in Navoi and I searched for a taxi to take us on to Samarkand the next day. The journey was a bit of a nightmare with the taxi driver spending all the time on his phone and narrowly avoiding crashing a few times.

Samarkand was a lot bigger city with a far less defined old town. The Medrassas were spectacular as were the Mausoleums. It had a very different feel to it though, it felt like a modern city with polished tourist attractions.

Chorsu bazaar Tashkent

Chorsu bazaar Tashkent

We needed to get visas for Kazahkstan in Tashkent and were disappointed that these would take over a week to process. Tashkent itself is a big city spread over a large area with no real centre. It had been raised to the ground by an earthquake in 1966. It had been rebuilt as a modern Russian city with wide roads, big monuments plenty of big parks and thousands of apartment buildings. It had a good metro with grand stations which were all Russian built. It was quite easy to cycle around despite the heat but too big to walk anywhere.

We had been on the road now for a year and hadn’t seen some of our family for nearly 2 years. There were problems on the road ahead through Kyrgystan to China. Whilst waiting for our visa to come through we decided to take a few weeks break and fly home and catch up with our family.

 

 

Turkmenistan in 28hrs!

DSC02735We always knew that getting through Turkmenistan would be problematic. Firstly you can only get a 5 day transit visa, then you have to specify the dates, then you have to catch a boat with no schedule from Baku in Azebaijan to Turkmenabashi. Then there is the 1300km journey to Turkmenabaht and the border with Uzbekistan.

We had read that when you finally catch a ferry you can be held up as there are only 2 berths for docking in Turkmenabashi. The record for the wait seemed to be 72hrs.

We finally got tickets for a boat leaving the same day as our visa started. We were told that the boat was leaving in half an hour so we made a mad dash back to the hotel and the 8km to the new port. No one there had a clue what was going on, after about an hour of getting increasingly frustrated trying to find out what was happening we were told that the boat was leaving from the old port. We flew back to where we started and after going through customs got on the boat at midday.

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Bikes safely stowed

Bikes safely stowed

Clean cabins

Clean cabins

It was a bit of a rust bucket but better than we expected. We were given a 4 berth cabin with clean sheets and there were clean toilets and even showers. Things were looking up. We sailed at 13.30 and after a very calm crossing arrived off the coast of Turkmenistan the following morning where we anchored. This was day 2 of our Turkmen visa. Nothing else happened that day. We met Mike and Valerie on the boat with their little dog Layla who were also heading to Uzkekistan but on an ex army Daf/Leyland converted camper van. http://valerieratcliffe04.wordpress.com/

Azerbaijany oil rigs

Azerbaijany oil rigs

Another sunrise on the Cspian sea

Another sunrise on the Caspian sea

Day 3 of our Turkmen visa, no movememt another hot sunny calm day. We heard rumours that the captain was ill and that was why we were delayed and that they were sending out another captain.

relaxing on board

relaxing on board

Day 4 of our Turkmen visa and we were woken at 6 by the boat raising anchors and heading for port. We figured that we should be on land in a few hours giving us 2 days to get across Turkmenistan. We had planned on using trains but they were very slow so it was looking more like a taxi journey. We chatted to a couple of Georgians who were driving a couple of cars to Ashgabat. They told us that for $100 we should be able to get a taxi to Ashgabat which would take 6-7hrs. Nothing much happened in the morning after we docked until at about 11 we were let off the boat to go through customs.

Turkmenabashi at last.

Turkmenabashi at last.

This consisted of filling out a form which was in Turkmen declaring why we were coming to Turkmenistan and what we were bringing with us. We had to pay $12 each to get into the country. The customs were only interested in what medicines we were carrying particularly any codeine or tramadol.Fortunately Mike had warned us before and we had flushed any offending drugs. The customs offiers were generally friendly and spoke a little English.

At 13.30 we left the port and cycled off to find a taxi. After asking around we found the taxis, and we negotiated our journey. We stuck out for $100 and squeezed all our bags and 2 bikes into a Toyota people carrier and headed off to Ashgabat. The road started off nice and smooth and then deteriorated. At one stage it got so bad that our driver took a detour across the desert which turned out to be a lot smoother until we started hitting loose sand. The last thing we needed was to get stuck in a Turkmen desert. After a stop to clean all the sand off his car we made it into Ashgabat at 20.30. We dumped all our stuff in a hotel and went out looking for food.
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Ashgabat was very clean with treelined boulevards and lots of white shiny buildings. There were giant potraits of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow the President of Turkmenistan on some of the buildings.
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Ashgabat at night

Ashgabat at night

Day 5 we needed another taxi to get us the 700km to the Uzbek border. We got up early and went in search of a taxi. Unfortunately there were diversions so we had problems finding one. Eventually we found another Toyota people carrier and headed off. We spent the journey wishing that the driver wouldn’t drive quite so fast over some truly dreadful surfaces, only slowing down for the numerous traffic police who usually positioned themselves on the smoother roads.

We had been told that the border crossing sometimes closes as early as 6, but fortunately we were dropped off at 5. We stuck the bikes back together fast and cycled up to the border. There were huge queues of lorries waiting but we passed all these and after filling out an identical customs form again only in Turkmen we had our passport stamped rapidly, as the customs officials wanted to go home. Goodbye Turkmenistan.

More form filling at the Uzbek border. The border post was home to swallows who were swooping in and out of the building as our belongings were x-rayed and we were processed. They were busy feeding nests full of hungry youngsters.Once again the customs officers were only interested in any medicines we were carrying. We had to declare all the money we had as you are not allowed to leave the country with more than you have brought in. The guards were friendly and were interested in our trip and where we were going.

It was 8.00pm by the time we hit the road and had about half an hour to ride before stopping and spending our first night camping in the desert.

Costs
2 transit visas $170
2 berths on “ferry” $180
entry to Turkmenistan $24
taxi to Ashgabat $100
taxi to the border Farap border crossing $130
total $604 or $21 dollars an hour to stay in Turkmenistan!!!

Turkmenistan looks to be a relatively wealthy country. Most of the houses looked in good condition. Most of the cars on the roads were more expensive Toyotas. The roads are appalling but they do seem to be building new ones but it looks a slow process. The few people we met were friendly, it’s a shame we had to rush through it, because of their ridiculous transit visa system.