We 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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.