"Flying" to Uzbekistan
Not only did I want to stay in Georgia, but Georgia didn't want to let go off me either! When I showed up on the boarder to Azerbaidshan the Georgians demanded some obscure blue paper I didnt have and sent me back to the customs terminal in Tbilisi where I got the extension for the bike.
So after another last night with the Nina, Julia, Sascha and Soika, the next morning saw me off to the much disliked fortress of bureaucratic madness on the outskirts just on the wrong side of town. I spend there again four precious hours, this time not smiling as much because in the back of my mind was the 5 day transit visa for Turkmenistan with the fixed starting day on the 3rd of August. Today was already the second and between me and Turkmenistan still lay the blue paper, two corrupt boarder crossings, 600km bad road and a hardly predictable ferry across the caspian sea.
After good progress in the morning I got stuck in one particular room, where Nina and I had spent a few hot and emotional hours - of the unpleasant type!!! - about 10 days ago. After patiently waiting for a looong time I finally demanded that something happens and learned that nothing will right now, because their server crashed. Grrrrrrrrr! After half hour the server was still dead. The same after one hour. One guy gave up and said he comes back the next day. To make my impatience bearable I went in the canteen and got some lunch (which doesnt compare to any of the food I had in Georgia) but that worked wonder! I soon had my blue paper - and about 10 more pages of dubious other forms in georgian transcript. I kept them for now, only needed the blue one at the boarder but later found a perfect alternative function for the rest - tuwalietnaja bomaga! Gaadschui Miss customs!
So at 1:30pm I came out of the hell of GIT Terminal, jumped on the bike and went straight to the boarder. Leave Gergia, no problem. Enter Azerbaidshan, more so: an officer wants 10 Euro bahsheesh, I gave him 5$ (he did use his mobile to get somebody speaking german to help), used all my by now increased boarder crossing skills and the diverse bits in turkish language that I have gathered (Azerish is very similar to turkish). So I managed to get over the boarder in under 2hours. A pretty good time considering other people I met spent there 5 hours and about 40Euro)
The rest of the day I spent riding down very bumpy roads, waving to the most motorcycle enthusiastic people I've seen so far. Almost all kids, boys and men thought I was a hilarious sight and smiled and laughed and waved at me. I stopped only two times, and thus managed to cover half the country until sunset. Once for eating a melon, with dozens of people surrounding me and the bike like in Syria, and the other time for talking to a cop and my way out of buying him wodka...
Somewhere after passing the Kura river I went sideways into the fields, put my tent up because of the moscitos, and fell asleep just in my undies, no blankets or nothin. Only in the morning I woke up because it was a little cholodno, pulled the bike jacket over me and fine. Man, I'm such a tough bugger by now :-).
Entering Baku, Caspian Sea in the distance
Sunrise, pack the crap and hit the road again. Unfortunately it, the road, deteriorated into a mud piste very soon, because of road construction and a truck sprinkling the sandy piste with water, so it doesnt become so dusty. Still I managed to be at the port in Baku before 12, with no idea when the ferry leaves. I found out quick though because a bunch of western looking guys cross my way. Apparently until 2pm the ticket booth is closed, afterwards things may get moving. The guys it turns out are from the Mongolia Rally who are driving cars smaller 1000cc to Mongolia for a charity project. I happen to be with a bunch of them on the boat, of course some germans were also involved, however they do their own thing called www.Mogelrally.com.
My favorite Mongolia Racer: A Trabbi! (but with 4stroke engine)
In the meanwhile I send a message to Rachman, a friend of Julia from Tbilisi and meet with him for lunch. He's lucky enough to work in the local Devon branch (Baku means oil, oil, oil!). He drives a pretty new SUV, in Baku I also see lots of other nice cars, but also many beat up old Lada's and the like. The gap between have and not have seems to me pretty wide in Azerbaidshan. I try to find out some more info from him, but he's not very talkative. Very nice, though, comes with me for the last shopping and then stays for about 3 hours until we're through with the ticket buying process. Seems he has a pretty laid back job at Devon...
He also helped out some of the british Mongoliaracers, who had some problem with the hefty price of the ferry (it was about 150$ for me and bike) and thus got into an argument with the guy at the ticket office who was definitely not impressed. (At one point he just left for 40min). Anyway, by the time the sun set all cars, bikes and travellers were loaded on the ship and we departed Baku. The sea was clear, no seasickness anticipated, so the bottle of vodka I had bought made the round and some interesting stories too.
Rachman, helping out as translator
The ideas of Mongolia Rally or Allgaeu-Orient Rally sound like pretty cool things to do, but it definitely means not stretching the budget over as long of a period as possible. Still, the challenge to drive a Nissan Micra or the like, that has cost 200Euro, across half of the world and have the good conscience of it being for charity might be the right thing for you (the organizations usually help with visas and such), so see if you want to join the mania next year...
At some point not too late in the night I was ready to go to my little cabin and sleep. I woke up a lot, because it was so damn hot - my cabin had a window, but the hot air was going out of the ship instead of cold one coming in. So I woke up at sunrise, was fascinated to be on a ship on the sea and got on deck and read a book. The cook in the meanwhile was doing his 5 mile run around me, up and down the ship. After two hours I could make out land at the horizon, soon we were close enough to see the desert landscape and the town of Turkmenbashi, that the great leader of Turkmenistan (who died last year) just named after himself. But for now, we just anchored in the harbour.
Sunrise on the caspian sea
So I read, and slept, and read, ate a little, read and slept again until all of a sudden it was nightfall. I had heard of ferries taking 3 days sometimes, which to me was unclear how, since the passage could not take much longer than 12 hours. I talked to some apprentices on the ship and apperently they closed the harbour due to high wind. Hmmm, there was a good breaze that day, but nothing that would bother a ship I would think. Who knows, I could not change it anyway. I also found out the wage of the people on the ship. For the apprentices it was 11$ per run, for proper sailors 30$!!! And, apart from the people working directly for american oil companies, they probably had a decent income for Azerbaidshan.
Turkmenbashi, Port and desert rocks
Fortunately the wind died down the next day and we pulled into the harbour early morning. On the ship all the passengers underwent a health check (a quick look and some forms filled out by a "doctor") and apparently I was in best condition. That changed in the next hours. First I thought it's just the missing breakfast and no water during the waiting for the boarder process, but when I was finished (120$ for now 3 days TM) and ready to leave Turkmenbashi around 1pm I couldn't because some fever was kicking in. God knows where this came from again, but I had to deal with it. For a while I was contemplating sleeping on the bench at the boarder, but no, that way I would never cross Turkmenistan. And the facts were that from the 5 day visa I had only two and a half left to cover some 1200km in the hottest of the central asian countries. So I tried and verified a new healing method for spontaneous, diarrhoea accompanied fevers. It's very easy, just follow these steps:
1. go to a central asian desert in the middle of the summer
2. drive your bike until you drop of exhaustion (hopefully in a shady spot)
3. drink water, take a shit, sleep 10 min and repeat 2.
Ideal rest stop
Believe me, it works. In the beginning the intervalls were at 50-75km. But by the middle of the next day they were ever increasing to 100, in the end 150 km. Getting up at the 3rd (and last) day in Turkmenistan I felt a little dizzy because of having eaten almost nothing for 2 days, but the fever was almost gone and the appetite slowly came back. This way I successfully managed to cover alle the way to the boarder to Turkmenistan on the evening of the 7th of August, the exit date on my visa. Only to discover that the boarder was closed already - Jandaba! is the georgian word for what I thought. I'm sure you can figure out the meaning... Turkmenistan is really not the place to bust your visa! As some of the Mongoliaracer were told in very sincere words by the british embassy: "If you overstay your visa, your belongings are confiscated, you are put in jail and afterwards deported home!"
Revolving Turkmenbashi statue in Ashgabat
The problem why I was late was actually the hospitality of the Turkmen people. As it happenend I couldn't avoid to stop being invited for some tea at the town of Bajram-Ali (which is very close to the ancient city and great historical site of Merv), but the big mama of the house soon tried to sell me their suppossedly 2000 year old coins of gold, silver and copper, which they found while digging around in the area. I don't know anything about this kind of thing, but the coins looked pretty fucking real. There were forms and figures on them, that they can't just make up themselves - unfortunately I didn't take pictures. Anyway, one should never buy these things to not encourage the people. So I used boarder problems as excuse and wanted to go, but no I had to stay for the food they had extra prepared - kuschai, kuschai - eat, eat! It was paprika filled with rice, very yummie, aubergines and mixed salad with very tasty herbs. First I was reluctant, but then, my body needed some food and it was tasty. So I dont care if my body drops it in an hour - which it fortunately didnt. It took two hours :) Things were definitely improving.
Fatal delay at Bajram-Ali
Where from? Where to?
I did actually know that the boarder would close at some point, but as you can imagine all the ride through Turkmenistan I was a bit lightheaded - by the way, did I mention that the first night I was taken into quasi custody by the local police natchalnik of the small town of Gumdag? That came like this:
It was almost dark and I was at the end of one of the 'drop of exhaustion' states of my treatment, when I asked a guy on a russian Isch-motorcycle if he knows a gostinitsa. He didnt, but invited me home and it didnt take me long to agree to that. Well, on the way to his house over the sandy village-roads, a big, dark BMW overtakes us with high speed and makes us stop. Then arguments in Turkmen are flying and I gather it's the police (although later they only drive a fucked up Lada) and apparently they are pretty mad about a local taking a foreigner home. Turkmenistan is said to be still locked in Soviet times, where western tourists were not really allowed to have contact with the people and had to stay and register in government owned hotels. Now that may have eased up even in Turkmenistan, but that might not have trickled down to this police-guy. Anyway, I have to show my passport and then have to follow the police car, leaving the other guy behind. I really hope he gets no further problems, you never know with these shitty regimes.
At the time I didn't care for anything except a bed though. My head hurt and I could hardly get of the bike without dropping it. So at the police station (where he changed into his police-Lada and the BMW+non-police driver were left behind) he decided that I'm his "gost" tonight. To be a guest means actually being able to leave when you want, but I think I didnt have that option. Another officer followed every one of my steps, but wouldnt really answer to whatever I said. I didnt care at all though, because for me this situation meant a bed, and more important a toilet + supply of toilet paper, because I had already run out of the georgian customs forms. The night was then a memorable one. The fat officer slept and snorred with me in one room, positioning himself strategically in front of the door. My fever-dreams were interrupted by quick escapes to the dunny, including banging the officer every time to make sure he doesnt think I try to run away. Early morning, as I demanded, we left together and they escorted me about 20km out of town - probably to make sure I wouldnt get lost on the one and only main road through Turkmenistan...
Make thing from nothing, selfmade-boys with their enterprise
Don't be such a camel! Roadkill in the Karakum Desert
Now, back to the point. I was still in Turkmenistan, how to get out a day late without paying money or more severe consequences? I would like to say Hummus, but it was actually vodka!
Just before the boarder there were a few little shacks selling snacks, water, cay and even warm meals. The turkish truckers were hanging out here, and, as I found out, also the chief-customs-officer was currently having his dinner here with part of his crew. After locating the right place, I walked in with the best muslim-russian Salem, kak djela? greeting I could come up with and found myself welcomed by the, surprise, surprise, english speaking officer. Immediately now came the vodka, not that I brought it, I only had to drink it. They gave me a 200ml glas full, which I portioned carefully. I said a toast to Turkmenistan, the hospitable Turkmens, and how sad I'm to leave after such a short time, leading slowly to my case of being late due to nice people holding me up.
In addition to the vodka I was also fed, with probably the best lamb I've ever had. On a little boarder shack somewhere in desert-stan. Even though before I denied all the meat I was offered, I felt so good and strong (and hungry) again, that now I thought I won't have a problem with this heavy food and alcohol. And I didn't. I talked for about 15min with the officer in English, who really was quite nice, and probably proud of being able to show off his english skills to the rest. He said he would try and make todays stamp in my passport, so when I cross the next day there wouldn't be a problem. I didn't see my passport until the next morning, but it happened exactly like he said and this was really one of the fastest boarder crossings in a long time.
Moneychanger on the Turkmen-Uzbek boarder. Even the biggest bills here are worth less than a dollar
Now, I'm actually in UZBEKISTAN! It was still morning, about 10, and since I was the first through the boarder for a while I was almost the only vehicle on the street (still in the desert). I could relax now, since I have a 30 day visa here and about 5-6 weeks for this and the next country before moving on to China. I will do some recovering, write my stories and take things easy... a song came to my head that I associate with a very happy and content experience I had on a day maybe 5 or 6 years ago, after leaving camp at 6 in the morning and riding the wonderful roads through the morning fog of the Schwarzwald region in Germany. Pure freedom!
Fahr gerade ueber Land es wir grade mal hell,
spure Freiheit in mir, denk das ging aber schnell,
bleibe besser in mir, denn es gibt kein "Zurueck"
Und alles was ich brauch ist mein Mopped und Glueck.
Ich packe meine Sachen und bin raus mein Kind,
Andi N. ist auf der Reise und hat Rueckenwind.
Ich sag es euch auf diese Weise, alle die am suchen sind,
Sind mit mir auf der Reise, haben Rueckenwind.
Und wir fahrn auch ueber Wasser wenn da Bruecken sind,
Ey, der Typ hat ne Meise aber Ruckenwind.
Wir betreten neue Wege die wir noch nicht hatten,
Und ich nehm euch mit 'n Stueck in meinem Windschatten...
Posted by Andreas Naumann at August 09, 2007 01:50 PM GMT