June 25, 2009 GMT

Into the Stans! After the very long, tedious and expensive procedure of getting into Turkmenistan we slept the night in a strangely big hotel which had no water between 1pm and 6am for some reason, then set off with our guide towards the capital Ashgabat. Turkmenistan is very hot and very deserty.

This lunch stop is prime suspect for the upset stomachs that Al and I have had since, the lamb soup and russian style dumplings were good at the time though.

Nowhere was been as Muslim influenced as Turkey, but there are still some impressive mosques about.

Arriving in Ashgabat is extrordinary. The road suddenly turns into a pristine 8 lane highway and you whoosh towards a glittering white city of huge white immaculate buildings. The architecture could be Las Vegas but without the neon. It looks amazing in the setting sun. You also pass by the worlds highest flagpole, so the locals are fond of telling you! The whole place is the brain child of the Turkmenbashi, and he must've like big buildings like this.

We set off from Ashgabat north into full on sand dune desert and 40+ heat. It was very very very hard going. Camel as a family pet anyone?

We were heading for the famous burning gas crater where russian gas prospecting created a big crater which ignited and has been burning ever since. The last 7km to the crater is on sand. There was no way we could make it on the bikes with our road tyres (and lack of talent). So we left them at a checkpoint and carried on in the toyota 4X4. Even the 4X4's with their experienced drivers get stuck.

The burning gas crater is spectacular at night.

The insects in Turkmenistan are huge and plentiful, especially the grasshoppers. And they will land right on you with a thump.

That night Al was very ill and the next day too weak to ride the bike. We managed to get a local to ride his bike to up near the border with Uzbekistan, about 150 miles (for a price!). Al rode in the 4X4. Another highlight of this hard day was me having a scorpion crawl up my trouser leg and sting the back of my knee. Being a super tough overlanding biker type, I shrugged this minor inconvenience off after rubbing the sting with petrol. I did get a few funny looks dropping my bike trousers in public, but needs must. Drinking vodka is apparently the approved cure in these parts, I'm not convinced.

Posted by David Newman at June 25, 2009 03:41 PM GMT

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