6685 kms traveled so far.
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After a late night getting back from Gates of Hell, slept in this morning, got lost on the way to Nisa (thanks to some cheerful locals who misdirected us) to see the ruins of a Silk Route town. From there, we set off to Merw – an older town, closer to more history and ruins, and part way to the Turkmanabat border.
Before we left, we met a crazy German who is attempting to drive from Shanghai to Venice in 5.5days – he’s going from Venice to Shanghai now in 20 days and will go for the record on his return trip. He has 3 Guinness records and 7 long distance driving records. Pictured here in black with two other Mongol Rally teams we bumped into at the same time.
On the way to Merw, we again got stopped at a police checkpost where a well-fed policeman ambled towards us, mimed for papers, and bared all his golden teeth (many people in Central Asia have golden teeth – apparently that was the prescribed tooth replacement during Soviet era and they still believe it’s good for health). After a tense few minutes of him getting angrier and angrier and dismissing every paper we produced, we finally understood he was looking for a pen to write on our car!
The road to Merw got increasingly treacherous and at one particularly nasty pothole we banged the car hard enough to loose both hubcaps (that were tie strapped to the rims!!!) and slightly bent both rims 😥No puncture or air leaking, so threw the hubcaps in the trunk and started driving again super slow and finally reached Merw around 9:30pm. Hungry as hell, we walked towards what looked like a cafe and asked a man walking out if it was a “kafe” or “restoran”. That man said “yes” and when we said “thank you” he said “not a problem”. Having met no one in Turkmenistan who could speak English well (other than the receptionist at the hotel who could barely put two words together), we immediately forgot about food and started after the local who could speak English. Turns out he was a tour guide in Dubai a few years ago and was happy to dust off his rusty English with us. Our new friend, Roshan, instantly became our local translator, attempting to procure vegetarian food from perplexed chefs and waitresses in different restaurants in the vicinity. He finally found a portly Russian chef, Stas, who understood English and was happy to make some vegetarian food, but the restaurant was closing so we weren’t allowed eat there. It was decided he would deliver it to Roshan’s house. By the time we reached his house, his mother had set out tea, Fanta, chocolates, and dried fruit for us. Other than his parents, wife and infant son, his sister’s family also lived there. After eating our take-out meal, we ended up sleeping on a giant cot in their courtyard thanking our stars for the series of events that led us to accidentally bump into one of the very few English speaking tour guides in Merw. If we hadn’t been stopped by the cop, if we hadn’t stopped to hunt for the hubcaps that flew away and double checked tire pressure, if we hadn’t gotten confused by the “no entry” signs and driven around the same roundabout 3 times in circles until we saw other cars entering the “no entry” road, if he hadn’t mime-cajoled a petrol station staff to fill our jerry can with petrol (it’s illegal to fill anything other than vehicle tanks with petrol), if we had driven at any other speed or gone to any other kafe, we would’ve missed meeting this wonderful family and staying with a local!
The next morning, his mother fed us delicious grapes (that were hanging above us the previous night) & dried apricots from their garden, insisted we take a jar of her home made pickles, and invited us back to stay with them another time. We gave them a couple of stuffed toys for the kids and having employed Roshan as our local tour guide we set off to see more ruins and history around Merw.
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