Friday, 15 October 2010

Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan

Despite the early start, I still found it very amusing that our room at Hotel Rahaat actually has its very own resident rat! Actually it looks more like a baby field mouse, it keeps peering at us from behind the wardrobe so I decide to feed it some breakfast - Iranian soft cheese, cake and coffee. It only took to the cheese and cake though…

Downstairs to Jerry and in no time we’re back on the road. Onward and upwards to Farap, the border between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. First of all we stop at the ancient city of Merv, a ruined city dating from the 3rd century BC.

Incredibly, despite being made of nothing more than straw and mud, the towering walls of Giaur Kala castle are still very much intact. We stop and take a quick look around, its an impressive structure and the views over the neighbouring farmland are superb. We head on to the ruined city of Erk Kala, an even older city dating back to the 6th Century BC - Structurally theres little more remaining than a 50M tall pile of earth, but the floor is absolutely littered with shards of ancient earthenware pots and the like.

Angela explains that following the Soviet invasion of Turkmenistan, this site was quickly fenced off as a Soviet military base. The Russian military carried out some basic archaeological digs, but quickly lost interest and to this day the site remains almost totally undisturbed - No doubt there a still some very interesting artefacts lurking beneath the sandy soil, just waiting to be discovered.

Back in the car and after a brief lunch stop near to Turkmanabat, we arrive at the Farap border crossing. Angela does a great job of making our formal exit from Turkmenistan as painless as possible, she accompanies us through customs and we’re out in less than 10 minutes. We’re both very sad to say goodbye to Angela, who has become a good friend in just three days - We exchange contact details, bid farewell and head off to the Uzbekistan border.

After the usual palaver at the Uzbek border, we’re in without excessive delay. I’d heard some horror stories about this crossing point, but the staff proved to be very helpful and it was all quite painless. Bored, I flick through our Lonely Planet guide book and stumble across a small snippet of extra info on the ferry that we took from Baku to Turkmenbashi - Apparantly one of them sank in 2002, killing all 51 people on board...

Uzbekistan roads prove to be a whole lot better than Turkmen ones, but once again we find ourselves heading into the darkness as we motor onwards to our night stop.

Several incident free hours later we arrive at the very picturesque town of Bukhara, where coach loads of German and French tourists seem absolutely aghast that we’ve driven here from England. By the time we check into hotel Asia, every restaurant in town is shut and we’re starving…. We find a cab and using two of the six local words we know “Shashlik” (kebab) and “Piva” (beer) we’re whisked out of town to the cabies favourite late night beer and food joint.

We make it back to the hotel for midnight, another long day of 12+ hours on the road. We’re both looking forward to our scheduled 5 days off in Almaty, Kazakhstan - A good chance for some R&R before we hit China on the 18th

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