Friday, August 15, 2014


Dear friends, Sorry for the delay on the update on the blog / Facebook.  I have been sitting on the blog story of "Tale of Two Cities" about Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.  I learned a lot about these ancient cities, and it's quite a bit to process into a single post. For now, use your imagination on what a riveting post on those cities might be like -- I'll hopefully get to it one of these days.

But for now, Turkmenistan is quite worth blogging about (and this one's a bit of a rant without spellcheck, as this is the first internet access i've had since entering the country!).

I reckon I was pretty surprised at how locked up this country is.  We spent a good number of hours waiting at immigration for visas---I guess that isn't too surprising.  But after our first night in the country, we found out we'd been assigned a police escort.  Our cop took to driving up and down the long line of us cyclists that undoubtedly reaches 10-20 miles, telling us something over the loudspeaker in Russian.  Later I learned he was telling us to stick together, so that he can properly escort us.  Well, that's not going to happen -- that's not how we roll out here. 

In the town of Mary, we were set up in a hotel with no wifi, that normally doesn't accommodate guests apparently, 10k away from town.  When a couple of our guys tried to catch a ride into town, the cop told them that wasn't allowed.  Our tour leader eventually worked out htat we could take the huge passenger bus that the local support provided as a luggage truck to go into town at set times, or we could leave by bike (on our rest day!).  This rather curbed my desire to explore  the local archaelogical site of Merv, 12 miles away - probably the #1 to see in Mary.  One couple did go, but paid $240 for the guide.  We were also offered a round trip there for $150 (no guide) -- that's an insanely expensive taxi.

The 3 days between Mary and Ashgabat were hard, flat riding days, facing a significant headwind the whole way, 75mi - 90mi each day, often on bad roads.  The cops took to just riding with the fastest crew of bikers and leaving the rest of us alone.  On the last evening, the cop fetched cold drinks for us... Not too bad. 

The arrival into Ashgabat today was unreal and ridiculous.  3 news cars and a cop greeted us about 10 miles outside of town, stopping traffic, filming everything we did, etc, as they escorted us through beautiful streets and a magnficent downtown that could have competed with the Wizard of Oz's emerald palace if it wasn't pearly white. 

Apparently, the previous and current presidents here have spent garrish amounts on fabulous buildings and highways -- that apparently the people can't use? 

At the hotel I was interviewed by news crews who wanted to hear great things about their country. In truth, between the police control, the long, hot roads through the long-winded desert, multiple construction zones, and the general grind to make it through the miles on days I don't feel well, it's hard to say a lot of very good things about Turkmenistan.  So, ... " the people are nice, the desert is hot, ..  very beautiful country." 

Today, before entering Ashgabat, the road paralleled a mountain range that looked like a formidable wall.  This is Iran -- we'll be arriving there in 2 days!

Facebook, youtube, blogger are blocked in Turkmenistan, but hopefully will be able to check in with the hotel wifi and vpn later, and post some photos.

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