Day 16

16. May 2000, Türkmenbashi ferry to Ashgabad

Arriving in Turkmenbashi feels like arriving on an unknown new coastline where one is not sure what awaits. Turkmenbashi looks like a desert ghost town and we are happy to leave the place. But before, we run into our first border trouble on this route so far. Even though our travel agency had prepared the bordermen, they seemed to be totally incapable of coping with us. To get the first cars through took them ages (apparently some stamp was missing, an official went to lunch with it) and we had to wait for several hours. Turkmenbashi never sees any foreigners with cars as the ferry normally only takes trains. So our first impression of Turkmenistan is not too great. Overall in the former Soviet states there are still varying degrees of remaining communism: Police checkpoints where cars need to stop in the middle of the country, hotels with little understanding of the service concept and officials trying to assert their power. Fortunately, through the good preparation of the rally organization we are mostly spared of this but we still get to see some of it and hope that all of it will disappear soon.
We use the chance to talk to the crew of the ferry: The 2nd captain of the boat earns about $100 a month and asks us whether it's true that in Germany you can earn more without doing any work. He complains about Turkmen officials which are more bureaucratic and difficult than Azeris and when we tell him that we liked Azerbaijan he asks us whether we prefer Germany or Azerbaijan.
Turkmenistan seems to be nothing but desert and a few oasis towns. We arrive late in Ashgabad and due to new construction and mistakes in the route book or signposting by the rally organization we get lost. The rally officials later claim that they had signposted everything correctly and when some kids stole the signs they immediately put new ones up. But the numbers speak against them, everyone who I spoke to got lost that night. So we end up in some suburb of Ashgabat when we suddenly crash into a trench. Workers had laid a new pipe under the road and had filled it up sparingly. Our sump guard gets totally bent and from now on we are scratching every bump. Today our alternator (our "light machine") fixation also broke and a spring on the accelerator went. So we are going around town making all kinds of noises. It is after 23.00 but being a desert town everyone is still up and staring at us. After driving around for a while, asking for directions and getting more and more lost, a car driver asks what our problem is. Like all people we met in Ashgabad he is very helpful and he actually guides us to the checkpoint. So, thank god, the day is taking an end.

PC: Türkmenbashi
PC: Ashgabad
  575.70 km

Overall 37 minutes penalty

The official results can be looked up on this website

After a 17-hour crossing of the Caspian Sea we finally see some land

The 2nd captain, crew member, Sami

Camels? This must be a desert then (Karakum)

our route consists of desert and small oasis towns

The "Balkan" mountains add a bit of diversity to the landscape


People can't wait to leave the ferry

But are forced to do so anyway by Turkmenistan customs and border control

Desert to the left, sand beach to the right

a common sight along the route since Greece: cheering kids. East of the Caspian Sea, faces are suddenly more "Asian-Chinese" than "Turkic"


the desert varies from prairie/steppe to pure sand but it is inhabited along the route and some even hold sheep/goats who live off the small shrubs.