Day 17

17. May 2000, Rest day in Ashgabad

Our first impression of Ashgabad ("city of love"), yesterday, was dominated by extremely low-rise single houses, almost a rural touch. Ashgabad was totally destroyed by an earthquake in 1948 and so all building is past that date and only few dare to build more than one floor. Accordingly there is not much to see apart from Communist statues or the post-communist buildings by Turkmenbashi.
Turkmenbashi ("head of all Turkmens") is running the country since Turkmenistan became independent from the Soviet Union. Apparently he was reelected democratically ever since then, the last time he got 99.9 % of all votes with noone opposing him. Just like in old days there were photos of Lenin and Stalin there are now photos of Turkmenbashi and paroles put up on the streets such as "Halk, Watan, Turkmenbasy" ("People, fatherland, Turkmenbashi) or "Turkmens are the golden people". Turkmenistan is reasonably rich due to gas and petrol and will be even more rich when they find someone to sell it to and build the pipelines, so the president is spending millions on prestige objects. Any opposition is oppressed and "communist bureaucracy/power thinking" is still widespread. So politically Turkmenistan has not developed much.
Concerning industry the outlook is more positive, also due to the natural resources. The Mercedes-Benz service center has the most modern equipment and professional staff. Like other parts of the Turkmen industry it is run by Turks who took their chance immediately after the opening of the Central Asian republics and invested in these countries. We spend most of our day at the service center solving the problems we had yesterday.
Petrol is cheap in Turkmenistan, a full tank is about $3. Taxi cabs are accordingly cheap and every second car in Ashgabad seems to be an unofficial taxi. The crime rate is extremely low and so women are not afraid of using these cabs (as would be the case in Istanbul or other big cities).
Russian president Putin is expected to come to Ashgabad soon, so some of us are forced to stay in a different hotel. Our hotel is another one of those Turkmenbashi prestige objects: Slightly outside of Ashgabat, there are about fifteen different hotels, each with its own Disney-type design but each with only twenty bedrooms. This area is often called "Las Vegas" and the buildings by Turkmenbashi do remind of Las Vegas: In the middle of the desert there are palaces like the parliament, museum and presidential residence, modern buildings (the president's palace has lots of satellite dishes while most foreign media is banned in the country) with clichés of the past.
Our hotel claims to be five-star but although clean, equipped and modern lacks in many things and staff has a weird touch. Receptionists act as if they never have seen hotel guests before and the cleaning ladies decide to totally clear up our room, throwing away plastic foils I kept to transport stuff in.

The official results can be looked up on this website

not too many of this model in Ashgabat

So this is where that rattling noise came from...

(Our mechanic, originally from Istanbul, with the broken fixation pin)

In the foreground Turkmeni women (who are generally quite attractive) with traditional clothing
In the background a modern shopping center built by Turks

As friendly as this lady and her son were, we still decided not to buy any dried fish from them

The so-called parliament


about two thirds of the Mercedes rally participants meet again at Mercedes-Benz Ashgabat, mostly to do general service

And this must be where that scratching noise came from...

our bent sump guard (installed to protect the motor block from greater damage)

The German embassy (currently without ambassador to save money) invites us to a nice evening out.

Our hotel with the obligatory photograph of Turkmenbashi

The people's museum, behind those mountains lies Iran.

Turkmenbashi's palace