Hi everyone: Sorry we have been quiet the last 48 hours but we were in the middle of the Karakum desert. No wifi or phone reception out there. We left Ashgabat after spending the morning driving around looking at the sights, which involved more elaborate, extravagant edifices which somehow you had to see, because they were so “over the top”. We did wander a few blocks away from the main roads at one stage,and were disappointed to see lots of old dilapidated roads and apartments.
We left out departure until mid-afternoon, as we did not want to arrive at the gas crater in the heat of the day. It was 41C when we left Ashgabat at 3pm.
The road north was fine for the first 100kms, then the potholes started to appear. The road got worse. These were pot holes that would rip your suspension out. Speed went down from 110- kph to 70kph weaving around potholes, and almost stoping to a crawl when they covered the width of the road. Along the road, as you may expect in a desert, were camels!
Finally, after a hot slow drive, we arrived at the little settlement of Derweze, where the GPS map indicated we should take a sandy track to the right to reach the gas crater. We climbed down an embankment onto the track set off up a hill and onto the sand dunes!
Then it got soft, real soft! C-YA did not have enough speed and got bogged. Down to the sump!
Luckily, Pete, from Team Quokkastan, is an experienced 4WD user and after some digging and letting our tires down to 15psi, we got out. Team Quokkastan drove back into the settlement to confirm that we were on the right road, as this seemed a tough route. They came back following a young guy on a motorbike whom the paid $10 to lead them to it. This time C-YA was equipped and ready and we had learnt from our experiences and made it to the gas crater after 7kms of sandy, undulating road.
In the day it looks like a dark hole, but downwind you can smell it and hear it! It roars like a hot water system gas flame.
We found a good camping spot within walking distance, upwind, and set up. For our first time on this trip, our camp set-up went remarkably well. 4 tents, 2 tables, stoves out, chars out, beds made, and a cup of tea in us. We forgot to get beer!
We walked up to the crater before sunset to check it out. The sight of it takes your breathe away. Everyone was agog! The whole effort of getting here was repaid. It is a wonder of the world!. We took some early photos, then headed back to have dinner before seeing it in pitch dark.
As we began cooking, we saw a figure and some noise from the crater. Jeff walked over to see if someone was there, as up to that point we had been alone.
It was a 29 year old Japanese Doctor, Shingo, who had WALKED from the road to see the crater. A 2 hour walk, on his own, through the dunes and hills to find it, using GPS on his phone. We invited him over to dinner. He had nothing but a small backpack and was spending 4 months exploring Central Asia!
After a great dinner of pasta with tuna and peas, we returned to the crater. WOW! I will let the pictures speak for themselves. The radiant heat, the roar, the flames, the flickering light. AWESOME!!!!!!!
It was then back to the tents to sleep. Everyone slept well, apart from one nameless individual who complained about the snoring.
In the morning it was breakfast, pack up and leave, heading for the border to Uzbekistan.
Believe it or not, the road got worse. This is the main, and only, south-north road in Turkmenistan. It has cars and trucks on it. The trucks often crawl, weaving to avoid potholes. The locals often pull up and stop, to get a rest from the battering the road gives their cars. Many times we left the road to drive on the gravel track next to it. This was better than being on the asphalt. It is the worst road we had ever driven on to date! (note that “to date” comment)
Finally we reached the border, filled up with fuel just before, as Uzbekistan has little fuel available. A deliberate ploy as they want cars to run on gas.
Leaving Turkmenistan was worse than entering. We had to unload our cars completely as they searched each and every box, bag, container, etc for drugs and guns and contraband. Finally, after two and a half hours in the heat, we left.
Only to arrive at the Uzbek border late in the afternoon. We were worried that they would close and not let us through. Fat chance!
More documents, more rubber stamps, more and more waiting and finally after another 2 hours, we were through.
Off to Khiva, 40 kms from the border.
As we left the border post, we noted the donkey carts, the mud brick houses, people literally (and this is a fact, unfortunately none of us has a camera ready to catch it, as you put away photographic equipment at borders) washing their sheets and clothes in the water in potholes in the road. Sometimes they sat in a group covering half the road.
Did I mention potholes? Yes, these roads were worse that Turkmenistan. We were down to 40 kph weaving around the kids, donkeys, and bullock carts on the road.
Then we eventually made the Asia Khiva Hotel, at the southern gate to this old walled town.
It was a long hot shower for us all, then dinner and a few beers. Bliss!
Off to explore Khiva tomorrow morning before driving to Bukhara.
C-YA. Andrew and Jeff