Monday, 22 August 2011

Turkmenistan - the maddest country yet.

I don't even know where to start.

How to talk about Turkmenistan? I can't show you any photos because there is no wifi that works, so I can't get my laptop on the internets. I haven't used the internet since the border when I was still getting reception on my kindle from Uzbekistan (Turkmenistan's mobile network is state controlled and no roaming devices may connect - this is the first place since Bangkok I haven't been able to use the kindle). Facebook seems to be blocked [thank goodness for the proxy]. You need your passport to use the internet in cafes, but the hotel takes your passport for a day and a half to 'register' you. And then today our passports were supposed to be at the Iranian embassy so that our visas could be processed.

Did I say 'supposed to be'? Why, yes, I did. An Iranian religious cleric has died, so they have shut the embassy today, so no visas. On the other hand, it means I have my passport for internet access, so it is not all bad. Well, there is one bit of bad: the girl who has been causing trouble all trip, even though she hasn't been here. Her Turkmenistan visa expires tomorrow, so if we can't get the Iranian visas tomorrow and cross the border, she is going to have to fly to Istanbul.

What to tell you about Turkmenistan?

It is f&kk!ng hot. There is a lot of desert. And camels. And a flaming gas crater (which is one of the most awesome things I have seen [and I use awesome in the proper sense - there was some awe]). And sand. And hot. There was also a sulphurous mud crater and a boiling water crater, these people have to be more careful how they look for natural gas. 

The people are lovely (both to look at and to talk to. Many of the men look like Billy Zane and the women all look like colourful ambulatory flowers). We had a lot of fun at a bazaar in a place I can't quite remember right now (except it was near the border). After another gruelling crossing (well, sitting around in the heat waiting and waiting for people to process us) we went to the market to buy ingredients for meals. The ground looked like elephant skin and had gone soft in the heat in places. It was like walking on some large creature, like in Star Wars. I found raw beef with a combination of cow sounds and fry pan sounds and, when we got lost, I found the way back because I'd taken a picture of something near where we wanted to go. I showed it to a lady selling nuts and she, literally, took me under her arm and led me back there.

Here in Ashgabat we went to the Sunday market where you could buy anything you could imagine, but nothing that you wanted. We were looking for clothing to get us across the border into Iran. All the women here wear dresses that vary only in colour. And they all make their own. There was fabric as far as the eye could see, but clothing only for men, children and women wishing to be stoned to death in Iran. In two hours of searching we found one shop selling ready-made dresses. They had two that were long enough for Jess (another girl on the trip) and I, so I took the red paisley and she took the blue floral. I am turning mine into a tunic because the mumu, while cool, is just not something I can rock. 

It is worth coming here just to take a look at the second worst country in the world after North Korea (I can't remember on what scale, possibly the food, possibly the human rights, possibly the paranoia and every room being bugged and having to organise an international phone call an hour in advance because they have to find a translator to listen in and then not being able to talk for more than 40 minutes because that is when they have to change the tape over and not being allowed to take a photo of anything with a picture of the flag or the president on it... I don't know). It is worth taking a look at the shining marble excrement that is Ashgabat and having a visual representation of the fact that vast wealth does not necessarily mean good taste. It is worth seeing the ostentatious mosque that seats 20,000. 

Apart from coming to Ympasse (the Turkish department store with Turkmenistan's only escalator) to use the internet and shop in the supermarket that has everything from wedding dresses to Doritos, I am mainly hanging out in the hotel room in the air con, resting, sewing my mumu and reorganising my pack. I would be watching things on my computer while doing this, but I dropped my external hard drive yesterday and now, instead of playing Kevin Mcleod's 'Grand Designs' or Ewan McGregor's 'Long Way Round' or the other 120-odd gig of movies and TV that it is holding in its dead little heart, it just clicks. 

Still loving the trip, still looking forward to Iran (even though I have now tried on what I will be wearing there and nearly died of heat exhaustion in the air conditioned hotel), still as happy as a clam to be here, but also missing Kyrgyzstan and bloody looking forward to leaving Turkmenistan and not coming back.

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