Ashgabat, Turkmenistan: We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto

Turkmenistan, particularly the capital Ashgabat, is a very odd place. I felt like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City.

I kept expecting to see Toto pull the curtain back and reveal the former self-endorsed ‘President for Life’ Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov (deceased) pulling levers and gears and bellowing into a megaphone.

He was known by his self-given title ‘Türkmenbaşy’, meaning Leader of Turkmen. Bold.

As vain dictators go, he’s pretty high up the list. There’s an enormous gold statue of him that revolves so it’s always facing the sun.

A picture of it is above. To give you an idea of size, if you click on the photo, the two small sheds you can see at the front? They contain a guard each.

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Uzbekistan: Dreadful food, great people, amazing architecture

Uzbekistan is one of only two* double land-locked countries in the world.  Hands up who knew this? I didn’t until our guide told us. Shame on me. It is surrounded by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Turkmenistan.  It became independent from Russia in 1991. We arrived here in May 2014, entering on the overland truck from Turkmenistan, which is one of the strangest countries I think I’ve been to. I’ve written a bit about it here and here, a longer post will follow, soon. Ancient-mosques-samarkand-uzbekistan We visited the main towns and sights in the two weeks we were here, crossing west to east. These are Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand and Tashkent, finishing our time in the lush (yet conflict-prone) Fergana Valley. Crossing west to east meant we did them in this order, and I’m glad we did. Each town/city offered something new and increased in size and complexity and the Fergana Valley gave us a good indication of the changing landscape we were soon to encounter when we entered Kyrgyzstan. Continue reading

Packing Sins: Four items I brought travelling, but really shouldn’t have

I’ve mentioned before that without doubt anything I brought that had sat in the ‘dither pile’ when packing, was never used. But sadly, it doesn’t end there.  I also brought things I was so convinced I’d use, yet still made no, or limited, use of them.  Here, I’ll tell you about four items that I either didn’t use, or that didn’t work out and explain why.


 1. Scrubba Wash bag

Scrubba-Wash-BagOh dear. The number of hours I spent dithering over buying this makes me shudder.  Overlanding through Central Asia into Tibet and on to S.E. Asia meant we would be travelling in a variety of temperatures.

I brought quite a lot of Icebreaker clothing with me and on the whole they worked really well.  Icebreaker gear is quite pricey so I knew I wouldn’t want to risk sending it out to be washed on a rock in a river. The Scrubba Wash Bag seemed the perfect solution.

I had visions of me, during our overland trip, camping deep in the wilderness of Kyrgyzstan with a fantastic backdrop and no one around for miles, happily washing clothes with my Scrubba.  So, sitting on the sofa in the comfort of my home, The Scrubba struck me as the perfect solution, I purchased it.  Only it wasn’t. At least, not for me. Continue reading

Uzbekistan: Land of the golden smile, and the monobrow

The Uzbeks like their tea sweet. Very sweet. You see hunks of crystallised sugar for sale wherever you go. You see it in huge, tumbling piles in bazaars, or in deep filled boxes in shops.

It seems that by middle age most adults have a set of golden gnashers.  It’s not uncommon to see them on younger people too. I think partly it’s the sugar, but it’s also a status symbol.  When speaking, I found it hard not to be mesmerised by their golden mouth.  When you’re used to seeing white teeth, the gold makes the mouth seem very dark.

Uzbek_Lady_with_Gold_TeethMany of the women in Uzbekistan, particularly in Samarkand, wear wonderful, colourful dresses. Sequins and diamanté are stitched into the pattern, it shimmers in the sunlight, dazzling your eyes. I felt very dowdy and underdressed in my quick-dry t-shirt and walking sandals. Not at all feminine.

Some women sport a fetching monobrow. I asked our guide, Bek, about it. It’s Tajik fashion and apparently it’s drawn on, though on some it looked very authentic.

I even saw one on a two year old girl. I’m assuming it was drawn on…but you never know!

Turkmenistan: An unwelcome guest tries to join me on my first night bush camping

map-showing-route-of-odyssey-overland-istanbul-singapore-journey

The route: Istanbul to Singapore

The overland trip would take six months.  It starts in Turkey and finishes in Singapore.  One third of our time would be spent camping.

However, it’s hard to camp much after Kyrgyzstan, so little camping would be done after this country, just a few nights in Tibet. So really, we camp 50% of the time until we enter China.

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Turkmenistan: The Door to Hell at the Darvaza Crater

sunset-behind-odyssey-overland-truck-and-camping-chairs-karkoum-dessert-turkmenistanThe wonderful roads around Ashgabat soon ran out and we spent many, many hours driving on bumpy, dusty, pot-holed roads. It turned out to be like this for a number of weeks, all the way through Uzbekistan and beyond.  We weren’t to experience smooth tarmac for any great length  of time until we entered China.

Eight weeks previously I had undergone significant abdominal surgery.  I still had a gut full of internal stitches and the bumpy roads for weeks on end caused me significant discomfort. But there was little I could do about it, I was still happy to be there. Bumping along. Day after day, after day.  Continue reading