Day 21: The Gates to Hell - Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
The boys narrowly evade jail by 3 hours on the border… only to face desert sandstorms, 40+ degree heat with no air con, illness, a country-wide petrol shortage, a deadly scorpion, a dried up sea and ‘the gates to hell’. It appears the rally has only just begun.
We last left you as we were being faced with an ultimatum: Exit the opposite end of Turkmenistan in 27 hours or face jail time, car impounding and deportation- the end of our rally dreams. Thankfully we can inform you that we made it to the border with 3 hours to spare… since then it has certainly NOT been what you’d call ‘plain sailing’. More like swimming the channel after swallowing a brick.
Day 15 Evening
Had our last evening meal with a German soldier working in Afghanistan on border control… word on the street is that ‘Isis’ is being funded by trusts originating in Saudi Arabia.
Matt and Jamie were at the- get this- ‘Ministry of Cars’ at 9am to sort out our insurance problem. This was next to the Turkmenistan ‘Ministry of Fairness’ and ‘Ministry of Carpets’ - no jokes. To our amazement we only had to pay $9 to rectify the mistake, and were swiftly on our way North to the border. We planned to stay overnight at ‘The Gates to Hell’**. The road quickly became a minefield of potholes but we did make it in the evening and arranged for a man in a Jeep to drive us the 5km off road to the crater.
** A massive crater which is permanently on fire and has been for many years after it was set alight on purpose by oil drilling fiends - at the time they assumed it would burn for a matter of days only- to this day it is still on fire and absolutely incredible. The heat is unbearable standing near the edge and if you fell in you would undoubtedly die immediately… creeping up to the crumbling edge to peer in was terrifying.
When we came back we realised the Jeep driver in fact had two prosthetic legs from the hips down. We stayed the night on the floor of a cafe, the owners warned that camping in the desert risked snake and scorpion attack… something we became all too aware of a few days later.
Early rise, quick tea and tip, and we made it to the Uzbekistan border with only 3 hours to spare! We underwent rigorous checks and bureaucracy before leaving for ‘Nukus’. We found a $12 hotel with no running water or sink which we made our home for the night- then the illness began to appear, Rob was the first to get hit.. ‘Liquidised Jaffa cake’… get the picture?
We decided to take a detour up North to see the decaying remains of the ships left when the ‘Aral Sea’ dried up. We had one 20L jerry can of petrol and half a tank left at the half way point. Every petrol station in Uzbek we passed was closed… but we had heard word that there was one open (only in the morning) at the wreckage site so we carried on. We even stopped at a car wash where Matt was left in place of a local who jumped in the car and took Rob and Jamie to a ‘mate’s’ house where they offered 10L for $20. Did not buy.
The ships were indeed as wrecked as we had hoped on arrival, about 8 of them in a sea of sand and death for as far as the eye could see. We camped the night on an embankment by tying the tent guy ropes to the car wheels and making a fire to ward off bugs.. Being the desert- it was bloody hot- so we did not sleep well at all. Especially when a local came at 1.30am (probably to rob us, until he realised we had woken up) to ask for ‘a light’. Oh also, camping in Uzbek is apparently illegal?
Woke and started packing up the tent. Matt spotted something untoward moving by Jamie’s foot.. and told Jamie to step back- where he realised that he had almost stood on a tiny transparent scorpion that had crawled underneath the tent. We killed it very very very fast and got out of there as quick as possible. ‘If a small one bites you, don’t keep it to yourself’ [Indiana Jones].
The petrol station was shut. Bugger. Jamie -we had all been ill in the night (‘Curry soup’.. sorry) and were suffering from dehydration in the heat- nearly passed out. We set off back to Nukus, driving at 55mph - passing tonnes of closed petrol stations with no luck. In the end we made it while the petrol was in the red, then had someone jump in the car and take us to a house selling 5L water bottles of petrol for $1.40 per Litre. Sold. We stayed in the waterless $12 hotel to evacuate our bowels/ ‘Niagra falls’ and rest over night. Jamie developed a fever which cleared by the morning.
Our small crack in the windscreen had morphed into a foot long fracture... Autoglass is not lying it does spread! We drove to a garage (waited 2 hours for it to open at 3pm) and had it fixed for $25 - they use a drill and a needle to inject this gum stuff... pretty cool.
Set off to Bukhara across the desert - we had to stop to use our Jerry cans as surprise surprise not a single petrol station was to be seen. We encountered a few sandstorms- one which took us totally by surprise as we were refilling, turning the air around us into a hot gritty whirlwind, forcing us to take refuge behind the car. We decided to pass Bukhara and continue to Samarqand. Police checks were frequent. Matt this time was ill and needed a bed and toilet so we stopped in a guest house for the night down a back alley somewhere in the city- Rob and Jamie saved money by sleeping in the car.
After evacuating what looked like ‘cloudy apple juice’ (sorry, that’s the last one- promise) from our bowels, we were directed to a back street petrol vendor- where we were offered breakfast for free by an english speaking cousin- very friendly and interesting. According to him Uzbeck is now looking to rejoin the Soviet Union and that unrest will develop as the country continues to devolve in isolation, hence the lack of petrol.
We write to you this evening from a half decent $20 hotel with wifi and unrestricted internet- the first in 2 weeks!
Next we will cross into Kyrgyzstan and into the mountains.. where we hope to meet back up with ‘Kahn Touch this’ and ‘Lion Rampant’ to tackle the final 1/3 of the rally. Again, thank you for your support and donations- they have been truly humbling and are keeping us going through the deserts without air con.
See you soon,