More blue on the street

In Holland sometimes people say that there isn’t enough blue on the street. They would like to see more police-officers on the street. Maybe those people should spent a few days in Turkmenistan. It might change their opinion.

We got an invitation letter from the Turkmen embassy in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan) and the lady from the embassy told us that we could collect our visas at the Turkmen border. So we wanted to leave early in the morning, to be early at the Turkmen border, but leaving early in the morning is not our strong point during this trip. But we managed to leave at 10:00 and we arrived at the Uzbek-side of the border around 13:15.
And when riding towards the border we almost saw nobody, except for an Uzbek guy who ran out of petrol. We gave him half a liter of petrol to reach the next petrol station.
The Uzbek-side was quiet and the process was quite smooth and in 1 hour we could go to the Turkmen-side. The Turkmen-side was another cook (Louis van Gaal). It was very crowdy, because on the Turkmen-side they just had a lunchbreak from 12:30 – 14:00. Immediately an officer made us clear that all of our luggage had to go through the x-ray machine => great 😉
Inside it wasn’t clear what we had to do. So we just stepped into the first office. This was the doctor, who measured our temperature and we were both healthy enough to go to the next counter. Passport control and in our case also collection of our Turkmen visas. We got a receipt to go to the bank-counter. Paid $140 for 2 visas including administration costs.
Back to passport control to collect our visas, register our fingerprints and take our digital picture.
On to the X-ray scan of all our luggage and we had to fill in a declaration form. An officer helped us, because the form is in Turkmen language.
We brought our luggage back to the motorbike and went to an office on the outside of the building to register our motorbikes. In the office we got 2 forms per bike and had to go inside again to register for taxes and insurance. Or at least we think that’s what it was for, because we couldn’t read any of the forms, or really communicate with the officers. We got 2 receipts per bike and went to the bankcounter again, to pay $140 for 2 motorbikes. Last step was going back to the outside office, to complete the registration of our motorbikes. In total the border control on the Turkmen-side cost 2,5 hours.

Finally there was a passport control (military) to leave the borderzone. And immediately another passport control (police) when we entered Turkmenistan. The first control of many.
Being late in the afternoon and also tired after the border controls, we went to the next town Turkmenabat to find a hotel for some sleep. Along the way we stopped one more time for a passport control. And we had to stop several times for a camera control. Just stop at the stop sign and then we could go again. Not very time consuming, but still. And of course we saw a lot of policeman. At least every 10 km. And no clue why they just picked out one car and not another. It looked like random picking to us. But at least they didn’t stop us. Also a lot of policemen with speed guns, so speeding wasn’t a good idea.
In Turkmenabat the ATM would only give us 50 manat (€13), so we didn’t do that. We went to a hotel where we could pay in dollars, but for dinner we needed manat, which we didn’t have, so we made a noodle soup ourselves. 

Next day we went to the nearby bazar, where we exchanged $100 for 1800 manat, a slightly better deal than yesterday. Five times more manat 🙂 That’s nice, but it turned out to be hard to spend all those manats. Because hotels only accept dollars, food is cheap and fuel almost costs nothing. One liter of petrol (95) costs 1,5 manat, that’s about 8 eurocents. So 2 full tanks (35 liter) on the motorbikes costed us around €3. 
Travelling on two motorbikes is an attraction for the Turkmen. When we stopped at the bazar and at the supermarket, out of nowhere there were 10 Turkmen looking at our bikes. They are a bit shy, but very polite. Sometimes they ask if they can take a picture. And usually they were very interested in the radiator, because their own small motorbikes are all aircooled.
After the supermarket we left for Merv, a huge historical site, near Mary, where we did some sigthseeing. At first we wanted to sleep in Mary, but we knew there was another hotel 100km closer to Askhabad, so we choose that one, meaning that we didn’t have to ride too long the next day. The hotel was like a truckstop with a lot of Turkish (not Turkmen) truckers and we had some decent food and nice beer in the 24h-open-restaurant.

In the morning we had a nice breakfast and we left for Ashkabad. Only 300 km on a good road, so we should be in Ashkabad in the middle of the afternoon and we might do some sightseeing in Ashkabad, but the day would end somewhat different from the other days. The journey to Ashkabad was rather quick. Of course a lot of camera controls and policemen with or without speed guns along the road, but no serious delays. Just before Ashkabad we took a short break and when we walked back to the motorbikes, Daniëlle noticed that the frame of her motorbike was broken on two sides. Luckily she could still ride her bike. So we looked in the iOverlander-app for the closest garage. That was a MAN-garage at 13 km. We rode very slowly to the garage, hoping that the frame would hold and it did. The MAN-garage directed us to a little welding-workshop nearby, where we arrived around 16:00. We had to disassemble a big part of the motorbike, so they could weld the frame properly. It took us, with a lot of help from the 2 workshop guys, 3 hours to disassemble the motorbike, weld the frame and reassemble the motorbike. So at 19:00 the motorbike was ready to go again. We asked how much we should pay them, but they absolutely didn’t want any money. It was a gift from them to us. We really insisted that they would take some money, but they didn’t want any money.

So we thanked them many times and left for the hotel in Ashkabad. A nice hotel, but a little pricy. We payed $119 for one night including breakfast. And they also had a 24h-open-restaurant, so we still could have diner at 21:00. Since we had a lot of manat left, we choose an expensive bottle of wine and the most expensive courses from the menu, but we only spent around $20. 

On Friday we left the hotel at 12:00 and wanted to do some sightseeing in Ashkabad. First we wanted to see the presidential palace including a nice park. So we parked next to park and a policeman asked us where we were going. So we said that we wanted to walk into the park. We couldn’t, he crossed his arms before his chest. So we walked alongside the park and the policeman kept watching us from a distance that we didn’t sneak into the park. We got back to our motorbikes and went to the earthquake memorial statue, riding crisscross through Ashkabad. And we also wanted to see the arch of neutrality, but the police thought otherwise. We were stopped by a policeman, who was talking to a superior policeman through the two-way radio. He asked us where we were going. So we told him that we wanted to see a monument, visit the bank for some dollars and then go to Iran. He told us that we were not allowed to go to the monument. He directed us to the bank and than we had to go to Iran immediately. A bit flabbergasted we skipped the monument and went to the bank and got some groceries at a supermarket on our route to Iran. A really weird experience that a policeman tells you what you can and can’t do. We already had seen enough blue and at least we were now in the mood to leave Turkmenistan as fast as possible.

But Turkmenistan saved the best part for last, because the last 30km to the border of Iran was a beautiful landscape with a beautiful curvy road. We just were not allowed to stop or take any pictures. No problem, we wanted to leave asap anyway.

At the Turkmen-side of the border the officers were in a hurry. We had to speed up all the time. We didn’t know why, because we were the only two people that were crossing. It looked like they really wanted us out of Turkmenistan as fast as possible. We didn’t mind. The process only took 20 min.

On the Iranian-side of the border the officers were totally relaxed and took their time for us. No rushing and every officer did his part of the process and directed us to the next counter. Also very quick, but on the Iranian-side they had to fill out our 2 Carnets de Passage (import documents for the motorbikes). And we were the last bordercrossers of the day, so all the counters closed after our visit. The last customs officer wanted 5 dollars from us, since he was working on a holiday (Friday in Iran is like the European Sunday). The border crossing went very smooth, so we were in a good mood, so Klaas gave him 5 one-dollar notes, but he only wanted a five-dollar-note, so he gave us back our money and guided us out of the building, opened the gate and told us “GO”. No luggage control and after a quick visit to the toilet we had to leave the border zone. At the end of the borderzone they checked our Carnets de Passage and like every other Iranian officer, he said “Welcome to Iran”. 

YES, we made it into Iran :-))

We didn’t take many pictures in Turkmenistan, but here they are:

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