Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Day 137 (Iran/Turkmenistan): Sarakhs - some barn 33km from Mary (leaving Iran - into the stans and the land of books)

daily distance: 132km
total distance: 8439km
riding time: 8h

So I am leaving Sarakhs and thus Iran. I will have to do some more writing about my impressions of Iran at some later point. The wind is in my back, though not for long. The whole day was a wind battle and I was almost beaten into submission. It was not pretty, I am shot and don’t like the whole thing right now. But things are looking up. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.

The border is almost a no-brainer. Except for the lone immigration officer who keeps looking at my visa. Then at my passport picture. Then at me. Back where he started. He does this - I am not joking - 10 times or so. I keep smiling sort of. Then he pulls out a book with the signatures of consuls I gather and compares my extension with what he sees. Something wrong? Shouldn’t be. Frau Lotfi seemed certain. Almost at the end he sees something that satisfies him. He does the tour again a couple of times. Then I am done with him. The customs guy I can convince not to bring the bike inside and can leave without a hitch.

I cross the bridge and I am in … Turkmenistan (I will put a film about it up as well …).

What a difference. The air-conditioned buildings in Iran are replaced by baracks of Soviet lore. The windows are low and small, you have to bow much deeper. It is also a lot less formal. The first checkpoint. Book number 1. All data is being logged. I pedal some 2km and get to the actual border station. Medical exam. Book number 2. Do I have any diseases? No. Book is closed. Thank you very much. Then a long wait. I seem to be the first person today. More waiting. Then I am allowed in. I have to pay more money, $10 for entering and $3 for having those $10 exchanged. I protest a bit, but this is of course not leading anywhere. It is also silly to charge more money when you enter. Slap it onto the visa bill for crying out loud. What would have happened if I hadn’t gotten the dollars back I wonder.

Then everything is checked, forms filled out twice, the head-honcho and only he turns the key and the low hum of an x-ray machine starts going. After everything is checked again and again, I am off to the races. But wait. A woman is in charge. What? A woman? And she is not wearing a chador!!! You can actually see some body shape. For someone who has been to Iran for too long this actually is a reminder of how things normally are. Back in the normal world. In the meantime books 3 and 4 have been filled. Book 5 follows when leaving the border area. Then I am there. 


It is hot now, the wind is blowing strongly in my face and I have no choice but to move on. After some 90km I am done and exhausted. It is brutally warm and I decide to take a long break. I have seen camels and Chinese train engines, bad roads and more women doing what women usually do where I am from (meaning work and regular dresses - though slightly more colorful generally speaking).

Moving on, I stop again after some 20km and am very warmly welcomed by the cafe owner. He brings soup and salad and drinks right away … I am hungry actually and he hears of no payment in the end. I insist. Instead he invites me to stay. Tempting, but I move on some more and try to cover mileage. But check out the writing on the sign on the picture below.

I end up in a barn with a farm hand. The owner has no problem with me staying and we have some dinner together (it is soup again, the same type of soup, thin and without much taste; it strikes me as being quite cheap also and the emacicated figure of the boy speaks volumes).


Will move to on to Mary tomorrow and then beyond, trying to cover the country as quickly as I can. So far, so good. Desert still to come.

1 comment

1 Lazarus { 08.15.08 at 4:11 pm }

Congratulations on making it into Turkmenistan! The actual bike riding should be the easy part as compares to the bureaucratic circus that is the Turkmenistan visa. That said, I should be following along shortly as soon as the embassy here in Baku hears back from Ashgabat.

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