Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Day 138 (Turkmenistan): some barn 33km from Mary - nowhereland before the road crosses the railroad tracks (the desert beckons)

daily distance: 114km
total distance: 8553km
riding time: 6-7h 

I set out from the barn early morning just as the sun came up over the horizon.

It was pure beauty … and it should remain OK until I reached Mary. I was a bit low on water, but could replenish easy enough there and took a look around before heading on. It was well worth it, leaving this aside and not taking it as a bad omen.

The city is nothing much to look at, but it was the people on the market that interested me the most. Take a look for yourself at colorful dresses and big smiles …

Bananas were welcome food for the treck into the desert. I left the watermelons where they were, too unwieldy and I should have some later on regardless.


And of course there were statutes of Turkmenbashi - the deceased “Father of all Turkmens”. They are all over the country, mainly of gold or something resembling it and appealing to no senses, but making him the true ueber-father of all things Turkmen.

You may wonder whether I didn’t visit the site that everyone would have expected me to visit, namely Merv - at one point the most populated city on earth. I didn’t. Given that I wanted to use the winds at the time (slightly pushing me), the heat and the distance from the city, I decided against it and left with a full load of water (well over 10l, some of it bought here).


Plus, I didn’t want to run into a time issue on the visa that was short as it was. Getting stuck in the desert would cost me time and if I had done Merv, it might have taken that precious time away. Let’s call it being risk-averse on that front. A Turkmen prison doesn’t sound very appealing. So, after some looking around, I moved on. It was now 11 am, usually the time to ditch the bike, put your feet up and hang loose for a few hours. But the wind was doing its work and I wanted to make use of it. And on the way I was accompanied by many people and other creatures …



Again, it sort of worked for a couple of hours. And then it didn’t any longer. Just as I was passing from the rather fertile oasis belt into the desert, the wind started to move as well. It was now full blast from the front and nowhere to duck behind. It’s a funny feeling. You want to move ahead, but you can’t. There is this force that - despite hard work from your legs - won’t let you move forward.

And then, there is this other strange thing … human interaction. I pedal along, try to orient myself in the landscape that no longer has any trees to offer ahead of me and where the grass is visibly thinning out. A head pops up to my right. It is hot at this point, over 50C and no shadow in sight. The head yells something. I am not very interested. Just want to move on. The head yells again. He is fully covered, I am in shorts and a T. He yanks a melon over his head - asks me whether I want to share it. Chodedad simply saw me coming and figured that it would be a good idea to share his melon with the stranger.

He tells me that he is Baloch (which I am not sure about as I thought they lived in Southern Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan; but I was to meet more people with the same background some time later) and we hang out for a while. For lack of another spot it is the middle of the road (well, off to the side a bit) and when we’re done we bid our farewells. This completely floored me … in a very pleasant way. And then nature takes over in its ever-efficient manner. Here is an ant carrying a much larger than itself watermelon seed.

That same pleasantness I witnessed again a few hours later. I was still cycling in the heat. There was nowhere to take shelter and I wanted nothing but to get out of this mess. Everything that could have worked was locked behind some fences. The wind came from the front blowing sand in my face and my eyes, which started to sting. Then, a small hut - well, a straw mat over to poles with a bunch of people behind it selling watermelon. More of that yummy stuff was offered, but I was still laboring on the other one that I had an hour before. The people tell me that it’s 5km to the next Kafe, which I am trying to put behind me ASAP. No sooner do I arrive when all around me all hell breaks loose. The wind I was facing before was child’s play compared to what was going on now. Luckily the place was well sheltered and after getting rid of some wholly annoying (and drunk) person, I was able to come down a bit. Then three Turkmen show up and we have a great chat for some hours until they take off through the desert to go back home. The fish at the Kafe is excellent and time goes by quickly.

I hear that there’s another Kafe 2km down the road and the wind having died down, I thought I would give that one a shot as well. What a fluke. As soon as I was in the wind, it was over. I didn’t stand a chance. Not even close. It took me 15 minutes to get there, biking hard, trying not to be blow off the road. When I got there, I was exhausted. I decided to call it a day there and then. The owners pack me into their place and give me tea and cookies and pretty much invite me in for the night. This is at 4pm - and they knew the wind wasn’t going to let off. I had some hope still and wanted to move on, but there was no chance that day any more.

Dida, the son of the owner, and I cook some dinner later on - have some more fish and pelmeni (a type of Russian-influenced Ravioli) and in the end, I sleep in the same room that the restaurant is in (so do Dida and his father). Thanks to both of them for putting up with me - they were amazing.

And I wasn’t the only one who was stranded there ever …

Tomorrow you will read about Superman, he is a bit different from what you imagine him to be …

1 comment

1 Rob Thomson { 08.18.08 at 6:57 am }

What an EPIC day. I do not envy you out there in the desert…but the people you are meeting seem to be fantastic! All the best for the next few days!

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