Salam Alaykum Turkmenistan13 Aug 2010, by Uncategorized in
There is a glow a few kilometers to our East. It’s an unmistakable warm orange-red glow of fire, but this fire never goes out. It’s been burning for the past 40 years or so.
We are in Darvaza, Turkmenistan, camped out in the middle of the desert after returning from the flaming gas pit that’s been on fire since the Russians were drilling for gas here. A sinkhole opened up and swallowed up some of their equipment in the process. They attempted to burn off some of the “waste gas” that was bubbling on top of the crater, and it has been on fire ever since.
Video shot with VadoHD provided by eKit
Standing at the edge of the crater, hot blasts of air hit your face and twisters spin up out of nowhere as this place creates its own micro-climate. The blasts of air are not unlike the conditions while driving through the desert. With no air-con we have to drive with the windows down, if for no other reason than to prevent the windows from acting as lenses refracting the sun into the car.
Other than the 110 degree heat we have been loving driving through Turkmenistan. Our ferry from Baku crossed relatively quickly, but we had to wait a day outside the port for room to open up for us to dock. All told: 31 hours at sea. Let us know who won the pool at the Microsoft Office team. The border guards at port were *really* nice. I may not have mentioned this yet, but the Turkmen Consulate in Baku was really nice and helpful as well, which gave us hope that was definitely not misplaced. The guard processing our visas asked who was in charge of our group, which turned out to be me, he called me “Chief” and said I looked like an actor. After we figured out he meant “Lost” when he was talking about the “teleserial ‘Staying Alive'” he laughed and said he thought I was Matthew Fox. One of the members of our group had a misprinted passport number on the invitation, clearly a typo, and the guard joked that he wouldn’t let him in… but then said “bad joke, sorry” and we all laughed. No shake downs, just a lot of forms in triplicate, all very official and time consuming. Clearing immigration and customs: 6 hours. It was 7 am before we found a place to stay, camping out on the beach with a bunch of Turkmen families. We grabbed just a few hours sleep and woke up by taking a bath in the Caspian, cool and refreshing.
Driving to Ashgabat took ALL day, on paved roads that had been melted in the heat and driven on hard by big trucks, turning the blacktop into waves of tar that rolled our cars across the desert at a max 80kph clip. We were pulled over 4 times again, but the cops here are friendly and really just want to say Hi and ask about the rally. They shook our hands instead of our wallets, and sent us on our way. Nice change of pace. Azerbaijan, you could follow this example. We are like celebrities here, *everybody* can tell we are foreign and the cars draw a *lot* of attention, even from hundreds of meters away cars flash their lights at us, and everybody stares and waves.
Ashgabat was this strange place, somebody said aptly a combination of Las Vegas and Pyongyang. There are hundreds of fancy looking buildings, but not enough traffic to justify their existence, and inside many of them are empty or downtrodden. We stayed at what looked like a really fancy hotel – inside it reeked and the carpeting had gaps with concrete below… the power was inconsistent and destroyed one of my adapters. We were pretty anxious to leave the city and head for Darvaza after getting some supplies… an exercise which took 4 hours because there are no ATM’s and the banks are extremely slow to process a cash advance. The other thing that doesn’t seem to work is my cell phone. It’s not compatible with any network here, and nobody will sell me a pre-paid SIM since I’m not Turkmen. So, no updates from eKit until we make it to Uzbekistan I think.
We hooked up with several other rally teams at a gas station on the way out of town, joined the caravan north, and finally found our way to the gas crater at about 10:30pm, brilliantly lit up in the dark and clearly visible from miles away.
I’m sure I’m probably forgetting something, but my video has just finished uploading and we are on the satellite again, rationing our data. I’ll let the video speak for itself and our next transmission will probably come to you from Uzbekistan