Our short stay in Turkmenistan was coming to an end. It was the morning we would be heading for the border with Uzbekistan from the Turkmen city of Mary.
We had wanted to get the train to Turkmenabat but were told that the times we not convenient, either arriving at 1, 3 or 5 in the morning.
We remained to be convinced that this was actually the case and indeed we did see a train chugging through the desert en route. Our guide told us that this was a special train transporting oil workers.
Mmm, still not sure but we contented ourselves with some photos of the carriages threading through the dunes. See a video of it by clicking DESERT TRAIN.
The journey took us through the Karakum Desert that covers 80% of the nation and every now and again spotted an Arabian Eagle scouting for a meal to break up the monotony of the sandy landscape. At one point we were passed by a wedding car complete with interesting roof decor.
We were speeding along quite happily until reaching a roadblock. We carried on as far as we could past scores of lorries, until such time as we could go no further without running over some tooled up traffic cops.
Our guide got out to find out what was happening as the empty desert road stretched out as far as the eye could see.
He returned a few minutes later with some bad news. We were being held up as a desert car rally was due to cross the road in front of us and we were expected to be held up for around four hours!
Hells teeth!! Four hours with nothing to entertain us apart from hunting out some elusive desert squirrels!
Just as we were resigning ourselves to a boring time, commotion reigned as drivers charged back to their cars like something out of the ‘Cannonball Run’, the car rally film starring Burt Reynolds.
We had a window of opportunity. No time for questions, we were off. Happily we made the deadline with about 30 seconds to spare and made a break for it with around 20 other vehicles.
We passed the train again, making the driver stop some distance ahead of it so we could watch its journey in the sand.
Before long we were by-passing Turkmenabat and crossing a vast road bridge towards Farap and the border. We could also make out another train line and were informed that this was a commuter shuttle line, again for oil workers. No photos allowed!
We bade farewell to our lovely guide Aziz at the border and past through the first of 6 security checks.
It was now around midday and furnace hot. We had read that there was a long walk between checkpoints. However, a shuttle minibus had now been introduced. I am sure it was free, but the driver insisted we pay $1 each for the three minute journey. Strange that there was no charge for everybody else!
We went through a security scan, completed a customs declaration and finally had our passport stamped before entering nomansland.
Another $1 shuttle took us the 200 metres to the first Uzbek checkpoint. We were met by a chap in a white coat, who studied our passport and entry visa (procured online for $20, a process that had only been introduced 6 weeks before we travelled).
This however wasn’t your standard checkpoint. The white coat was a medic who checked our temperatures by holding a ‘gun’ up to our foreheads to ensure we didn’t have swine flu.
We then had to confirm that we did not have yellow fever, rabies, hepatitis, malaria, typhoid or measles.
Happily we didn’t have to submit to a blood test or provide a urine sample as the good doctor deemed us fit enough to enter his country.
Further passport control & cursory bag check were both completed and we were free to walk into what was my 67th country visited outside the U.K. The whole border process had taken 90-minutes to complete.
It then dawned on me that we were totally at the mercy of our taxi driver having arrived to take us to Bukhara, some 56 km away.
He would have no idea what time we would arrive and no way of contacting us. Unless there was WiFi about, which I very much doubted, I also had no way to communicate with anybody!
We walked on towards a car park to be met by a wonderful sight. A car with my name on it!!
It just required Hamish to track down our driver and we were off. Abdul had been waiting for us for 3 hours and did not spare the horses in getting us to our next destination in double quick time.
Coming next: Minarets, Madressas, Mausoleums & Mosques.