Day 44 - Mon 28 Apr 08
Awoken early by a cockerel crowing I wouldn't have minded if it was at dawn, but this was at 03:00! An early breakfast that consisted of fried eggs and sausages, which I really couldn't face. My taxi man was ready and waiting so we headed off to the border. Made it to the Uzbek border crossing by about 08:20 and the only action there were Turkish and Iranian trucks. I was the only foot traffic, I filled in all the custom forms, and had to show my passport to a number of different people at different points, but there were no problems and it was all smiles.
The it was a 20 minute hike across no-man's land, again populated by Turkish and Iranian truck drivers and their beasts. Spotted one car transporter from Quinn's of Sheffield.
Got to the Turkmenistan border point and there's no sign of my greeting party (it was a condition of my visa that I HAD to have a guide) so I'm not even allowed into the immigration hut. So I send a couple of txt's to my contact, but no response.
After about a half hour an immigration office waves at me - my 'tour' leader has arrived with my papers. There is a lot of to'ing and fro'ing between counters, and $21 dollars is handed over but eventually I emerge with..
the immigration place is quite interesting, it's just a hut in the middle of nowhere next to a river. It even had a swallow building a nest inside.
It's starting to hot up now and we travel through what can only be described as desert. After about a hour we end up Turkmenabat where we stopped at a market to pick up some provisions. The we head off to Merv another three hours away.
Merv is a pretty impressive place, in it's day it was a rival to Damascus in size and importance as a trading centre. However there's not much left now, just a few 'castles' that look a bit like grain silos stuck together. It's VERY hot now. One tomb has been reconstructed and it is beautifully cool inside. I could have stayed there for ages, but we had to press on.
Our hotel for the night is on the outskirts of Mary (yes, there is a place called Mary), a huge room with AC and piping hot water! I have a quick cool shower and I head out with my guide to the centre of town to get something to eat. After that it was a wander around town, where there are plenty of old and new buildings. I try to take a few photos but my guide suggests that I try to do it without drawing too much attention.