Never Thought We Would Ever Be In Turkmenistan!

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From Mashad, Iran today it will be 371 km to Mary, Turkmenistan. The road to the border is 2 lane and there are a lot of trucks. There is one section thru the mountain pass that is quite nice. We booked it the 186 km and just stopped for gas in Sarakh (Sarahs).

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Luckily we had way pointed the actual crossing since there are no signs to the border. This is clearly the truck crossing. We arrived to the check point and parked outside at 1045. There was a shop to get some snacks and water and guys changing Iranian currency to Turkmenistan money.

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We then were asked to pull the bikes inside the gate. They asked me to remove my helmet camera (first border in 67 countries). Here at the first office they want your carnet and passport. They seem to be registering the carnet and passport for exit. They give you a paper on which you will collect all your stamps from each step before you can exit. You then exit the office and the agent walk over 10 m to a window where they again want your passport and now registration.  I was asked to put my jacket back on as today i was back to my short sleeved riding shirt. From here you ride 400 m and are directed to park. An agent then directs you to the customs office where they again want to see the passports and carnet, but still no exit stamp. They did write in a bunch of details on the forms. Then you walk 200 m to the passport control building. We of course arrived here at what seemed a lunch break. After about 20 minutes of waiting we were asked into the back and seated in an air conditioned office. The big cheese was here and registered the carnets in the ledger and gave us the all important exit stamp. He then came out to inspect the bikes and random items of luggage. He did not even look in the pannier he asked me to open. He even asked to see the photos on Dan’s pocket camera as well. He told us that if we have any medication with codeine we need to get rid of it before we go to Turkmenistan as they are very serious about their ban of this  there.  Now we needed to go back to the passport control to get an exit stamp this took at least 20 minutes. From here you are supposed to ride back around the building the way you came and then get the carnet checked for exit, but  some truck drivers laid out a gate over the ditch from where we were parked so we could by pass the trucks and get to the front of the line. This meant we had a short walk back to the office to have the final checks done. Now we could go to the police booth to get the ok to leave Iran after 2 1/2 hours. The Iranian side of the border was very third world. We were a bit concerned about the next step after all we had read on line…It will take at least 4 hours, Turkmen people are very unfriendly, you must watch you  stuff closely when they check the luggage as items go missing.  Now this was mostly reports from the large border nearer to Ashgabat. We then rode 300 m to the Turkmenistan check point. Here they wanted to see the passports and were very friendly. You must ride over the bridge to the check point on the other side and again they want your passport. Here they insisted Orvar remove the Go Pro.

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From here it is 1.5 km to the border control. This is a huge white building with many trucks in the numerous bays being gone over with a fine tooth comb. We were directed to park at the doors and then go inside.

Step 1 – “sanitary check”- 2 at a time we were ushered into the health room. A man in a white lab coat asked for the passports and said ok? check? I guess we look healthy enough to pass. Funny note everywhere there are photos of the president prominently displayed, but in each room he is dressed in the garb of the area. Here he is dressed up as a doctor with a lab coat.

Step 2- You go thru to the customs hall. This is a huge room with several x ray machines and the left side is a long line of guys at desks. There is a line up of locals at the door, but the officers directed us past them to the first desk. Here they confirmed we had transit visas for 5 days. They wanted to know where we planned to go and what hotel we were booked to stay in (we said Mary, but we did not have a hotel booked, which they though was strange). They wanted the bike details make, model, cc, and VIN. They take your fingerprints and facial scan.

He directed us to the next window (kasse) to the bank to pay the 20$ fee. The bank guy was very nice and after checking the passports stamped out paper paid without asking for the money! Back to the first desk to have the stamp checked. We now have 2 new papers.

Step 3- There is a row of 5 men at the next area who were all smiles and very nice. You give your  bike registration to the second guy. Now we have 3 new papers. You then move to the third guy who does something else with the paperwork and more stamps. Then you go down to the last guy. He makes up a paper that documents your route he adds all the fees to this, and he prints off a TVIP for you to sign. Then you go back to the first guy to have all the papers checked. Now we have 5 slips of paper. Then you go 20 m farther down to the military check the wall is so high here only dan can see over it. All papers checked again. He directs you back to the kasse to pay ouch 73!!! USD for the entry fees and insurance. This also includes an fee for bike decontamination which they did not do. (So far to cross Turkmenistan we have pain 150$ for LOI, 55$ for Visa, 73$ for entry). At each step they also checked the passports.

Step 4- Back out to the bikes and we are directed to the “declaration office”, which is 150 m across the lot to a small white building. Here the officer asks for your passport and registration. The form also includes how much money you are carrying and you must sign this. (There are reports on line that if they check you at exit and you have more cash than this they will take it).

Step 5- There is a bit of confusion on where we are to go next. The declaration officer told us to go 2 by 2 in the first open rows with the trucks, but the guys outside directed us to park to the far left. Of course once we got there we had to go back to where we were told in the first place. Dan and I pulled into the first row. Here young men in the army and combing the vehicles for contraband. They look like secret service sweeping for a presidential visit. The first young guy was insistent that I stay in row 1 , but Dan must go over to the empty row 4! Check is 1 vehicle at a time. They were very insistent, but a senior official came over and calmed them down. He was super friendly and spoke a little English. They want to search the luggage. They were very professional, asked for 1 item at a time to be opened, did not touch anything unless they asked to see it. I was asked to open a few bags in side the panniers, but it was cursory. When it was taking some time to undo the dry bag with the tent they asked what it was and when i said tent they said don’t bother. For the medical kit they wanted to see inside it, but barely looked at it. Orvar said they made sure he was watching the whole time they searched. We were very surprised they did not even look at Dan’s tank bag. We had been a bit worried as the bigger camera is in there. They did not seem concerned with the tripod either.

Step 6 – ride to the exit check point with all your papers and stamps. Bottom line very modern border, very friendly efficient staff, but slightly paranoid.

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It is now 430 local time (30 min ahead of Iran) and we have 230 km to go to Mary. We now had only had some water and 1/4 of a seed bar all day. It is only 36, but very hot and humid.

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We had only gone 10 km when we hit the next check point. It was at least 15 minutes stopped in the sun for the passport check. We finally got off to hide under the shade. Dan said I’m getting so hungry and a few minutes later one of the local ladies that had been ahead of us in line came back form here car with a huge loaf of fresh bread for us.

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The women here have the most fantastic outfits and most are very slim. They wear long form fitting caftan like dresses and elaborate head scarf that look like they are from the Caribbean.

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The road is paved, but very soft and rutted badly in spots by the trucks. There are no signs of any kind (direction, distance, warning). We saw a single sign in 250 km for Ashgabat or Mary go left or right.

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The GPS wants to route on the old road, but we continued on the M37. This is a divided road, but both directions are on the one side. There are no lines and so it is basically a wide asphalt strip with vehicles going both ways. The drivers are very fast, but they pass safely and signal. Most of the road was pretty good. They have grated a few sections and they are covered with some gravel.

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There are a few gas stations and some small shops between the border and the turn north (109 KM), but absolutely nothing between there and the 139 km to and Mary.

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Arriving to Mary we were a bit shocked it is a very clean beautiful city. The Turkmen people so far have been very friendly. We pulled up to the hotel we all had in the GPS at almost 7 pm and it was a massive palace. We were very hot, tired and sweaty and Trevor and I decided if they take visa we don’t really care the cost at this point. The hotels in the capital Ashgabat are 120 $ US minimum. It looks like a 300$ a night place. Dan and Orvar went in and came out all smiles 90$ for a massive room with a fantastic view. What a treat. These places are government owned and I think there was  maybe 10 guests here in a 400 room hotel. The place is luxurious.

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The next great thing was that they had BEER here!

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We walked out the front door and a family was walking by with take out pizza boxes and we said “is that pizza? and where did you get it?” The dad pointed the way and we found the cafe about 400 m away. The young waiter spoke fairly good English and so we managed to get two pretty good pizzas.
All along the main road there are “positioned” huge and very grand buildings. There is the hotel, the library, several mosques, and a theater. They are totally over the top on the grandiose side and seem never to be open.

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Wedding car!

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We arranged a driver to take us 40 minutes north to the ancient city of Merv. This was once the largest city in the world. What a treat to ride around in an Air conditioned land cruiser in this heat.

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More friendly Turkmen people!

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We did a bit of off roading to get close to a camel herd!

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The afternoon we spent at the bazaar making some friends, having lunch, and doing a bit of shopping. The official exchange rate is 3.5 to 1 and we had changed just 4$ at the hotel. Orvar and Trevor needed some cash and interestingly got 7:1 from the money changers. Now one did try to fool Orvar with a bait and switch, but he caught him and recounted the money for the correct amount. In the food part of the bazaar we wanted to buy some fruits for the border tomorrow. There were some very nice, but very small  pears and we asked for 4. This women must have thought we were stupid as she told us they were 100 manat a kg. This would  make them 5 USD each. The real price in the grocery store is 13 Manat a kg!! We said forget it and went onto the next stall to buy some dried apricots instead.

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They were setting up for something big across the street with a stage, red carpets, and a big screen TV. Later there was a crown of several hundred lined up to watch the presentation. We found out this was for the celebration of the president’s birthday. Any participants that tried to get out of the blazing sun to the shade or sit down were told to get back in line. This lasted until the TV cameras stopped rolling. There were lip sync singers and some dancers. The big screen had a “propaganda” like stream from the capital. Very 1984 or North Korea.

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We wandered over to a local “pub” that did have beer and they served samosa like pockets hot from the fire.

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12 Responses to Never Thought We Would Ever Be In Turkmenistan!

  1. Rob says:

    Love your posts

  2. Norbert says:

    What a ride you are having, we follow you with fascination.
    Stay safe.
    Norbert abd Greti

  3. Kathy Knezeak says:

    It is such a pleasure to see your photos. What an adventure! I’m vicariously living through you two. Thank you!!! Safe travels. Kathy and Mark Knezeak (from Lake Como)

    • Daniel says:

      Great to hear from you!! We were just talking about you guys to some friends going to Como. We had a lovely afternoon with you both!! Hi from Astana, Kazakhstan. Sara

  4. Erikmotoman says:

    It’s been such a pleasure following your travels! Always read your reports immediately.

  5. Danielle Bdburriurrill says:

    Nice to see Sara looking more like herself. The Iran pics were fascinating . I’m so glad you got through safely albeit “under cover”! What a bonus getting to stay in that posh hotel–well deserved. Love reading your posts . I always have a huge smile afterwards. Except for all the fires in the province all is well on the coast.

    • Daniel says:

      Yes you and I would not do well in Iran full time….WE have too much “spirit”. Nice hotel once in a while heals the soul. We are on fire watch here for you too. Sara

  6. Brent Boyd says:

    Spent lots of time in Kazakhstan but never made it to Turkmenistan. But always loved Stan hospitality. Got really sick and ended up in a hospital in Almaty, again great people and almost hated to leave. Once I got healthy had a great trip with my Kazakh doctor into the the Pamirs. Enjoy yourselves !!

    • Daniel says:

      The Stan people really embrace the Eastern Hospitality with pride. Kazak was just too flat and hot for us. The people were very nice of course. Astana is a strange and unusual city, but very interesting. Dan always travels with his Dr. so very convenient. haha.. Thanks for the comments we so appreciate it. Sara

  7. Brent Boyd says:

    Love following your trip.

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