Another installment of my trip to Turkmenistan:
I can’t remember day what this was, but we had the Sunday of the opening ceremony off. The command centre thought that it would be impossible to get in, and once you’re in, impossible to get out of the Olympic complex. (They were right, we later learned). So on the Saturday afternoon, after our shift, 6 of us hopped into two cars (Toyota fortuner and a pajero) and we went to the gates of hell. I’ve since posted extensively (with pictures) about this on Facebook, so I won’t elaborate too much (if you want to see the pics, please send me a message and I’ll send you the link to the Facebook post!). We drove for about 3.5/4 hours. The road is exceptionally bad and we only left at 6pm to take on the 260km. So although it doesn’t sound so far, it took very long. We eventually reached the crater after stopping for desert sunset pictures. It was the first time I was truly in a desert. On the way, I was reminded of the Karoo at times. The scenery changed quite a bit as we drove. Our guides were great. They spoke enough English for us to comfortably understand each other. We reached the crater and got out to take some pictures. In the glow you could see the methane gas escaping. It’s really quite alien and quite the sight. It’s difficult to describe, and I would highly recommend it to anyone traveling through this country. Have a look on facebook for more info and detailed descriptions on the photos.
We then set up camp in the desert. Because of the gas, you’re not allowed to camp within 200m of the crater. There were only 2 other ‘camps’. I say ‘camp’ quite loosely. The desert is gigantic – so you just drive around until you find a flattish spot. There is no water, no structure, no toilets, no nothing. Just – a desert and a massive, burning hole.
Our guides cooked us dinner – shish kebaps with salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, some herbs) and some warmed bread. Enough food for an army. We were starving so we finished most of it. Then some Turkmen green tea before bedtime.
The next morning they cooked meatballs on the fire (frikadelle!) with more bread and the last of the veggies from the previous evening. Some more green tea and some coffee for the others! One of the girls brought some tinned tuna from her country, so she made us a delicious salad with it.
We then took the road back, stopping at two of the other craters (one with mud and one with water). We saw LOTS of camels on our way home. LOTS. I still find it quite astonishing that we made it to the crater in the dark safely the previous night, with all those camels wandering around.
There was an accident (veggie truck hit a camel) on our way home. Our guide mentioned that they would never hear about this accident (or any other) in any form. This kind of information is kept quiet.
When we got home, all the roads were closed and we couldn’t get to our hotel. On our way into the city we got stopped multiple times by the police. The car was even searched once. Once we reached the city, we ended up walking the last 1.5km because the cars couldn’t get close to the hotel.
It was a fantastic experience. My favourite thus far in this country. There was absolutely nothing negative about it. I would do it again without hesitation. The stars were the brightest I’ve ever seen. The desert was the quietest I’ve ever experienced. The food was probably some of the best I’ve ever had!