One of the World's hottest areas - long distances in merciless deserts.
Central Asia and the route.
Visa: Different from place to place. Very bad in Ankara, good in Tbilisi and Erzurum. Price differs, depending on place and nationality.
Costs: Very cheap!
Traffic & Roads: Very good condition roads, but also a lot of traffic. Tehran is on the top 3 list of worst cities to cycle in for me. Hell!
Almost got shocked by the amount of people in the streets in Iran. Azerbaijan was an eerie place almost devoid of people and that was not the case in Iran. "Attacked" by hordes of curious Iranians, who wanted to have a look at the weird looking cyclist (completely covered in dried white salt residue from sweating). Bought a map and took off for the mountains.
Long climb up to Ardebil. Great to be in more challenging surroundings again. Got help from a local cyclist to find a cheap hotel. Flat out for 35 hours in a weird fever bout. Probably connected to a tooth inflammation that had buggered me for the last three days in Azerbaijan.
Cycled a bit in the mountains and went down to the Caspian sea coast again. Had heard so much positive about that place, but it was really an anticlimax. Full of ugly industrial towns, traffic and factories. Regretted the decision to leave the mountains a lot and was happy to arrive in Tehran...in a way. All cyclists who talk about the worst city in the world to cycle in, can always try out the freeways of Tehran at 2200h. Wow, really scary!
Arriving at night in a multi million person city, at night, without maps or info can be a bit difficult. Got help from students, was invited by loads of nice people and was harassed by the secret police. Finally found a hotel full of opium and/or people smugglers in the worst part of the city. Was even more angry about the Uzbeks who made it so difficult to get a visa for their country - the only reason for me to go to Tehran.
Met Mehrdad, an Iranian businessman who had been living in Sweden for some years and it was really great to escape the misery in the super hot hotel. Living in two worlds at the same time - daytime: taxis in the total traffic chaos back and forth to bureaucracy institutions and hanging out in the hotel with the nice but very miserable smugglers. Night time: watching satellite channels, cruising the freeways in a luxury car listening to techno at highest possible volume.
Don't wanna get into any particulars about how I got the Uzbek visa, but I finally got it. What I didn't got was a long term extension of my Iranian visa and I realized I couldn't do what I intended to do in the country, i.e. cycle the whole distance to the Turkmen border and climb Demavand, the 5700m high volcano. I was already short of time, but decided to go for Demavand regardless of the visa limitation.
|Camp in a nice valley at the foot of Demavand.|
Took a wrong turn and ended up going down the plateau, before I finally found my way up to the village that climbers use as a staging point for expeditions for Demavand. Set off at a frantic pace and I realized I had to do it in a not very careful way. Too much altitude gain is never good and I went straight up to base camp, continued the next morning and reached the summit at early noon. It was an altitude gain of approx. 4000 meters in 23 hours and it's no good, but I didn't had any problems.
The problems I had was a minor blizzard at that rolled in at 5200m and an annoying guide that accompanied the Italians. Also there were quite a lot of suffocating sulphur fumes coming out of the volcanic ground and sometimes I had to on the more steep rocky sections instead of the more easy gravel parts full of fumes.
|Wonderful flowers all over the windy meadows on higher altitude.|
|The mountain on the 10000 Rial note.|
|On the way up towards the summit. An Italian expedition was my only company after the Iranian climbers turned back.|
|Two of the Italians and their climbing guide on the summit.|
|As a rock climber Bernard had to do it the hard way to the top part of the summit...|
|Icy face on 5700m.|
After summiting the mountain, I went straight down to Reine, the village and slept the night there. Jumped on the bike the next morning and continued east. The legs felt ok, but after 150km, I realized the exertions from the last days efforts had taken it's toll and I flagged down a bus going to Mashad. The visa was already 2 days overdue...
Sorted out the problems with immigration in Mashad and continued towards Turkmenistan. Violent sandstorms and being followed by the secret police stopped me a bit, but apart from that everything went on smoothly.
Visa: Required by all and very difficult to get. Don't have any good tips... Officially you have to register with the OVIR, I didn't - no problem.
Costs: Cheap. Don't know about hotels, camped all the time.
Traffic & Roads: Good asphalt, the smaller roads, very rough. Very little traffic.
Danger: Some stretches are inhabited and the distances between water is long and it is very hot country.
The most chaotic border crossing I ever encountered. The Iranian side was fine, but on the Turkmen side it was absolutely insane. Hundreds of people tried to get into the customs building at the same time and they were all carrying huge carton boxes gods. The border guards were trying to stop the flow of people, using all means possible. That included punching people straight in the face....Had no real clue how to avoid the long lines, but was lucky to get inside just when a full scale fight broke out. It didn't get better inside...Questions like: "Is this your passport"?, "Where is the engine"? (pointing at my bike), "vodka"? (shaking my water bottles) etc. etc. When questions like "Where are you going"? was asked for the x'th time I was tempted to answer: " To Brazil, you idiot, where else? Where the hell do you think I'm going"? Almost gave up when a huge Russian woman showed up and to my surprise she was fluent in French. She was very happy to practice her language abilities and escorted me through the mind boggling Turkmen immigration procedures.
|5000km! It was only 400 m after the border and just when I was welcomed with a huge Turkmen flag I hit 5000km out of Cairo.|
Went on the small back roads. Hot, hot, HOT! Up to 47 C in the shade and very, very dry. On and on a small bumpy track. Took shelter under the only bush I could find and got scared out of my mind when another guy came crawling out of another corner of the bush. He asked for water, I gave him some. He asked for more, I asked him how far it was to the next water whole. 5km, he said. I gave him a whole bottle. Big mistake! There were absolutely NO water for the next 70km and in the end I was very dehydrated, contemplated to cycle back and have a word with the guy in the bush...
Nice swim in a water channel and loads of water to drink. So thirsty I didn't even care about the weird side tastes of pesticides and mud.
|A weird restaurant in the desert. It consisted of two huge boats...wondered how they got them there and why...I thought it was a mirage from far off.|
Arrived in Mary, one of Central Asia's ancient cities. Wasn't in the mood for sightseeing, zipped straight through. A long stretch of desert ahead - filled up all water containers I had and set off for the Kara Kum desert.
I would say it's an absolute hell for cyclists! The sun was blistering hot from the first moment. No shade for hours and hours. If you found some, there were millions of big fat flies attacking you without mercy. The sun hot 'til the very last moment over the horizon. When it finally went down, the mosquitoes arrived. Ended up cooking inside the tent and I think you can easily imagine how nice that is in the heat....
|Blistering hot. Sand dunes, flies and sun - The Kara Kum desert in a nutshell.|
The people were not like in Iran - they really kept the distance and at first I felt I was unwelcome. That was not the case, it was just you had to take the first step and then they became very friendly - not like in many of the other countries in the area - in your face friendliness.
Finally arrived in a small settlement. Some kids came up and started a conversation with me. Had some fun, but all of a sudden one of them took off at high speed - realized my pump was gone. Couldn't leave the bike and chase the kid, more could be stolen. Talked to the oldest of the kids and told him he would get 10 000 manat ($0.50) if he helped me out to get the pump back. We went from house to house. Nothing. A big burly man came up to me and my friend and asked what was going on. We explained. He called another 15 kids and some adults and they started to search the town. Got loads of food while waiting. No pump. The big guy gave another order. Within minutes the people had gathered approx. 15 pumps for me and he told me take my pick. None of them fit for my valves. The big guy called the police and told my helper to follow me to the police station. We went. Met a grim looking old policeman, explained the situation, he made one phone call, stared me deep in the eyes for a good five minutes and there was a knock on the door. Another old man entered with my pump in hand. The policeman handed over the pump, with a strict curt nod of the head. I handed over the promised bounty to my helper: His face cracked up into a big laugh and he got tears in his eyes. I left the place with hopes that he wouldn't be too badly treated due to the snitching on a friend he had done.
|The picture taken just before the guy to the far left took off with my pump. The tallest boy with the bike is my helper.|
I learned a couple of things from this incident: Never give up! Use any method to reach your goal and that Turkmen people are wonderful even if they very seldom smile.
Afghani truck drivers almost started a contest in who could give the lone cyclist the most gifts. First a whole convoy stopped and I almost drowned in mango juice packets, tea, biscuits and snacks. After some time I left. One truckie stopped and gave me some more goodies. At the same time the rest of the convoy passed. Further on, on the road they all waited in different places to give me more gifts. Wonderful to get cold drinks in the middle of the desert and to have some someone to talk to.
|Some of my friends from the Afghani convoy.|
There are many checkpoints in Turkmenistan. Had heard bad stories about them, but for me it was bliss. Very nice police who always invited me for tea and snacks...and most important: a couple of minutes of escape from the heat in the sun.
Finally arrived in Chardzhev (nowadays called Turkmenabad - almost every city in Turkmenistan have been renamed to something with Turkmen in the word, even if most people still call them by the old Russian name) and felt great that the worst of the desert was behind me.
Visa: Difficult to get (unless you're American= 4 year, multiple entry, without hassles !!!), invitation, sponsor and so on. Expensive as well...I paid 60$ for a 27 day business visa. Officially you have to register with the OVIR, I didn't - no problem.
Costs: Extremely cheap. Accommodation expensive, from 5$ and up, but usually you're invited all the time to private houses.
Traffic & Roads: Moderate traffic on the main roads, but very little on the smaller ones. Usually good quality asphalt.
The Uzbek immigration was mind boggling. Not in the chaotic way of the Turkmen, but so much bureaucracy I could hardly believe it. It took me four hours to get through after filling in triplicates and more of every single document. Had a laugh at the very detailed list of what you're not entitled to bring into the country...Appliances to build aircraft...nuclear weapons parts...written material which include: millions of things bla bla...
At Kugda! If I didn't know any Russian I first would have thought that phrase was a greeting, but it means: Where are you from? Get used to that phrase, or go insane visiting Uzbekistan on a bike.
The in-the-face-friendliness was back and even passed the Iranian limits for it. Everywhere people came up to you and gave you things and helped you out in every possible way. During the visit in Uzbekistan Jeff and I were given/offered: shoes, bed sheets, T-shirts, flags, a huge toolkit, sunglasses, glass jars and of course tons of food and drinks. Sometimes it was almost too much. Had no clue what to do with all the gifts. One of the strongest impressions from the visit was the enormous weight of my bike and melons and plastic bags tied all over the equipment.
Arrived in the ancient city of Bukhara. Beautiful and with a great atmosphere. Jeff arrived the same day I arrived and it was great to see him again.
|One of the old cupolas in Bukhara.|
|Bukhara at sunset.|
|The standard water break.|
|Road signs can sometimes be of great help, sometimes not....|
|A meal, the Uzbek way|
|Slaughtering a goat.|
|Uzbek school kids. Sometimes we created absolute havoc, just arriving in a place. So many people wanted to have a look at us...|
|Thought we could have some shade, but someone else was there ahead of us...|
|The very dry and very hot areas close to Guzar.|
|Wonderful to have left the flatlands behind.|
|Americanization, weird to see those well known signs in a small village...also for sale: towels with tigers on with the text "Canarian Islands".|
|Was bombarded with food in the last Uzbek village, my usually quite empty panniers was full to the brim.|
What is there to say...Great to have company again, very hot, very boring cycling on the flatlands of Uzbekistan. Got poisoned from having a shower in a broken irrigation pipe, should've known better, when smelling herbicides/pesticides from a hundred meters away. Had a bad afternoon, but got recovered quickly. The only day with stomach problems on the whole trip.
It was a time of anticipation. We were all the time looking at the distant horizon...for the first signs of the Pamirs, for some snow-caps, for some colder, rougher climate and big time adventures. Tajikistan - a country with an almost mythical status was ahead.
Continue to the next part of the journey!
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