Friday, August 16, 2013

Racing through the desert

Written in a air conditioned car on the way to turkmenbashi. Seriously with this stay of road, this car wil explode before we reach the city!
Yesterday we said goodbye to the neighbours.
"Don't look for excuses for not having climbed Damavand", said the neighbour. "every alpinist who goes there and fails says it's because of bad weather."
It makes me smile; he's right. Me and Nata were just looking for excuses and we found them.

Now we're not. We say goodbye to Theo, he cycles away from Tehran.
"I figured out today that we are actually people who take the responsability for their own happiness instead of putting that responsability by a second person." he says.

We leave at 12, we must hurry. The metro from Mirdamad has a friendly feeling of home. But now it's going to take us to hell. We arrive at the south of tehran and we try to negociate a free bus to Mashad. Fail. We walk. I thought I mastered iranian hitchhiking well enough to do it without stress but after all those days of rest in Tehran I have lost touch a little. We get a lift outside of Tehran and another a few kilometers to the next city.
this is too slow.
We are already Friday the 16./08 and our tranzit visa starts tomorrow. Don't forget that Turkmenistan borders close at 17:00 and we don't even know which time zone!
It's aboiut 900 kilometers to go part of which is through the mountainours roads and we have to be there tomorrow fairly early. This is tight. We have to cheat. We stop truck, and hope for a long distance.
"Neyere gidiorsun?" Where are you going?
Turks! Turkish! At least a language we can understand! We can communicate! I would have never thought when I first entered Turkey that I would welcome Turkish as a language I can feel safe with.
"Biz gitmet Mashad!"
They are not going to Mashad, they are deviating to the Turkmen border before going to the city! Awesome! Fucking awesome, this is our miracle, let's take it!
desertic landscape

The truck drivers are awesome, they laugh a lot, they give a bracelet to Ilona. They are respectful, they've been in georgia, they are democrats.
Turkish truck drivers that means dinner. And good portions. Meat! I miss meat, I'm sick of being a fucking vegeterian for the last week because meat is too expensive!

They throw all their garbage from the window. Ilona can't look at it, I take it as a neccessary evil.
"Problem yokh, burada Iran!", (No problem, this is Iran!) says our driver as an explanation and laughs loudly. He means he wouldn't do that in his country.
We pass through a mountainous and desertic landscape. It's endless and unreal. So different from what I know.
We stop at midnight somewhere in a parking and build a tent next to them. Departure at 9:30 local time, 8:00 turkish time.
Luckily we leave at 8:30 and in about 16:30 we arrive at the last intersection before the border. They are going right, towards Artyk, we're going straight, towards Ashgabat. We can't continue with them, we wouldn't make it.
Just 40 kilometers left and 30 minutes to go before closure. We are not going to make it. And nobody is going towards the border, it is empty. Empty, empty, empty.
It must be closed already, they are not going to make it. Three people go and talk to us, they give us figues. They look like the worst of drug dealers, I am expecting acid in every figue they gives us and methamphetamines in each of these sunflower seeds.
They said their leader, Ackbar, whom they call Ackbar-leader will take us to the border to drink vodka and smoke pipe which probably means opium.
It's not a time to get high. We stop a taxi who even speaks a little english and accepts to take us for free.

I proved Ali wrong by often accepting rides with Taxis. It works. They are just people like you and me, they are not stuck in an unbreakable money circle.
It's 17:30 already. The taxi rider senses our fears and rushes it 170 km/h through the mountain roads without safety barriers. I am happy and even Ilona doesn't complain. I guess she's vaccinated against fast rides now.

We are passing Oasis, this is so beautiful. Rough desert and then bright green. What the fuck?
I am stressed out. Maybe the border will still be open. Turkmen officials are lazy but sometimes they don't respect their own rules. For example, the embassy which was supposed to be opened from 9 to 11 actually opened at 12.
"I'll pray for you", writes Gazelle and actually it means something to me. Please do, we need every support we can get, real or abstract.

My contact in Ashgabat decided to go on holiday so we are running without safety net here. And god knows we need that safety net, we need it so bad. I so hate myself of not having negociated a backup contact.

The border is open!

The iranian side of it is cool. The young guys discuss the big bang theory with me and other american shows.
"Bazinga!" They shout as a goodbye salute as we enter Turkmenistan.

We are greeted by a picture of their asshole leader smiling and looking like a real idiot. They say there are pictures of him everywhere. The border lady wants us to pay 22 dollars as a passing fee. This is normal but I have only 40 dollars in 20 dollar bills (from theo) and I am sure she doesn't have any change. The bitch is just gonna keep my forty.

I tell her that I only have a 20 dollar bill or 50 euros. She says it's not possible but what can she do with me, she wants to screw me over but she also wants to go home so badly it's written on her face. She exchanges our 50 euros against dollars and gives us the change: 38 dollars. That's about the best scenario, we don't need euros anymore, nobody wants them.

So we have 58 dollars in total when we enter turkmenistan.
We're the last people crossing the border at 6:00PM and the other side is empty. We cannot hitch anything. Anyway they wouldn't let us. There are armed soldiers everywhere with cowboy hats. They are several people with a ton of carpets coming back from iran.
There is one road going away from the border. Can we go there by foot? Of course not? Why?
The big fat lady official with slighty eyes (they are starting to look chinese here) tellse me:
"Tam gulat nelzya, tam tygr yest". You cannot go there on foot because there are tigers.
How many times have I heard that. Don't go there, there are wolves, there are bears, here there are tigers. Sligthly more original but not less stupid. Over time I've learned that excuses about wild animals are usually linked to some bullshit reason to keep us under control. It was so with the armenian assholes and it is so here.
"I bet the only living tiger here has his self-conscious picture on the wall", says Ilona. I can't agree more but we have no choice.
We have to take a bus from the border to somewhere on the road leading to Ashgabat.
I ask the people here how to avoid this. "It's not possible, not possible, talk to the man in charge, not us"
It is amazing, I have never seen anything like that. These people are brainwashed, you can actually see it in their eyes. They are not proud and self-aware like those of Iranians, they are empty and scared. Yes, these people are afraid.

We now realize that Iran isn't a dictatorship at all; the government may try to make it so but none of it is real. The islamic republic of Iran is a joke.
People who label their country a dictatorship in europe should think twice. When you have a authoritative regime, you can feel it. Turkmenistan is a real dictatorship, there is no joke there and you can feel it in every stone.

We try to go away from that bus without paying but the bus driver is such an asshole. He wants 10 dollars per person, our weekly budget. I take Ilona by the hand and guide her away. "Sorry, no money". They guy goes berserk. He threatens to report us to the police, they'll catch us as soon as we set foot in Asgabat. Bullshit you asshole, there is police 50 meters from here, we just had our passport control; if you had any power here you would go to them. SO fuck you!
The lady we spoke to at the border looks more and more scared. We asked around if 10 dollars per 40 kilometers is the normal price here. They say yes. Maybe they are just afraid to say no. We end up paying and the asshole bus driver goes away, no problem. But now, we really have no money. 38 dollars for backup and that is it. Nothing else. We can't even pay emergency transport if we are too slow. If we don't make it in 5 days, we are fucked.

The lady tells us it is dangerous to stay here and it is also dangerous to sleep in a park in Ashgabat. Everything is dangerous and everything is forbidden. This country is fucked up. The tiger is watching us. She drives us about two kilometers and then turns around: "hide in these trees. Don't make a fire. Don't turn on lights".

By trees she ment a patch of small trees loosely growing in the desert. Because it is the desert here, flat patches of dry land under a shining moon. Beautiful but had to hide. And we have to hide. There is a trench from a dead river. Dry as hell but we are hidden somewhat. It is unconfortable. Ilona thinks about putting up a tent but I am fairly against it. I want to know what's happening. Usually it's the other way around. Maybe my experiences with Nata and Poly have changed me.

I also remember that with Nata, we were discovered every time. Fortunately it was always in countries where you got a second chance. Even Iran, especially Iran. I have a feeling that if we are discovered in Turkmenistan, there will be no second chances. Each time I hear a car, each time I hear a door slams, each time I hear steps I just pray there really are wild tigers to scare those people away. I am sure I am more qualified to negociate with tigers than with Turkmen.

If you are reading that blog for quite some time, you'll find out that I am a person very open to negociation. Too much maybe sometimes. But with those people, with brainwashed people, I just see no way to negociate.
"Tam tygr yest". What can you say to that?