We woke up this morning to the wonders of Merv, an ancient city ruined by Ghengis Khan, on our doorstep. Merv is spread over a huge area and we managed to burn up nearly 20km by the time we were done looking around and back on the main road towards Uzbekistan. Of course we couldn’t leave the site without bumping into a few Turkmen tour groups and two women in particular very kindly insisted on pushing money into our hands; the third time in less than a week this has happened to us! Once again we tried to protest but we were fighting a losing battle. We gave our thanks and left wondering, with all these people giving us money lately, if we’d started to look more down and out than usual?
As we headed out on the road, at first we thought the wind had changed direction in our favour (the breeze has been blowing against us ever since we left Mashhad) but soon it turned to gusts, whipping across the road, creating large clouds of sand and dust. It wasn’t really ideal cycling weather so when we saw a cafe just outside the town of Zahmet we decided to call it quits for the day. One of the great surprises of Turkmenistan has been the roadside cafes where you can eat and drink cheaply and often the owner will invite you to stay for the night. We weren’t even halfway through our first beer and bowl of mutton soup when we were offered a room.
Just as we were settling in a great surprise rolled up: a Chinese cyclist who’s been on the road constantly for the past 11 years! Lee saw our bikes as he was going by and came over to say hello, telling us stories of the incredible 91 countries he’s travelled through. His panniers looked as though they’d seen half the world, with most of the zippers splitting open. He’d just come from Afghanistan, where he was hassled by the police, and now he’s on to Iran, Europe and hopefully Canada over the next year so give him a warm welcome from us if you see him on the road.
Here you can see a video of our sandstorm in Turkmenistan: