Saturday, May 30, 2009
What a bizarre place this is. Its like Central Asias' answer to Las Vegas. The first thing you notice is the heat and then its probably the marble sky-scrapers everywhere. Considering its 32C in the city its going to hit the forties when we get into the desert. Today I wandered around the city, checked out the revolving statute of Mr Turkmenbashi, the Arch of Neutrality, the Earthquake Memorial, the Turkmenbashi Palace and so on. Its a 'one of a kind' city. White marble building and policemen everywhere. And all the construction that's going on. Its unreal. The 12 metre golden statute of Turkmenbashi is probably the single biggest tourist attraction in Turkmenistan, yet the 2 times I visited it today, there was not 1 other tourist in the area. I couldn't even find someone to say "Excuse me, would you mind taking my picture in front of the shiny dictator?". There was only police, gardeners and some children playing.One policeman came up to me and asked,"Tourist-you?". He then followed me around for a bit,more likely amused rather than suspicious,(I think) at the way tourists just wander around staring up at things and taking photos.Today I met my cycling guide, Vitaly. I dont know how Stantours managed to find this guy. This man seems just perfect for the job at hand. He has a very interesting CV. He started off as a bicycle mechanic for 5 years and worked his way to become a profession cyclist with the former Soviet Union. He has raced throughout Europe and Asia and is now Vice President of the cycling federation of Turkmenistan. For many years he has worked with the Red Cross, which gave him the opportunity to travel extensively. He even worked for a while in Northern Ireland. He generally likes to cycle 40KMs a day just to keep fit and he talks passionately about the sport and about bicycles in general. He a likeable guy who speaks perfect English, loves cycling and is well up for the adventure of biking across the Karakum desert. We met up this afternoon, discussed the plan for the coming week and then went to a supermarket to stock up on food for the journey ahead. Tomorrow we set off at 6am.