Who could knew it would be so easy to get a 5 day transit visa to Turkmenistan…
After cycling through basically all Iran with a growing concern to be denied the visa to this “charter paradise”, it would prove to be one of the easiest to get. But let’s start from the beginning …
My last two weeks in Iran would prove to be at least as amazing as the first two.
One of my days in Teheran was all about applying for a visas and while doing it it’s very common to bump into more cyclists as you run from one embassy to another to hopefully get what you need before they close the door in front of your face.
It is at these places that you also notice how small the world is when you suddenly see someone that you spent the afternoon with in Turkey a couple of months earlier.
When I stressed into the for the day unusually empty Uzbek consulate, I had only one person in front of me in the queue. A tall gentleman with curly hair with a big smile on his face. He had just received his visa in less than five minutes and after another five I suddenly stood there with my passport and visa in hand.
“We have a car and are going straight to the Turkmenistan consultant, do you want to join?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” replied the German man, reaching his right hand towards me.
“Niclas, by the way”.
We spent most of the day together, me, Niclas and Olya before dropping him off at his Iranian friend. Before that, however, we changed the number to keep in touch and maybe meet somewhere along our way to northeast Iran with the term set on Turkmenistan.
I then went back to my friends at the Caspian Sea to first take part in one of all birthdays. And next day I was back on the saddle. However, it did not take many minutes before I saw another cyclist a few hundred meters ahead. I pushed it extra hard to catch up and a few minutes later I came up side by side of with the guy, a man named Sina. Sina was from Iran and was out on a monthly trip that consisted of a small circle around the country. We spent a couple of days together on the road where I was also lucky enough to meet some of his friends before we had to say goodbye since his route continued in south direction and I continued east.
So far, it hadn’t been many days of solo cycling for me in Iran and it wouldn’t be more of that because the day after I said goodbye to Sina I got a message on my phone. It proved to be my German friend Niclas and without any of us having a clue we were only a few miles from each other. Niclas was kind enough to wait for me and took an hour of sleep in a park in the city he was in.
We both noticed very early that we clicked really good, which meant we agreed to ride along as far as possible. Something I’m very happy and grateful about.
And it was very nice to have him by my side every time the visa to Turkmenistan was brought up. Niclas had a fantastic, on the verge of naive (if you ask me) attitude to everything when he every time I began to talk about alternative (but so expensive and complicated) options, said something like; “It’s cool, I know we’ll get it”. This probably calmed my nerves slightly, something I’m grateful about.
And it would prove that the German had been right all the time. Well, in Mashhad, Iran’s holiest city (which you could kind of native in the streets) we could easily get our visa at the Turkmenistan Consulate. The whole body was bouncing of both joy as relief! Now we could spend a few days of rest and hanging out with our Iranian friends before heading for the border.
There are thousands of ways to do a trip like this. A big reason why me and Niclas work so well together is that we think very much the same how we want the days to be like. Something that is important if you ask me, especially if you gonna do it for 14 months. We both got up at the same time, we were both ready to go at the same moment and if we faced any problems we took care of it and solved it as fast as possible while laughing about it. In addition, this is an incredibly fun, smart and interesting young German who always has a new story to tell. He was the main reason why we could easily cycle through a 48-degree warm Turkmenistan in 3.5 days with a smile on our faces.
Turkmenistan, this dictatorship to land, may not offer so much to the one who thinking about spending it’s holiday here, but something the country actually offers is extremely crappy roads. Potholes, cracks, bumps, rocks, camels and other obstacles are something that constantly threatens your progress and for every mile we do I’m constantly worried that the rim will crack or a spike will burst.
However, in a miraculous way, none of this happens.
We continued into Uzbekistan, also part of former Soviet Union and if we go even further back in time; an important part of the trade and travel that took place on the mythical silk road. This seems to be something that the country wants to show, particular in the towns of Buchara and Samarkand where many buildings and monuments have been restored. The streets are filled with tired people who want to sell you some crap, sorry, I mean souvenirs. All of this, for some reason, attracts tourists from all over the world. I personally are not particularly impressed with these cities. But as a cyclist you are more or less forced to go through these areas no matter what direction you’re heading. This mean you will surely come across a lot of cyclists, especially if you come here summertime.
The feeling when you see a cyclist approaching from the opposite side can be described as the feeling when you think you’ve got a fish on the hook. First you’re not really sure, is that a cyclist coming…?
I’m pretty sure it’s a cyclist?!
Yes, it’s definitely a cyclist!
And if you choose to spend a day or two at a hostel in those cities or not to mention Dushanbe (the capital of Tajikistan) you will definitely meet other cyclists who are on their way somewhere. For me our days in Dushanbe were the ones that stood out. In fact, it’s the people we met there that I will remember most.
Here we ran into Rhys for the second time, this amazing, funny Englishman who had been on the road for about 14 months and was telling countless of stories from his 25 years old life. He also had a fantastic talent to tell these stories!
For example, he got the whole hostel to almost die because of laughing when he told how he was bitten by a dog (what he first thought was just a cute dog who was only scared of his presence) a few days before his arrival. The dog immediately after the attack began to chase another poor dog, and thats when Rhys quickly decided that it was actually an idiot to dog. Or when he had been bitten by a scorpion in the desert a few days earlier, sitting up for three hours to “observe” his condition as he would not wake up the others in the group he traveled with.
Did I say that he hasn’t cut his hair in 10 years and that, of course, he lived in a cave for a period of his life?
After getting a lot of energy in Dushanbe it was time to start heading for what we had been waiting for a long time.
The mountains and Pamir Highway. We were now joined by the amazingly funny Irishman Thomas, a guy I already met in Iran where we rode together for a few days.
To me personally, this has been the highlight and probably what I’ve been looking forward to the most from the second I decided to cycle around the world. But besides being the most beautiful place I’ve been to so far, it has also been the toughest par. We rarely cycled more than 70 to 80 km in one day and towards the end of the day the desire to continue cycling has been replaced by looking for the right place to camp. At the same time, it is interesting and almost unbelievably how our bodies have this fantastic ability to recover. Some food and a few hours of ”beauty sleep” and you’re ready to do the same thing again and again and again …
After about 50 percent of the route through Tajikistan a new guest cyclist would appear.
Emil Jansson is his name. Emil is very good friend of mine and has also worked as a volunteer at the orphanage Muang Mai, 5 times should be added!
After a flight that meant two long-term breaks and a 15-hour drive, this constantly positive gentleman showed up with a tired but as always, smiling face.
The other 50 percent of the country was now about to happen and now the group had grown to five when also the incredibly easy-going and happy Francesca from Manchester caught up with us in the city of Khorog.
I’m incredibly pleased to have made this stretch with these people. Without this group, these three weeks had not been the same.
I’m sure that one day in the future we will all see each other again.
There is something calm and peaceful about this place, some due to the fact that the roads are very empty on traffic, roads that in Sweden would not be classified as roads, with dams and ravines threatening on the right, the same side where Afghanistan is only meters away with a river that separates the countries between. The distance is sometimes so short that we can wave and greet the villagers. Sometimes I wonder if they have or will ever leave their villages during their lifetime…
Something that struck me the first day in Tajikistan was that the country was very crowded with children and this is something that followed us during our journey, even in the smallest villages we passed through. The streets were filled in seconds by these kids who all asked about your name and where you come from while doing high fives.
The day finally came when it was time to say goodbye to this amazing group of people.
Me and Emil would ride east to China while the others went north to see the beautiful Kyrgyzstan.
There were some mixed feelings that filled my body. Me and Niclas had cycled together for almost 1.5 months and had a great time together. The last week had also been one of the funniest during the whole trip.
At the same time, I felt eager to get into China, the biggest country of this journey. China is also ”almost” a neighbor to Thailand as only two days of cycling in Laos separates the countries.
Now, however, China happens to be 5 000 km through as well desert, mountains and jungle. But still!
We can now feel the smell of Asia and Thailand …
In about two months we are in the country we once started from. How crazy is that!?