Monday, September 15, 2008

Kazakhstan/Turkmenistan Desert 4, Mini 1

Action Update: The Mini has made Ulaanbaatar!
I expect a more detailed post from Slepak shortly.  In the meantime, back to your regularly scheduled and somewhat delayed recap of stories from earlier in the trip...

Sunrise is always a beautiful sight.  I’d just usually prefer to see it in my dreams rather than in person.  We were rushing through the Kazakh desert to make the Turkmenistan border - we’d heard it was not open 24 hours – so we’d spent the night in the car and were getting an early start.  Something about the early hour made Slepak a bit too chipper.

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After about an hour of travel we stopped for a bit and when we tried to restart the Mini nothing happened.  Slepak had had electrical problems before - usually the battery leads working themselves loose.  And so he dove in to fix the problem - literally - as on the Mini, the battery is conveniently located at the bottom of the trunk under a metric crapload of stuff!

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But we were able to reconnect the battery and get going again.  Score 1 for the desert.  Now this was our first real experience with Bad Roads.  As in the pavement is so horrible, people with 4WD just go off into the desert and drive parallel to the pavement.  Over time this creates tracks that you might be dumb enough to try to drive the Mini on.  We were.  After about 5 minutes, we decided there was too much loose sand, so we'd head back for the pavement.  In true Safety Third style (and to push through the berm of sand at road's edge) we floored leaving the track.  Unfortunately there was a big hole just beyond the berm and we hit it pretty hard.

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Upon further inspection, we'd actually not only blown out the tyre, but also bent the rim!

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Score 2 for the desert. This would be the first of dozens of tyres I'd have to change on this trip.  As we continued south towards the border, the road continued to get worse.  The good news is once the potholes are bigger than the Mini, they're easier to drive through than dodge

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Some where along the way, all the shaking jarred loose the front grille of the car which we discovered roughly an hour later when we stopped for lunch.  Our first attempt to repair it with cardboard was deemed too hot and stuffy.  But the snazzy duct tape model seemed to do just fine.

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Now the desert was up 3-0, but we saw our first camels of the trip, which was pretty exciting.

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While we were pulled over taking pictures of the camels a new Camry drove by.  Once we got on the road again, it had pulled over by the side of the road and a cop was out flagging us down with his baton.  After our horrific night in Russia two days earlier (2 traffic stops within a kilometer of each other and 3 total, each 30+ minutes) we were understandably apprehensive.  But he was just excited to see us, and wanted a photo!  If only all the traffic stops were this easy!

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Finally we reached the Turkmen border at 6:30.  Unfortunately they had closed at 6.  Slepak went exploring for someone to let us in late to no avail.  But we still had a good night befriending a trucker and another family waiting for the crossing to reopen.

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After spending waaaay too much time and money going through all the border formalities to enter Turkmenistan, we could see just how dirty the car had become - Lonely Planet warns to get a car wash before entering Ashgabat (the capital) as traffic police can fine you for having a dirty car.

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Also the roads got worse.  The pavement was too broken to drive so we went again to the dirt tracks, which were so deeply rutted we could just drive down one side as we'd get high centered otherwise.

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The tracks just kept going and going, splitting off and rejoining each other on a whim.  But at least they kept heading south!

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Unfortunately they also got sandy again and we got stuck deeply in it.  Point, desert.

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Fortunately after about 10 minutes of struggling on our own to get it out, we were able to flag down a passing 4WD.  In about 30 seconds, the guy had turned off his side road, driven straight through the bush to our road, whipped out a tow cable, yanked us out of hole, and sped off again without time to even thank him properly.  Our first encounter with the very helpful Turkmen people!  By evening we had made the port town of Turkmenbashi - where our ferry would have landed if that pesky South Ossetia business hadn't sprung up and necessitated this desert trip.  We decided to splurge and stay at the Hotel Turkmenbashi, which conveniently had a white Lada - vehicle of the 2006 Mongol Rally - parked out front for Slepak and the Mini to pose with.  Point Mini!

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1 comment:

Jimi said...

Hey hey you seem to have some great sandy time there xixi glad you made it through the desert as for the rim dont worry with some hammering it will be nice and fit again :P

cheers

Jimi