#SubaruOfftrax Week Six Highlights

August 27th-Sept 2nd
Turkmenistan & Uzbekistan: two of the hardest countries to get into, but both highlights on our journey
Waking in the port city of Turkmenbashi, after our trip across the Caspian, the first thing we noticed were the look of the local women decked out in beautiful, colourful long dresses, the heat, peaking at 41 degrees, and the cost of gas – 20 cents a litre!!! At prices like that we can afford to get lost. We drove to an underground lake. En route to Ashgabat through many mini sandstorms in the desert Corinne had a huge scare when a transport truck veered out of its lane and headed  straight for her car. Veering to the opposite lane to avoid the truck, the truck suddenly ‘ came to’  and went back to its lane, heading directly for our car. Thankfully Corinne managed to get out of its way and onto the side of the road. Shaken, we all continued onto an underground lake, an hour out of the capital city. Walking down many flights of stairs in the cave we could begin to smell the sulphur instantly.  Surprisingly the water, at 37 degrees and sulphurous was quite refreshing  Afterwards we lounged  aboveground on beautiful silk carpetted platforms sipping local 5 Zip beers & grilled lamb with parsley, basil, onion and bread, all delicious. That night we slept where we ate,  under the stars!
Driving into the capital city of Ashgabat with a so-called population of a million was surreal as there was no one to be seen on the marbled streets. Buildings, shops, fountains and parks were all empty minus the grounds workers keeping everything clean. Outside of the city we found their famed bazaar, which was massive and had everything from clothing to a “home depot” which the boys loved! with not enough time to push onwards, we decided to backtrack a bit and go check out the Iranian border for fun, just 20km away. Not knowing what we’d do, or what to expect, our decision was made when upon arrival it had just closed for the evening. After a lengthy discussion we decided to camp at the border on a dry crispy chunk of land beneath the mountains, probably the homes of cobras and scorpions, underneath a Iranian/Turkmenistan stars.
The following day with time to kill, as we didn’t want to arrive at the Darvaza Gas Crater / Door to Hell too early, we hit up Ashgabat’s largest grocery store, picking up supplies. Then over to the Sofitel Hotel which is now the Oguz where we were introduced to Rasheed, the GM, who was a  true gentleman in the kindest words! He gave us a tour of the gorgeous hotel and the spa was out of this world! The outdoor pool had 2 sections, one “COLD” and the other at outdoor temp which was around 42c. Rasheed had our cooler filled with ice and in exchange we took many photos with the cars outside of the hotel.
Back on the road, heading north we saw lots of camels and even a salty lake in the desert-some oasis! With far and few gas stations around, we topped up as often as possible, including carrying 40 litres of gas in jerry cans as a backup. We heard in Uzbekistan gas is scarce, so might as well have extra and at a good price. Pulling over in the desert village of Yerbent we saw an old antique car with a woman driving. Startled to see us, she veered off the road and into the sand, now stuck. Heidi, as we learned was a 78 year old German lady driving around the world in 2 years in a 1930 Hudson! It was a beautiful car, but not fast, without a/c and the rims of her tiny tires were made of wood! talk about ancient! After a few attempts, we finally got her out of the hot sand.
By 5pm we found the ‘side road’ leading to the gas crater. This was totally “off road”  and Corinne was totally “offtrax”!  The Outback, with Michael driving was lead the way, till Corinne got stuck in the sand. Thankfully we had our TREDS, that acted both as a shovel and a device to get out of the sand. After some help from locals, Andy took over driving the final 5km of sand till the ‘Gates to hell’ appeared. Whoah!!!! This is a HUGE pit full of dancing flames and the heat coming off it came in waves of methane gas – a human mistake 30 years ago and still burning. We set up camp up on a ridge as locals said the air would get hotter and gaseous. Heidi, the German lady arrived later that evening with a guide, complaining the clutch broke as we were pushing her outta the sand….  We partied that night taking many photos and even roasting marshmallows with a 4m metal stick. Definitely a trip highlight.
The wild ride out the next morning back to the main road was another sandy mess, with no stopping, because if you slow down or brake, you’re STUCK!!
Hours later at the Uzbekistan border our bags were thoroughly checked and questioned. All of our medicines came into question as to the reason why we needed each one, especially any with codeine like Tylenol 3 as its illegal. However with our prescriptions and a count of each pill we were allowed through, however it was noted we were carrying narcotics. In addition we had to put a couple of bags through the X-ray machine and Andy’s electric toothbrush, kept coming up. After more questions about it and a demonstration I think they understood what is was.
250km out of our way, we drove to the former fishing village of Moynaq. It was here where the Aral Sea use to be back in the 1970s. Since then, due to irrigation for cotton production, the sea has reduced into two bodies of water, with the South Aral likely to dry up in the coming years. Moynaq is now known for its ship graveyard rather than its fish. Corinne & Jess camped on the hill overlooking the graveyard, where during the night the wind woke them up, feeling like a full offshore storm. Not wanting to camp, the Outback drove to Nukus, where rumours became truth: not only does Uzbekistan have a gas shortage, but they have NO GAS, only black market gas… The gas stations only have natural gas, which most locals cars run on.
In the fairytale-like walled town of Khiva we spent the afternoon exploring and sorting out where to change money and purchase gas (both on the black market, of course!)  Elly got adventurous and dyed her hair with added lightening blots for a whole 8 dollar. Back at our B&B we met up with some of the other travellers we have met in previous locations – the 2 Brits doing a conservation journey, the Japanese  guy who was on a 2 year round the world adventure on his motorcycle and the 2 French boys who were also travelling on their bikes. Over a dinner of sweet rice with garlic an chicken and many beers we exchanged  stories. Stu, from the UK won best story of the night of igniting his hair on fire with sambuca. Youtube it to see what we mean. LOVE IT!
The long, boring drive to Bukhara was met with some ‘excitement’ after a rock flew up from Corinne’s car to hit the Outback’s sunroof, shattering it (later that night Michael taped it up). With it being Independdence Day the small walled city was alive with people.The city itself, with, or without the people was stunning with minarets, blue tiled buildings, tea houses, silks and carpets. We dined outside next to a 2500 year old pool. This was truly a beautiful city with a lot of BLUE!
Samarkand, one of the oldest cities in the world  at 2700 years was quite different and larger than both Khiva and Bukhara.The Registan buildings were massively stunning. However with little time to spare, we didn’t get to see much else of the city. Though we did go on a big hunt for gas the following day leading to nothing in the city and nothing till well outside of the city on the way to Tajikistan.
With the Darvaza’s gas crater’s future unknown (they could extinguish it) it was most def the highlight of the week and on all of our ‘bucket lists’