Today we left the ostentatious Asgabat and headed a few hours toward Merv. However, before we got there we had a chance to stop for Samsas: little pieces of pita folded over and stuffed with beef, onions and mystery materials. Delicious and filling, especially for $1.25.
Merv is an ancient city thought to have been the inspiration for the tales of ‘The thousand and one nights’ a metropolis that rivalled Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as a great centre of Islam in its day. That was until, yet again, the Mongols destroyed it. The story apparently runs that Mr. Khan, in his bid for power only wanted grain taxes and a pick of the city’s most beautiful women. The mayor of the town not only refused but killed the tax collectors sent by Jenghiz. Three years later, Jenghiz Khan’s most brutal son Tolui returned at the head of an army and accepted the peaceful surrender of the inhabitants, which in turn made it a lot easier for him to slaughter all 300 000 citizens and burn the city to the ground.
Now the city lays in ruins but they are nice ruins. One of which is the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, who died of a broken heart after returning to Merv post-Khan. The mausoleum is a cube building with a dome on top, very modest, but so impressive to the sultan that he had the architect executed to ensure that he never built another building to rival the tomb.
After Merv we continued through the desert which almost resembles the area surrounding Port Franks beach, minus any trees; just sand and rocks and scruffy little thorny plants and, of course, more camels.
From Merv we headed towards Turkmenabat, the second biggest city in Turkmenistan, and only a stones throw away from the Uzbek border. As the sun was setting the gas light came on, then it started blinking. We had already been searching for a gas station but to no avail. Now it seemed we would need to dip into our reserve containers which hold about half a tank. But before we had to think about finding a spot to pull over, the road we were on ended and we had to follow another driver make the transition across a small dip and onto the road running parallel. So the guy in the truck went across, then we followed his path - halfway. Huh. Bad spot to cross, can’t reverse, can’t proceed, probably a bad spot to have crossed because of the loose sand underneath that had swallowed our tires and caused us to get stuck in the desert in the face of the approaching dark. After a few minutes another motorist passed and we managed to flag him down, he was nice enough to come over and try to get us out but being stuck in a dip meant the front end was submerged right to the fibreglass body and the only option was to get towed back up the hill and onto the road that had ended. So he jumped in his little soviet jeep and gunned the engine for all it was worth but to no avail. Then we got another car loaded with 5 more Turkmen to help us push. Still no good. Then we found a transport truck, who began to drag us out until our nice thick yellow brand spanking new heavy duty tow rope snapped. Then he left, but at least our front end was dug out enough to get the re-tied rope secured to a passing dump truck who snapped the rope but waited for us to re-re-tie it and finally, after spinning the tires, nearly burying the car, trying to dig it out, putting down branches for traction and me getting completely showered in sand after choosing an unwise spot to push from, we were free, back on the road! And still without gas. So we ended up using a 10 litre container to buy us a few more miles found a gas station about half an hour later who filled up the tank and pointed us toward Turkmanabat where we eventually found a rather odd hotel tucked in behind a very swank (by the standards here) hotel.
So that makes the getting stuck count: 1 and the coming so close that you’re worried you’re going to run out of gas but don’t actually do but use a gas can just in case because we have yet to run out of gas and won’t really until we get home: 1.
Sleep tonight, border tomorrow maybe Uzbekistan too.