Day 28 The Burning Gas Crater

25 Jun

Day 28 The Burning Gas Crater, originally uploaded by Big Al!.

Day 28. Hotel Asiya, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. A morning off, before an afternoon ride north into the desert. Peculiar breakfast, then flag down a random car in the street for a ride into town. Seems they don’t do taxis here. Town is wierd. Loads of big buildings, sculpture, fountains, but seemingly empty. Very strange place. Then back to the air conditioned cool of the hotel to fight another bout of food poisoning. At 2 we’re waiting for our guides, in the hottest part of the day, and they arrive 15 minutes late. Then dave’s bike won’t start, and we spend more time in the sun fixing it. Then a 170 mile ride north to the gas crater. It’s pretty much a straight road but we’re leaning to the left the whole way because of the wind, which is blowing sand across the road and scouring my neck. It’s a very harsh environment, the heat is extreme. Dave has his day of hell with the food poisoning. Our guides stop at a small town to buy water and drink fermented camel milk. Dave and i dare not try it with our food poisoning. Another 4×4 arrives, carrying another guide and two slovak doctors on vacation, they join the convoy. The locals are more interested in our bikes, the tourists in the camels. Leaving the town our guides unexpectedly lead up over a sand dune, in which we almost have accidents and get stuck. In the blazing heat we have to unstick the bikes, several times and retreat the way we came in. Turns out they were just taking a short cut anyway. It really didn’t do us any favours. With a hurt back, a stubbed toe, more heat exhaustion, and the realisation that we will not be able to ride to the crater on road tyres, we continue for a while before leaving the bikes at a railroad guard hut and transfering to the guides 4×4 for a white knuckle, stomach churning ride over 7km of sand dunes courtesy of Oleg, who seems to know how to drive on sand but also seems to be a bit crazy and shakes a lot, probably from too much vodka. Arriving at the gas crater is like arriving at the mouth of hell. Intense heat, flames licking around all sides of this huge crater, an orange glow even in daylight. It’s hard to describe, even harder to photograph. We set up camp, our guides set up for a feast of food and vodka, and the drinking and non-stop talking in russian go on till about 3 am. Unfortunately instead of joining in, dave retires to his tent to recover from the illness, while i spend a night suffering with violent vomiting and diarrhea in the desert, with the heat making it so much worse.