It rained all night, the muddy road was almost unrideable and it continued raining all day. We had to cross to the main road through a patch of sticky mud whiched clogged our mudguards and deleyad us for an hour. We warmed ourselves up in a hotel along the one single road that runs from southern to northern Turkmenistan, and approved the local cuisine. In the early evening we arrived in Mary, the first city we came across. While the small villages are mostly monopoly style houses, all with identical green roofs, the cities are wide and spacious, big marble buildings along the main roads and feels unauthentic. The national colours green and gold are visible everywhere, and everything is orchestrated by the dictator who is solely in charge of the country's money.
In Mary we hung out at the bazaar where we were for the first time introduced to the black market exchange. Exchanging one dollar in banks will give you 3,5 Turkmen Manat, as the rate is fixed. On the black market however, one dollar is worth up to 8,6 Manat, more than double. To gveive you an idea about the price of cigarets: one box can cost up to 200 Manats, or almost 70 dollar using the offical rate! We left the marble city with all it's green housed roofs behind us and found a place somewhere in the suburbs at a friendly Turkmen family who were slicing a whole cow, preparing next day's meal, and we introduced the kids to the game of Jenga. Again we only conversed in hand language, but Turkmens appear to be natural at making themselves understandable, so we didn't experience any difficulties to get our point across when we asked them things.
The next morning, our host family made us breakfast, and when we peaked outside the door we noticed the rain was still there. Our bikes were completely covered in dirt, our chains covered in sand and we were soaking wet. We cycled through the Karakum desert which covers the larger part of Turkmenistan's surface. The only road north is a terrible tarmac road, full of potholes and in the worst condition possible. In the summer this desert is unbearably hot, but we arrived in this country in the week of Norooz, the beginning of a new year, which means the beginning of the spring, and hence this rain. A lot of rain. We were cold again for the first time in a few weeks and cycling wasn't fun anymore. The terrible road costs Anton about one spoke a day, and progress was slow and difficult. Because we wanted to get the most out of our stay in Turkmenistan and explore the country, we decided it was a better idea to hitch a ride to the next city close to the border and spend a day there to explore. A car driver pulled over and asked if he could help, and he assisted us in stopping a truck and getting us to Turkmenabat. There, we slept in his friend's appartment, and were able to cook some decent spaghetti in Turkmenabat. On the way there, we only had to change two flat tyres and one rim was completely wrecked, not a bad achievement given the road conditions.