Ashgabat to Mary (via Merv)

Given the events of the last 24 hours, we should have just gone straight to sleep. But no, we end up drunk at the hotel dance club with some US Marines who buy shots and beers for us completing PC, followed up by getting approached by local ladies of a certain profession. The next day we’re absolutely useless during the morning conversation with our tour guide and tell her we just want to walk around the city. She insists on explaining the points of interest on the map as if she is just messing with us and our hangover.

So, really, that’s about it. We split up and covered the capital. It’s a ghost town. Nobody talks; very creepy. Mind you, this is the ONLY place we can technically walk around independent of any tour guide. The two bazaars we went to were pretty lame, filled with Russian imported crap such as sunglasses and DVDs. The food markets were no different from the Caucasus. The next morning we took an in-country flight to Mary, stopping over in the ancient city of Merv.

Merv is all about dry mud-based architecture. Back in the day it was supposedly the shit, in terms of Islamic cities alongside Damascus and Cairo. Besides the mud, some edifices do dot the desert and make it more appealing. According to our fearless guide, PCVs like to camp out here, which explains where some of the broken vodka bottles came from.

Following Merv we took a short drive into Mary and discussed what to do in the evening over some good local brew. Finally; the stuff Jon bought from the night prior tasted like sweat. I’m sick of eating at cafés and restaurants at this point, so I turn to the driver and say, call your wife and have her cook up something the locals eat. We’ll pay. Instead, at the advice of our trusty tour guide we bought a gift instead, and arrived a few hours later to the best spread I’ve had since my last ‘khorovats’ in Armenia: Turkmen pilaf and ‘manty’ – something like a beef-stuffed pot sticker. Making it better, was the company of the man’s family. It was nice finally hanging out with locals. After dinner, his daughter played some piano compositions she had come up with that made Jon’s heart break. Luckily, we had to leave for Bukhara the next day or else I swear to God Jon would have married that recently divorced 24-year old Turkmen girl. It’s a good thing he didn’t, because her father was our driver – the person responsible for getting us to the Uzbek border at 6:00am.


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