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TOF Iran

After two disturbing nights at the campsite in Dogubayazit, it’s time to leave Turkey. The situation in this part of the country has changed a lot since I was here the last time. Lots of military on the streets, police stations and government buildings heavily guarded and guns shots in the middle of the night. Not quit relaxing.

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Hette and I pack our motorbikes and drive down to the city to go to the Iran border. Suddenly mount Ararat appears on our right side. So beautiful with its top that looks like dipped in icing sugar. It softens the view of the other side: a military camp.

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It’s a short ride to the border, but a beautiful one with Ararat on the left the whole time. The border procedures are done within two and a half hours. Not bad! This border feels different from all the others I crossed so far and I can see that Hette is a bit exited as well. I’m curious about my second visit of Iran the last time I experienced this country as not rather pleasant. The feeling of suppression was disturbing my open view in which I normally travel. I wanted to leave Iran a.s.a.p.

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The first stop is at the first town just outside the border area to get some money changed. A bank is not hard to find. The bank manager surprises us by saying that his country is not one of the nicest and that the government sucks. That’s a clear statement! And spoken out loud as well.

We are heading for Tabriz today to meet two other travellers: Sofie and Jo. We’ve had contact through Facebook all the time and I’m really anxious to finally meet them. In contrast to four years ago the ride is smooth, no checkpoints at all. I’m surprised how different it feels to be here. Another difference: we are going to camp. We are told that there is a campsite in the middle of town in a park. We’ve got the coordinates and after some searching and asking we arrive at the Parkside. It really is in the middle of town and there even are toilets and showers.

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Not long after we’ve arrived I hear motorbikes coming and there they are: Sofie and Jo. In the beginning it’s a bit strange to adjust to the situation: first traveling alone, then together with Hette and now the four of us, but luckily our empty stomachs direct us to a common direction. It’s already late and dark when we arrive in the town centre. Shops are closing, so no sightseeing here. During dinner we all relax, exchange stories and have a good time.

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After a good night sleep we are ready to move on. One of my wishes is to go to the north of Iran, to the mountains and that’s what we are up for today. And I wasn’t wrong by thinking it would be interesting. What a views! Normally I don’t like sandy barren landscapes, but I have to change my mind. Al those different colours, lighted by the sun, it’s beautiful. And finally we also leave the tarmac behind and go off road. I love it. Standing on my motorbike I feel more alive then ever.

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At the end of the day we arrive in Heshajin and stop at a tank station. When we want to leave a man comes up to us and invites us over to his house. His daughter who is sitting with him in the car, seems to speak some English and I have the impression that het father would like to encourage her to practise her English and meet ‘other’ people. The family lives in a nice house with a walled garden where our motorbikes are save. Inside the living room is typical Asian: couches at the walls and the rest empty with lots of room to sit on the floor, which is covered with several carpets and pillows to lean on. Immediately the whole ‘taking care of us’ starts. It is overwhelming to see the whole family trying to do their best. Grandma doesn’t understand a word of what we are saying but she looks at me with so much warmth in her eyes.

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A man from the village saying to be a friend of the family came with us as well and starts asking questions. In the beginning I liked his interest, but he keeps on asking and asking in a way I feel like sitting at a police station. Slowly I get irritated. As he again asks me something totally inappropriate I cannot help myself starting to ask question in return. The situation is a bit odd, because I have the feeling that the family (mother, father, daughter and grandmother) are helpless about this situation. Luckily the father suggests to show us around and before we know we all are sitting in the cars and are on our way to the river bank. It’s a long drive and to be honest, I’m a bit tired and hungry but the scenery is as stunning as before and that makes up for it. Driving down to the river we pass a small village, very poor. For me it feels a bit awkward to be here, sitting in a nice car, riding through this very poor village. I’m anxious to know what the family is thinking and feeling but I cannot see any compassion actually not any emotion at all. I guess for them it’s a normal situation. At the end of the village we leave the cars to continue on foot. It’s a really nice view from here at the riverside. We walk on and land in a orchard. It’s nice but I miss the views. It’s already half past eight when we leave and it takes us another one and a half hour to drive back. We all are hungry and tired. Mum starts cooking and we one by one are taking a shower. Dinner is wonderful. These people are so nice. Still I’m glad to finally go to sleep. There is a special guestroom where we are all sleeping in. The matrasses are a sort of thick pillows we use for our garden chairs. It is a standard sleeping arrangement in these countries, although you more and more see ‘normal’ beds.

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People in Iran are so friendly you really are overwhelmed in the beginning. They want to do everything for you. It feels like a sort of compensation for their strict political situation. Some actually mention that. I recognize it in my own behaviour. I have sort of the same feeling when it comes to the position of women. Most people here seem to think that western women are easy to get and totally immoral. I notice myself defending us western women from that prejudgement.

When we are sitting at the breakfast table enjoying yet another delicious meal, one of us asks if it is possible to buy sim cards her in town. A dangerous question because before we know we are driving into town and father buys us all a sim card. The man that asked us so many questions last night arrives and immediately takes over the whole situation. Yesterday evening after the ride he finally left and a niece came to visited us. She is here with us as well. I take her aside and ask her who this man is. She doesn’t know him, he’s not part of the family. I ask her if his behaviour is normal and she nods no. I have to be very careful; I feel it’s a sensitive situation. If I ask her if they want him to leave, I can see it’s a yes, but she is politely circumvents the answer. I decide to tell the man that we, although it is very kind that he offers his help, can handle the situation and thank him. That works and after a goodbye he leaves. I can see everybody is relieved. I have seen this kind of behaviour before and it surprises me that no one says something about it, or takes action at all.

The whole sim card action takes lots of time and while waiting it gets crowded out and inside the shop. It looks like the whole village gathered here. We even have to give autographs to young schoolgirls. Hette is persuaded to play soccer on the PC: Ajax against a local club. Ajax loses big but the joy is even bigger.

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It’s already late when we finally can leave. Mum was sitting in the car all the time because she was not properly dressed (in this village it’s a habit to wear a black sort of wrap, shawl over their already within the lines dresses) but steps out to say goodbye. We hug, I feel emotional. These people really are so friendly.

Tonight we’d like to camp, just like we wanted yesterday, so after another beautiful ride we stop for lunch and buy dinner: spaghetti with sauce. This morning Sofie saw a nice camping opportunity on the map at a lake that we are going to pass.

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When we drive down to the lake it gets windy. The more we come nearer the more wind there is. We really have to watch out to not get blown of our bikes. Sofie, who’s riding up front, sees a road going down to the lakeside and suddenly turns right. Hette who rides behind her has to react quickly and by taking the turn the wind is so strong he drops his motorbike. I am riding behind him and have to stop in the sharp turn I have to make. Right at that time there is an enormous windflaw. It blows me of my bike, I fall and by tumbling over my motorbike I fall into a ravine. It must be a horrible sight! I immediately sense that I am in control and when I finally stop moving the first thing I do is let the others know I’m ok. One thing’s for sure: camping is a no go! No tent will survive these windflaws.

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When all the motorbikes are on their tires again we decide to ride on to the next village. We all are a bit down, again no camping today. Not even ten minutes later in a curve another windflaw hit Hette and me. He falls but is able to continue. I fall as well but can’t get up my bike anymore. The wind is so strong. A car stops beside me with two young men in it. The just look how I am trying to lift up my bike against the wind. After a few attempts I get angry, I walk towards the car and yell: ‘why are you just watching, can’t you at least help me!’ One of them gets out of the car and we manage to get the bike up straight. When I try to sit on it and do an attempt to drive away I again fall. Unbelievable how strong the wind is. I ask the other man to step out and help us to roll the bike to the other side of the street, a bit more in the lee. That works and I am able to sit on the bike without getting blown of and I manage to make enough speed to survive the windflaws at the other side of the street. Riding like this is no fun at all and I’m glad that we have reached the end of the lake where the wind is less strong. Not long after we enter Rudbar where we find a hotel. What a day!

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After a shower and a meal the ladies who are working in the hotel offer Sofie and me to accompany us to some shops where we can buy a proper ‘dress’ to wear on our pants. One with long sleeves. We both find something suitable. Don’t really like mine, but it was the best I could get. At least it’s colourful!

Hette and I share a room for the first time and we both have to laugh about the always-painful issue of taking your boots off. You cannot imagine what that smells like after a day in the heat. I remember the times Marika and I had to deal with this and if it was possible we put our boots on the hallway. If not we put them in a closet that we didn’t use as far away from our beds. When we opened that closet the next day to put our boots on, we almost fainted because of the smell. Hette found out a marvellous way to deal with this problem. As he opened the window he saw a wide gutter underneath the window. A perfect place for our stinky boots!

After a very goodnight sleep, the beds are great here, we gather at Jo and Sofie’s room to eat some fruit and biscuits and to discuss the plans for today. Sofie and Jo are heading for Isfahan, Hette and I want to visit Ahmad, a friend of mine in Teheran. Marika and I met Ahmad in Sirjan in the hotel we were staying were he helped us with our luggage and later invited us to join him and his Chinese guests for dinner. We had a remarkable evening and stayed in contact since (facebook works miracles).

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We are not even an hour on the road again when Jo suddenly holds on. His motorbike is acting strange; it shuts off while driving. After letting the bike rest for a while he tries again but it doesn’t take long before the motorbike turns off again. Jo wants to take a proper look. It’s hot; there is no shady place to park the bike so Sofie and I decide to make a tent with the tarp. Both men are taking the motorbike apart. They think it’s a fuel problem. To much dirt. Meanwhile two guys on motorbikes stop to help. They seem to have the same opinion.: dirty fuel. It takes a while before we make a third attempt. It seems to work out fine but only for 20km… The two men who stayed with us come on hand now. We need a garage to sort out the problem. Jo’s bike has to be towed and I really take my hat off for Sofie who’s doing a great job here by towing Jo. Forty kilometres further we arrive in Qazvin where the two Iran motorbikers find us a garage. In the mean time I phoned Ahmad who’s waiting for Hette and me to tell him about the delay and the problems with Jo’s motorbike. He immediately steps in his car to meet us here in Qazvin to help us out. It’s an hour drive. When he arrives, Jo and the mechanics are just busy taking the bike apart again to clean the fuel filter etc. It’s nice to see Ahmad again after such a long time and also a bit strange. He turns out to be very helpful by translating and also helping to solve the problem as good as it gets. Sofie and I do our female job to take care of something to eat.

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It is late already when the motorbike seems to be ok. In the mean time Sofie and Jo have decided to come with us to Teheran. Ahmad drives ahead. It all seems to work out fine but after forty kilometres Jo stops again. He can’t go on anymore, the problems are getting worse so we have to arrange a truck to get his bike to Teheran. Now the difference between Europe and Asia gets really clear: no Breakdown Service here! When your car falls out you have to take care of everything yourself.

It takes at least an hour before a truck is arranged, with the help of Ahmad and a passer-by that stopped to help us. Then finally one of the small blue trucks we passed so frequently arrives. The drivers must have been called in the middle of his karate practise; he still wears his sports outfit. Sofie and I are quit happy to see the man and not because of the help he is offering ;). It is a sad sight to see the motorbike lifted in the truck. It’s getting dark as we continue are ride to Teheran with this strange convoy. In the mean time also Hette’s bike has the same kind of problems but luckily not that severe. He is able to ride on.

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As we finally reach Ahmad’s house in Teheran, after losing him and getting directed by telephone via Jo in the truck, I am surprised about the beautiful building he’s living in. Ahmad has his own company and has been rather successful in the last years. We all drive into the underground garage, which is guarded; a safe feeling. After unloading the truck we, all very exhausted, enter Ahmad’s apartment. Ahmad is still very lively and starts offering us drinks and things to eat. He even orders dinner. It’s ten o’clock already. We find out that it is normal to have dinner this late; it just doesn’t fit in our biorhythm. Sofie and Jo are getting Ahmad’s bedroom, I get his daughters; Hette and I are forbidden to sleep in one room so that Hette and Ahmad are sleeping on the floor in the livingroom. Finally after an exhausting day I fall asleep between all the pink deco’s and girly toys.

For Sofie and I a day of doing almost nothing follows. The only thing we do is get out for some shopping, or try to do so, while the men are busy with both motorbikes. Hette’s bike fell out more and more as we entered Teheran yesterday. Ahmad has found a great mechanic. The problem on Jo’s motorbike seems to be more severe as thought. Jo needs parts that are not available here in Iran. What a setback. That’ll take days. Hette’s bike needs another day as well. Luckily for him it realy only seems to be dirty fuel.

Sofie and I don’t want to sit and do nothing again for a day and I need some other pants so we leave home to go shopping in the centre. First we go to a nearby sim card shop because none of the sim cards seems to work. While waiting we meet a very nice lady who speaks English and helps us not only in the shop but knows where to find outdoor pants as well. There seems to be a street with outdoor shops, but you have to know where to find it. Just two blocks away there is a subway station with our next challenge. Women can choose between mixed railcar or a car only for women. We chose for the last option and are surprised by what goes on. During the ride women show up to sell us everything form underpants (really sexy ones) till scarfs. When I want to make a picture of it, the saleslady gets angry, that’s not done. Sofie and I, both very curious about this separation of women and men, start talking to some women to find out that it is not forbidden for women to take place in the other railcars, but that they don’t want to because lots of men can’t keep there hands off them. Unbelievable! They are all dressed according the rules: long sleeves, not a bit of leg visible, scarfs covering their heads and still the men can’t control themselves. I’m shocked. Again we tell them that that kind of behaviour is not tolerated in our countries although we are less dressed. Now the Iranian women are shocked. ‘But what happens when men are touching you?’, they ask. It sparsely happens but if , we go to the police to report it and the man will be arrested and has to pay at least a fine. Now the women are even more shocked.

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I thought it would be difficult to find myself some outdoor pants but when we get out of the underground station I’m totally surprised to see all the outdoor shops. In one of the shops we meet a group of girls, one of them is really outspoken and speaks English very well. The women all are part of a kickbox team. They show us around, we treat them on fresh pressed juices. It is remarkable to be confronted with such a variability of Iranian women. From very conservative until so outspoken.

Back at Ahmad’s apartment we all have dinner together. Ahmad turns out to be a very good cook! He spoils us with all his delicious food. Tomorrow Hette and I will leave. Jo and Sofie have to wait for the parts to arrive. In the last few days we build up a nice friendship and I loved the time together. I hope I’ll see them again somewhere on my trip.

The parting is hard. Today we want to go to Semnan over the highway today. A bit boring, but we have to make up some time. In Semnan Hette decides to go the shortest way to the Turkmenian border because his bike is still protesting. I go north. To be honest: I’m looking forward to travel some days on my own. Traveling with a man is really different. As a woman you sort of don’t exist. Al the conversations are directed to the men. I feel a bit lost. Also the age difference is sometimes a bit difficult. We are drawn to other people. Don’t understand me wrong: I like Hette a lot. He’s a very sensible guy with lots of humour. Very easy to travel with.

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After lunch it’s time to go our own way. I hope Hette’s motorbike will hold out. When I leave the highway the scenery changes and I feel really happy. The mountains loom, it’s really green here. This area is well known as the jungle of Iran. To be honest it looks like the mountains in Europe, more green, less sandy but in this heat it’s remarkable, the green. I love it!

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At a tankstop somebody tells me that there is a nice place to camp just in about fifty km. There should be a sign at the right side of the road. And yes, when I am near to the place the man referred to I see a sign that looks like it points to a campsite. Here in Iran it is very common to camp in parks or between the trees along the road. When I turn right I immediately see some nice spots, but it’s to close to the road. As ever when I decide to ride on, the opportunities disappear. I seem to not learn form it. Then the tarmacked road stops and continues in hard sand. On my right side I see a small river. Suddenly the road makes a turn and I stand before a river crossing. Oops. I need some time to collect my nerves before I have the courage to cross. Directly after the crossing I have to turn left to enter the camp zone. As I park my bike a man walks up to me and within five minutes I am invited to stay and eat with the camping owner. I can put my tent at the big balcony. Iranian tents almost all are popup tents, mine is not, so when I explain, I get a nice spot on a hill beside the house. It’s really private. The owner’s daughter is the only one who speaks a bit of English and we immediately bond: her name: Merriam J. Dinner is great: fresh fish and an invitation for breakfast is in the pocket. Merriam’s aunt arrives as well. An interesting conversation takes place. Both sisters (Merriam’s mother) are forced to marry and the aunt isn’t rather positive about her man. I can see her sister isn’t that happy as well, but she cannot show that in front of her family. After dinner Merriam and her aunt put on Iranian music and start to dance. I join them of course, I love dancing! We even can persuade Merriam’s mum to join us.

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How nice it is to sleep in my tent again. I’m so happy with my stay here! My plan is to have a nice day off, just do nothing and spend some time on my own. It’s hot in the sun and I would like to stay in the shade. When I go to the house for my breakfast I walk into a group of students. They are going to the ‘jungle’ for a hike and spontaneously inviting me to come along. I’ve learned one thing: except invitations like this even if you are in doubt (because you have other plans). So I except.

A fantastic walk follows. The group, men and women, is great. Everyone is dressed in shorts and t-shirt and after half an hour the scarfs get off. Suddenly there is no difference anymore. We walk along the stream, as it gets bigger. Sometimes we have to cross. I don’t have a clue where we are going. Until now I don’t have any difficulty following, but after an hour I see the path going uphill. Right at that moment the group decides to follow the water for a while. I don’t mind, it’s really hot. So we jump into the water with our clothes on and start a sort of upstream canyoning. What a fun we have. Along the way I noticed the preference for photo-shoots. Every five minutes we stop to take pictures. A good opportunity for me to rest.

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It’s not an easy hike upstream and we need the help of the strong men in the group and a rope to climb up the rocks. Then the moment comes when most of us have to quit. We all go down again and the hike uphill on the normal path starts. When we go down again to I slip and sprain my ankle. I immediately feel that it’s not good. I heard it snapping. I stumble down thinking we are going back to the campsite but after a while I notice we are going the other way. We meet a couple that is going back to the camping and I decide to go with them. It’s a struggle and I have a lot of pain, but I manage with all the help to come back at the campsite. My tent is standing on a hill end I hardly manage to climb up. What a way to end this lovely day. I’m scared and hope it will be not that bad. Sitting in my chair I just want to take a rest but it is so crowdie. This weekend is a national holiday and it is overcrowded on the campsite. And although my tent is at a private spot on the hill, people are so nosy that lots of them climb up and start asking me question. I’m really annoyed. If I politely say that I just want to read a bit and be left alone they don’t understand. It’s getting on my nerves, my foot aches and I want to be left alone.

The next morning I need help to get my luggage down the hill to pack my bike. Luckily my ankle doesn’t hurt that much in my boot and driving is possible. Standing on it is still a problem. I know my ligaments are torn and it is a severe problem, but as long as I can ride my bike!

My goal is to drive to Sarakhs, at the Turkmenian border. I’d like to be there one day early. It’s a long ride but the roads are good. Slowly I leave the mountains behind me and the desert follows. Hot and boring. At 14:00 when I stop to eat something I get an invitation to join four gentlemen. They take me to a restaurant along the road that I never would have found on my own. The food is the best since a long time. Maybe it sounds strange to except an invitation like this but in these situations I learned to trust on my instinct. Of course I always secure my way out J. When I leave the really nice group of men I bet with one of them that I’ll be in Sarakhs at 18:00. He says I’ll be there at 20:00. No way.

In Mashad I take the brand new toll road. They let me through with a big smile and without paying. The road is abandoned; on the three lanes on my side I only see two three cars during the hour it takes to arrive at the exit to the north. The landscape changes again. Sandy mountains are taking the place for the flat sands. It’s beautiful up here!

Just about twenty km before I pass the last bigger village on my way to Sarakhs my fuel light turns on. Strange, I have enough fuel in my tanks. I guess the fuel in my back tank doesn’t flow into the main tank. I open both caps. That seems to do the trick. In the village I drive to the only fuel station but there is no one there so I move on. Bad decision appears later on. Ten kilometres after passing the village my motor stops. No fuel in my main tank again. He’s really empty now. How stupid this is: I have enough fuel with me but don’t manage to get it in my main tank. I have to stop a car. This part of Iran is totally different from where I was before. It is striking that People are less helpful. The I stopped man cannot help me. What I need is a hose to transfer the fual from my back tank to my main tank, or fuel. Another car stops when I ask. The driver says he will call the police. A man on a small motorbike stops as well and gives me a litre of his fuel. With this I hope I manage driving back to the village. On my way back the police meets me and hands over another two litres. They accompany me to the fuel station where I can stuff my main tank and pay the police for their fuel. I’m really thankful for all the help. I know by then that I lost my bet. I would have made it to Sarakhs before six but now it is seven when I enter the village.

Hotels are not up for grabs. There are only two of them and the more affordable one doesn’t have a safe place for my motorbike and I don’t want to leave my bike on the street unattended. The atmosphere in Saraks is totally different then in the rest of Iran (at least the part I drove through). It is obvious we are close to another, more strict country. People are less open and friendly, it’s a bit grimly. The other hotel just outside the village looks really posh. When I ask some police officers if they know some other places to stay a car stops and guides me to the Red Cross building. ‘Here you can stay for free’, he says. Ok! Getting my bike in the building doesn’t work but there is a big fence around it that they close all the time. I’m not worried here. The nice doors man shows me where I can sleep: in the praying room. In one off the corners there’s a big airco blowing lots of cold air into the room, so it’s all fine by me! The bathroom is something else. Dirty and with a big cockroach at one of the walls behind the door. As long as he’s that far away I don’t mind. The (cold) shower is a treat and hopefully I can get something to eat. A cup of tea is all what comes into my stomach tonight. No problem. The man that brought me here arrives later on. He starts questioning me and again I feel like sitting in a police station. When I tell him that I don’t like his way of questioning he apologizes and starts to convince me about his good intentions. The conversation changes and he shows me a totally other side. He suddenly freely talks about the bad political situation in his country and gets really emotional. His tells me he is an English teacher and although we understand each other I have mercy with his (university) students.

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Although it was ok to stay at the Red Cross, I decide to try the posh hotel for my last night here in Iran. It is rather lonely in this big building; the cockroaches are not tsaying much. Fortunately they stayed outside the praying room. Hette arrives this evening so even if the price of the room is a bit higher as wanted, we at least can split the bill. The first thing I do today is buy a hose so that I can level the fuel form my back tank to the main tank if it’s not running through by it selves. I also get something to eat. The hotel is not as expensive as I thought but to be honest, the outside looks much better then the inside. After two days on my own it’s nice to see Hette. We again go to the city centre, but I have to take a taxi to get back. My foot is still very painful. Walking is not my favourite thing to do right now.

Tomorrow we will enter Turkmenistan. Another chapter in my book. And again it turns out that planning has no sense. Hette and I planned to ride together through Iran and Turkmenistan and see what happens: already in Iran we changed this plan and now again we will part after the first stop in Turkmenistan. We both will ride to Mary and then Hette will take the shortest way to Uzbekistan as I take the road to Ashgabat and after that I want to go through the desert to Dashoguz. In the desert I’d like to see the gate of hell and I want to visit Khiva in Uzbekistan (that’s in the west of Uzbekistan so crossing the border at Dashovuz is the better option). I’m not sure if we will see each other again after tomorrow. Hette’s schedule is different then mine: I have more time to go to Mongolia and after Turkmenistan I want to slow down. We have to pass Turkmenistan in five days. Entering at the sixth of June and leave at the tenth. It feels like rushing to be on time at this border, rushing even more to get through Turkmenistan, but then!

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