I was warned. I didn’t listen.
As I was leaving the Kazakhstani town of Atyrau (which used to be called Guryev), Steve Priovolos, my co-driver, and I stopped for gasoline. The car attracts a lot of attention, and people often want to chat. Most don’t speak English, and because we don’t speak Kazakhstani or Russian, communication is limited to hand signals and smiles.
At the gas station, I did encounter a chap who spoke English, and I ended up telling him of our impending drive to Turkmenistan as part of our 10,000-mile road trip called the Mongol Rally. When I finished telling him about the rally, which began July 14 in Britain and should end in less than four weeks in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, I could tell by the look on his face he was worried. His parting words were: “Driving road to Turkmenistan bad. Lots holes. And bandits at night.”
I had just come from the Kazakhstani border town with Russia and experienced bad roads, so I was confident I knew what bad was. I also had set out early enough not to be anywhere near the road at night. Bandits didn’t worry me. I thanked him and drove off and into a mini-nightmare.
The first few hundred miles were pleasant. No bandits and a few camels were our only companions. Then the road ended. Or I should say the good road ended. There was a road, and it went on, but it wasn’t good. Then a detour sign took us to a dusty potholed catastrophe. At first, I thought this was simply a short diversion. Wrong. The road — and I use the word charitably — lasted more than 150 miles and was a death trap. The only fools on this road were truck drivers (who had to be on it) and, of course, us.
There was no way were going to reach our destination. This meant we would have to stay the night in the desert. There are no Holiday Inns on this stretch of road. But supposedly there are bandits.