How to Get Out of Turkmenistan When You’re Out of Cash
If you should ever find yourself, as I recently did, in Turkmenistan and out of cash, on the run from a restaurant in which you dined and dashed, and in desperate need of a $60 ride to the border on the day your visa expires, do not fret. Your situation is not good, but it’s not hopeless. You can make it to Kazakhstan, but you must maintain faith, commit to courage, and above all, don’t tell anyone.
First, some backstory: Turkmenistan is perhaps the strangest country to emerge from the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s a police state sealed off from the rest of the world and ruled by an eccentric dictator who poses for billboards with a dove perched on his shoulder.
I’ve spent five days in Turkmenistan. In that time, I’ve slept beside a burning crater, inadvertently stayed in a hotel run by the Soviet-era secret police, escaped an attempted abduction, and used the Internet three times. I also ran out of cash, discovered none of my bank cards worked in the country, and, last night, I skipped out on a check for the first time in my life. In short, I am ready to leave.
My visa requires that I exit Turkmenistan into Kazakhstan via a border crossing on the Caspian Sea. This is extremely inconvenient, because the border is not located on a road. To get there, I have to hire a Jeep to drive me across the desert.
The shared Jeeps congregate beside the railway station, where, the day before, I’d arranged to share a ride, negotiated a price, and neglected to mention I had no way of paying. My plan is to remain very silent.
Our driver is a young Turkmen man with a wife and small children at home; my companions: three older, weathered Kazakh men. It’s very unclear why anyone besides me is making this trip. There’s vague mention of family: one of the Kazakh men seems to be the Turkmen driver’s uncle, and it seems families are scattered on both sides of a border that was once more like a state line.
Two of the Kazakh men are short, round, and difficult to tell apart, but one is easily distinguishable. He’s tall and thin and has dressed for the ride in a worn suit and withered cowboy hat.
His two stout friends smile convivially; the Kazakh cowboy shoots me a pointed question: “Do you have a husband and children?” he asks.
I tell him I don’t.
“I am not married,” he declares. His tone is less flirtatious, more wedding guest about to request “Single Ladies.”
I smile and say nothing, reminding myself that I have no way of paying for this ride, and therefore no right to complain.
the Museum of Applied Arts in Tashkent, Tashkent, Republic of Uzbekistan, unknown
photographer, source: eurasia.travel. Possibly the best-looking museum in
Tashkent, the Museum of Applied Arts is situated in the former home of Imperial
Russian diplomat Alexander Polovtsev. This museum is as popular for its setting
as for its many beautiful exhibits. Polovtsev was an avid collector of
handicrafts and his personal possessions still form the heart of the museum’s
superb collection of decorative arts. Tsarist diplomat expressed his
appreciation of Uzbek architecture by having his residence built by masters
from Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva, Ferghana and Tashkent. He was transferred
before completion in 1907, so never saw the finished courtyard of verandas and
reception halls, vibrant with colour, ganch and wooden carving. The first
public exhibition was held here in 1927, and it was classified as a national
collection a decade later, source: eurasia.travel.