The trip to Turkmenistan was smooth, immigration fairly easily and the bike box turned up in perfect condition with only a few rips. The stories of being searched at the airport, asked for bribes and generally being given a hard time did not at least for me come true. As there seems to be no online booking system for hotels in Ashgabat, I stayed in a private room via airbnb.
My host met me at 4am after a short taxi ride from the airport and it was fun to talk to my first Turkmen person and learn about some of the crazy rules in the country. Ashgabat is known as the white city as practically every building is white. It is full of impressive architecture, statues and fountains, but outside of the immediate center it is like a ghost town – the huge boulevards are practically empty with just the occasional car passing. It is also one of the few cities in the world which makes Switzerland look dirty – everything in the city is immaculately clean and tidy and drivers can even be fined for having dirty cars.
As I only had a 5 day transit visa, I took the train to Mary which left punctually at 3pm. It turned out my ticket was for a 4 person compartment which I shared with 3 local guys. The bike was tucked up safely in the luggage wagon and my local travelling companions were fun, shared their food and passed hours flicking through pictures of Switzerland on my tablet. It was a pleasant way to travel and left a further good impression of Turkmenstan and its people.
In Mary I found some dump of a hotel near the station. It had a bed and wallpaper hanging of the walls. The lino flooring was ripped and curling up at the sides. It served its purpose though and within a few minutes of putting my sleeping bag on the bed I was probably snoring.