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Darwaza - Karakum Desert

Our wild desert adventure

After a night disturbed by a dog howling at the moon, I wake before sunrise.

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The campervan and a lone tent at the crater edge

Thankfully my stomach feels a lot more settled this morning, and I tuck into a breakfast of egg, bread, butter, jam, yogurt and cake.

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Today we are spending the day crossing the Karakum desert, starting off on tracks that waltz their way through, over and around soft dunes dotted with low tufts of grass and small shrubs.

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'Track' is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, these are mostly just a few tyre marks in sand.

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A couple of times we get stuck in the soft sand and have to reverse to take a 'running jump' at the dune.

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Camels

Here and there we see camels. They are not wild, but most certainly free range.

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The soft dunes give way to hard, compacted earth and for an hour or so we drive across a flat, featureless landscape.

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Once gain we climb to the top of a classic sand dune. The sand is fine and soft and beautifully sculpted by the wind.

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Lizard

We see a little lizard on one of the dunes. Artme stalks the little guy, trying to creep up on it to catch it, but all he manages is to grab hold of its tail before it escapes.

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As the day goes on, my diarrhoea returns and we make frequent stops for me to fertilise the small bushes along the side of the track.

Damla Village

We stop at the small village of Damla for a pre-arranged lunch. The 100 or so inhabitants are mostly subsistence farmers, with meat featuring heavy on their menu. Rice and vegetables are brought in by truck and bartered for goat and camels.

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The wells are dug to a depth of six-seven metres below the ground.

It's a windy place, and David imitates the Desert Wind statue we saw in Balkanabat.

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Lunch

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Lunch is a simple affair, with a goat plov. Surprisingly enough, it is the first plov we've had on this trip.

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We sit and talk to a small group of Belgian and Dutch travellers as we eat. A couple of the girls are wearing indecently short shorts, and I feel so embarrassed for them in such a conservative country (they, however, seem totally oblivious to it).

The local kids are rather nonplussed.

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And so am I as to why a small black cat is tied up with a thick rope near the kitchen area.

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We leave Damla village and the little bit of civilisation behind, entering deeper into this beguiling world of sand.

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Eagle's nest

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Camels at a waterhole

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Murzachirla

At 3pm, we stop in the small village of Murzachirla, where it had been suggested that we camp for the night. Artem asks if maybe we would like to carry on driving for a bit, which suits me fine. I would very much prefer to camp wild in the desert rather than in a village, for two reasons: I still have an upset tummy, and I would hate to have an audience; and I like the romantic notion of setting up camp in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sand dunes and not much else.

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It feels unbearably hot here when we get out of the car. The thermometer says 33 °C (91 °F), but it feels so much hotter. Even the goats are hiding in the shade.

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The desert appears to go on and on and on and on. Not surprising really, as the Karakum Desert covers 80% of the land in Turkmenistan.

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Here and there we see evidence of gas production, but no human life for hours. Just the odd desert squirrel or lizard.

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Wild Camp

Artem finally spots a suitable area that is flat enough to pitch the tents, and stops the car.

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Within minutes Artem has erected two tents – one for me and one for David. The two boys will be sleeping in the car tonight.

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Despite this being a 'wild' camp, it is far from roughing it: we have a table, camp stools, a large gas cylinder to cook with, even LED lighting on a lamp post run from the car battery!

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Picking up a shovel, Artem tries to find a suitable place for our toilet. Much to my delight, he then collects a metal frame from the car, upon which he places a regular toilet seat and finally erects a tall tent around the whole thing. Ta da! A latrine tent! This is a new experience for us, and far preferable to taking a shovel with us each time we want to crouch behind a bush.

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There is lots of food and drink and even more laughs as we polish off two bottles of vodka between the three of us. Artem keeps trying to teach me the Russian word for "cheers" - "za zda-ró-vye" - but as soon as I have said it, it goes straight out of my mind again. I just have to keep drinking until it sticks! After a while everything is so, so funny - every time I look at Artem we just both start giggling.

When we have finished eating, the leftover food is buried deep in a hole in the ground. Still a stray dog manages to find it and dig it out! Doh!

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We don't even need the LED flood light as the moon is so bright.

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With just one person in the tent, it offer plenty of space for the inflatable sleeping mat as well as the luggage. Artem complains we are party poopers when we retire to bed at 01:30

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Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this wonderfully exciting trip to Turkmenistan.

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Posted by Grete Howard 03:20 Archived in Turkmenistan

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Comments

Happy to see the continuation of your Turkmenistan adventure. Great photos and writing, it brings me back to the Karakum and great memories.

by Bob Brink

Thank you so much Bob, it certainly was about time I resumed this blog. It is good to reminisce. ♥

by Grete Howard

I love a desert drive! Good to see you blogging again :)

by ToonSarah

Thanks Sarah, I have had too many other things to do for a while, but it's good to be back! ♥

by Grete Howard

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