We check that the Presidential Palace across the road was not a dream but no, it is still there. Today, 23 August, is the last day of our transit visa we must move on. As we have a border crossing which will take an indeterminate amount of time, we decide that a leisurely breakfast and departure are in order, we will not cover many kilometres today. The route starts outside our hotel, we just have to follow the road between the hotel and the Presidential Palace all the way to the border! Directions cannot be simpler than that. However it would involve crossing a double white line so with such a police presence we decide to circle the block. Down a backstreet, less than 100 metres from the opulence we discover Soviet era blocks of flats with a decayed and decrepit look and feel. Appearances can be deceptive. We look out for petrol stations en route, but nothing is seen, they are a rare and well camouflaged species in Turkmenistan when compared with Uzbekistan which has a plethora of petrol stations, most closed or having no petrol. Go figure.
The road is wide, not heavily trafficked as we drive south, eventually arriving at a Police checkpoint in about 20 minutes from the city centre. which only allows traffic leaving Turkmenistan to proceed further. Foot passengers are conveyed in small packed mini buses that seat on a first come first seated basis. I think the packed passengers are looking at the comfort we are riding in. This stretch of road climbs gently higher for some 25km up into cooler weather, which will make the crossing in the middle of the day more palatable.
The details of the crossing process can be found in the visa and crossing section. I will say that this was the most pleasant crossing we have encountered from both sides. May we have many more of these on the trip. I was even able to purchase coca cola for 30 cents rather than the three our four dollars in Uzbekistan which must be the most expensive in the world for soft drinks.
We are now in Iran, and our key priorities are, purchase vehicle insurance, find petrol and lastly a place to spend the night. The helpful man responsible for processing our transit route paperwork had called the local insurance broker who had driven up to the mountaintop customs post. We follow him down from the border post perched on top of a hill, through an exit gate where give up the only paperwork we have received during the Iranian customs processing. While we wait for the head office to process the insurance petrol is procured in a couple of oil containers from the local shop. We have seen petrol sold in containers at the side of the road from time to time, quality is not guaranteed. It’s seems strange to me that BMW build adventure bikes and the recommend 95 octane fuel which is impossible to get is many regions and even 91 octane is not certain. I will say that we have not had any trouble with the fuel to date, so BMW’s recommendation my just be that a recommendation.
As we set off, fuelled and insured, we now need to find a campsite. The road winds across a broad windswept plain as we search for a likely spot to camp. We are unsuccessful as all possible tracks seem to lead towards habitation. We notice that for the first time in weeks we can see clouds! Each day has been sunny, hot, hotter and hottest, so clouds are a surprise after a month or more of continuous blue sky.
We enter a tunnel leading to a drier and narrower valley which seems to preclude camping. We then notice a narrow road running back up the mountain, the old road before the tunnel was built. Up we go back over the pass and we find a beautiful valley and a perfect campsite. We setup camp and watched the sheep herders moving their flocks of sheep down the valley as the sun was going down. A couple of men stop nearby on a small motorbike, all motorbikes are small here, as Iranians are not allowed to own motorcycles of more than 125cc. We are not sure why they stopped, but after a short chat in which they asked if we had cocaine, weapons and ten dollars to which we replied no to all three questions, they went on their way leaving us to a quiet evening under the stars with the tent inner only and no flysheet to enjoy the night sky.
Later that night rain started, but the jack Wolfskin tent flysheet can be put up in 30 seconds, so up it went and back to sleep we went. Our first night in Iran, the fourteenth country we have visited since we left the UK.