Of the route itself there have been a few iterations but we have stayed true to our original vision of heading in the general direction of home and stopping at a few interesting places along the way. We’ve headed through Western Europe, into the Balkans and then Turkey, followed by the Caucasus, Georgia and Armenia! Next, we will follow the Silk Road travelled by traders since East West trade began, including Marco Polo as recounted in his book the travels. Our way will then take us through Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and then back down to Dubai from where we ship the car to Kenya and continue our travels in East Africa before heading home.
As we’ve travelled from West to East there are some things that have improved such as the weather and others that have dramatically deteriorated such as the toilets. Oh for two ply toilet paper and a toilet that is something more than a hole in the ground! There are many threads worth recounting, but this story is about the roads.
The ‘Glorious Turkmenboyshey’ is the heavily laden, 1997 Toyota Landcruiser whose fate is inextricably linked to ours and who is the trusty steed on our trip. The car’s namesake is the late Glorious Turkmenbashi, president of Turkmenistan, who bestowed the name upon himself during his lifetime term. (Amongst other unusual things he renamed two months of the year after himself and his mum.)
Four people in a car is cosy to say the least but we’ve recently come across a number of vehicles doing the Mongol Rally that have given us a bit of perspective – our large Toyota Landcruiser is positively palatial compared to the tiny cars that they are doing their trip in.
When travelling across Europe and Asia with a less than reliable Garmin you have to blindly put your faith into an Atlas which although accurate we have realised does not necessarily show the level of detail we require. A ‘white road’ for instance – a regional single lane road – could be a good quality highway like one would find in Turkey or indeed South Africa, or it could be a rutted pothole of a road, as in Georgia, with a bit of tar thrown in for good measure! The system of highways and byways we have connecting even the smallest towns in South Africa is woefully absent in the Balkans and the Caucasus and Germany’s Autobahn that we enjoyed in the first few days of the trip is a long distant memory.
Then there are the Romanian roads which are windy, single-laned and heavily congested with large trucks. The Romanian drivers though, who we were warned about weren’t quite as crazy as we were expecting. Similarly, Bulgaria was relatively driveable. It was only when we crossed over the border from Bulgaria to Turkey that we realised what we had been missing out on. From a hairpin bend ridden, anorexically narrow track, the road suddenly opened up into a generous, double-laned, newly tarred boulevard. What a pleasure to be able to open up the throttle and spend a bit of quality time in fifth gear. And so it was for the next six days… until we reached Georgia.
The drivers in Georgia are maniacs. Take pedestrian crossing for instance. The first few times we tried to cross the road in the sea side town of Batumi the cars didn’t really seem to take much notice. My theory that the cars would stop if you crossed the road with more conviction saw me almost lose my nose and three toes to a large lorry that didn’t slow down at all at my presence.
Driving is possibly more hazardous than walking not only because of the large dongas and lack of a lane system (a one lane road can easily accommodate at least three lanes even if one of them is driving directly into the oncoming traffic), but also because the Georgian trend seems to be to let your livestock graze on the national road. I often had to play chicken with a pig who was sitting comfortably in the middle of my path or slow to let a gaggle of geese haughtily cross the road.
We will no doubt encounter worse roads before we get home, but we believe the Turkmenboyshey is up to the task. All roads lead to home after all and who can blame us for taking the long way round.
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