17-18 May – Turkmenistan, ~393 miles
Nearly 400 miles of boring straight roads. Well – boring, except for the atrocious potholes at random intervals… some easily big enough to stop a bike (and rider) in its tracks. But – managed to navigate them all no problem, to get to…
Darvaza – the Door To Hell. This was my first highly-anticipated sight/site… once it was confirmed we were bypassing Iran. And yeah – didn’t disappoint. I don’t know how many people know about this place… but look it up. In a short, bastardized, probably inaccurate version… there was a gas well, one day a sinkhole opened up and it disappeared into the earth; there was a bit of methane in the air; so some guys decided to burn off any excess gas, ie: light a match, throw it in, run away, and then come back to recover the rig; good plan; nearly 50 years later… the fire’s still going. That’s enough of a back-story and general concept to have had me wanting to visit this place for many, many years.
So.. left Ashgabat very late – after noon – riding for a couple hundred miles around those goddamn potholes, and visiting a couple of “lesser” gas craters. The first one – just a sinkhole with some water in the bottom – no gas flame. Boo.
Second – another sinkhole with a small bonfire down the bottom, some boiling mud, and a heap of rubbish people had obviously thrown in to burn… but missed the wee actual gas vent/bonfire.
Then – got to our campsite – a few miles away from the “Gates of Hell” proper. Settled in, had beers and snacks, waiting for dinner… when some vague thunder sounds come from over the hills. Then, some very black clouds start rolling over same hills, and some very frequent lightning. The clouds becoming more and more menacing… very impressively so. It takes quite a bit to get me to talk about the weather… but this was very impressive… nearly scary. Eventually – we realised the storm wasn’t going to just skirt us, allowing some pretty sunset-vs-storm photos… but was actually going to hit us… so 10 minutes of quickly packing stuff up, turning tables upside down, and then running to tents… I got to my tent just as the rain started, and then allowed several litres of water in while trying to figure out how to close the fly-door. (After the storm I discovered… impossible, broken). 10 minutes later… storm passed, we all emerge from tents very impressed by the whole storm – and drink whisky while watching the storm sail off to hit other unsuspecting victims.
I’ve seen bigger storms in the past – but only once or twice.
Enough about the boring weather. Dinner, whisky, wine, beers… then finally off to the actual Darvaza Crater. Nothing at all like I expected… much smaller, and rather than one big burning “lake”… rather a crater of hundreds, thousands, of flames from crevasses. Still – rather impressive. And very difficult to get a decent photo of… but the wider internet will have plenty.
Today – a quick ride up to Dashoguz… (very quick… I left the campsite last – was first into the hotel)… for a leisurely afternoon/evening before tomorrow’s border crossing into Uzbekistan, which can apparently be a lengthy and frustrating process.