episode 11: welcome to the stans

August 11, 2016

Read next: Episode 12

We headed to the Turkmenistan Embassy in Baku to turn our Letters of Invitation into visas. We didn’t have any news of a ferry, so we decided that if we started the visas two days from then, there might be a ferry by that time. We guessed. We had no information to go off of, save for “there hasn’t been a ferry yet in the last 4 days”.  The Turkmenistan Embassy doesn’t really have a listed address and it doesn’t pop up on Google Maps. It’s located in a cranny of Baku down a small alley. We found it by asking other teams where it was. We knew we’d found it when we saw the armed guards. We’d heard it was only open on Mondays and Fridays, but we were attempting a Thursday because we didn’t have much better to do. The guards made a few phone calls and texts and then ushered us to the other side of the block, through a locked gate, up a tiny spiral staircase on the side of the building and into a plain room. There wasn’t anything there except a file cabinet, a couple of chairs, a printer and a computer. It looked like it was an unfurnished room in someone’s house. It needed a paint job. It didn’t look like any embassy I’d ever been to. No flags. No shiny countertops. No queues. No cameras staring at you.

We were the only people there, so the process was far less painful than we’d expected. The man there was very helpful and explained exactly how we needed to pay (a short trip to the bank, hand in a slip of paper and $55USD and come back with the receipt). Before an hour and a half had passed, we all had shiny new green Turkmenistan visas in our passports, valid for 5 days starting on August 6th. I was proud of it. The second strictest dictatorship in the world had just granted me access into their country.

We then headed for the ferry port to try to gain some knowledge on possible departure and heard a magical rumour: there is supposed to be a ferry tonight that is coming especially for us, from Turkmenistan. It has room for all of us stuck here! It’s supposed to be here at 10PM, we can board at 11PM and it’s a faster ferry! It will only take 10 hours. The combination of desperation, exasperation, frustration and small slivers of hope were thick in the air of that parking lot, floating above the 40+ Rally teams that had accumulated there over the past four days. Do you think this magical ferry rumour was too good to be true? You’d be right. We weren’t expecting anything to happen like they said it would, but we were in excellent shape considering our Turkmenistan visas wouldn’t even become valid until 10-12 hours after we landed on the other side, if the ferry left at 12:00AM on August 5th (which of course, wouldn’t happen). We headed back to our hotel to wait out the rest of the day in sub-par air conditioning. Spending 6 hours in a hotel room with 4 bored, sweaty, slightly hungry guys ends up in fart jokes, boys farting in my general direction, boys giggling at farting in my direction, and Lane shooting vodka, claiming, “I’m practicing. I suck at doing shots.”

While we were snooping about for information we met an awesome local named Rashad from the Azerbaijan 4x4 Club who was very interested in all these little crappy cars that had “Mongolia” plastered all over them. He signed our vehicle and gave us some awesome stickers and souvenirs from Baku, introduced us to his family and gave us his number in case we ran into any trouble while we were there or if we needed a translator. Besides the one-off of getting completed ripped off at a restaurant (we had a big fight with them over a salad, of all things), the people here were incredibly nice. Lane made friends by handing out cigarettes to neighbouring cars through the window at stoplights. It turned flat stares into grins and nods in no time. Restaurant owners and waitresses were excited to sign our car, writing “Good luck!” and “Welcome to Azerbaijan!” in Russian. We got thumbs up and big grins at donar shops.

We checked out of our hotel, reloaded on water and food and cleared the car through customs (a 30 second process where we said, “Yo, we’re ready to leave this country!) and they led us through the gate, pointing at all the other Rally teams like, you know the drill. Park over there and wait. Teams had dubbed this parking lot “Tarpistan” – it was an effort to find the humour in the fight to hide from the sun. 

We arrived in the parking lot at 8:00PM and knew that the only way the car could leave that parking lot was if it was loaded onto a ferry. 10:00PM came and went and so did 11:00PM. Rashad translated from a man who worked at the port that the ferry had arrived and was now unloading, but the expected departure time was now 12:00PM the next day. This was a huge downer for most teams, whose Turkmen visas were quickly running out of time, but it was an advantage for us (or so we thought at the time), because we weren’t sure if we’d be let onto the ferry with visas that started 48 hours ahead.

So began the parking lot party. It was probably the strangest situation I’d been in since… I don’t know. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a weirder event. Here were about 100 people from all over the world, trapped in this dirty parking lot in Baku, Azerbaijan of all places because their shitty cars were legally “out” of the country and could not re-enter. Some people had been camping in that parking lot for at least the last 3 nights. People were cooking dinners on cook stoves. Vodka was cracked open. The front seats of all vehicles were cranked back in preparation for more waiting. I have never slept in a more unexpected place (until the next night, of course): in my hammock, hung up between a silo and a tree underneath a “Restricted Area” sign. Aaron, Lane and Nick slept in the car in various states of uncomfortable positions and Kael fell asleep in the “ground hammock”. Others set up tents or simply blew up their sleeping mats and slept on the concrete. I woke up to truckers conversing in Russian and snapped wide awake when one of them decided that my silo ladder was the perfect place to do a few morning pull-ups. He was nice though – he gave me a wifi hotspot from his phone. I had no idea that would be the last time I’d be connected to the world for the next week.

Hopes were high the next morning; the news had not changed, there should be a ferry today. Things moved slowly as usual, but at 10:50AM we heard a call: “Assemble! Assemble!” and everyone rushed in. Information. Please. Please! A port official said in a light Russian accent, very sympathetically, “Guys, I know you are being here for… a very long time. But, uh, I have bad news. There is no ferry for 3, 4 days.” Dead silence. And then someone yelled from the back: “You’re lying!!” and his face split into a grin and said, “Yes! You all pack up now! Follow the bus to the passport control!”

We all ran, hearts fluttering, straps tightening, water bottles filling and liquor bottles tinkling into the garbage… but there turned out to be no rush at all. We were all slowly moved into a new parking lot beside the ferry to wait, and everyone had to go through passport control to exit Azerbaijan. Passport control was located in a Sea Can. We cleared it early, but we waited sticky, slightly hungover, crammed into our car and sitting on the docks, sweltering in this brand new parking lot, beside the mythical ferry, which turns out was actually real. People had issues: their Azerbaijan visas had expired –big fine- and their Turkmenistan visas only had 48 hours left (not realistically enough time to get out once they got in). As far as I know, everyone got on. I don’t really know the details on how much it cost them.

By this time I thought the main battle was over, but it had just begun. Once we had boarded the ferry, the doors to the car level were locked (no access to our food and water) and then we began the shockingly slow and inefficient process of buying ferry tickets on board. This was all done by pen and paper in US cash. They had to copy out the information of every single passport and match license plates and vehicle registrations to a list they took on the way in, which was completely erroneous to begin with since there were multiple lists made over the 4 days that Rally teams had camped out in the parking lot. It took another 5 hours. It was getting dark.  They kept everyone’s passports in a massive pile behind the desk. Very secure. The restaurant opened and soon they were serving soup – however they were making it to each order, so every order took 10 minutes, which led to nearly no one actually getting anything. We hadn’t eaten a meal in 24 hours. Lane and I lay totally still on the couches, sweating and trying to conserve energy. The fast had begun. They ran out of soup and started serving chicken and fries. Then they ran out of fries so they replaced it with rice and barbeque sauce. It took 3 hours to get food. I was lightheaded. Once all the Rally teams had purchased their tickets and car tickets, the locals were let onto the ferry. I’m not entirely sure why their luggage had to be lifted by a crane from the dock to the ferry instead of being carried on (let’s add an extra hour for that).

Meanwhile I’d realized that I was having a decent allergic reaction to whatever tiny bug had gone to town on me while I slept in my hammock the night before. If I had to guess, ants. I had 53 bites, all excruciatingly itchy and made worse by the heat and humidity inside the ferry. I was legitimately concerned, hypochondriac that I am. This was not the time to require medical attention. At 8:30PM I asked the port guy when he thought the ferry would leave and got a very satisfactory answer: “1, 2… 3 hours? I don’t know!” At midnight, we went to sleep. We still had not left the port. We had been on the ferry for 8 hours.

At 3:00AM I woke up soaked in my own sweat, dehydrated and itchy and prayed that we weren’t still tied to the dock. I checked my phone and we were 15km offshore, meaning we had probably left within the last 45 minutes. Educated guess? It took 15 hours to load the ferry and to get it underway. I will never, ever,ever again complain about BC Ferries. 

I stood outside on the dock watching Baku’s Flame Towers flicker in the distance as we headed into inky black nothingness ahead. I thought, well, the hard part is over, I suppose. That sucked but at least we’ve only got 10 hours left and then we’re good to go. I’m a fool.

People slept on the deck, in hammocks, on mattresses outside, on the couches, everywhere. It was the same long process to get food again the next morning, and still we could not access our cars, which had been all tied down and were located under a ramp blocked by semi trailers. If I had known I would be moving onto this ferry for a few days, I would have prepared myself a bit more. As it was, everyone had been wearing exactly the same thing for the last 48 hours and had sweat through it at least twice. In the morning the boys told me both of the men’s toilets were plugged, one urinal wasn’t working and someone had puked into one sink. There was no toilet paper to begin with so I started rationing mine.

After breakfast two ferry officials came and asked if we paid for our vehicle. Yes sir, yes we did. They wanted to see our receipt because apparently there was one vehicle that had not been paid for, however they had no idea whose vehicle it was or even, which license plate. There might have been a flaw in their ticket system, you see. It may have made more sense to purchase ferry tickets before boarding, and present them upon boarding. It may have made more sense to check each vehicle that left the ferry while unloading to see if they had receipts. Instead, their solution was to walk around and ask random people for their receipts with absolutely no system to check off who they had asked, since they did not take our license plate and they did not take our names once we had presented our receipt. Lane was asked twice if we’d paid for our car. Over here, if there is a more difficult way to do things, they’ll do it that way.

By 12:00PM we had still had not reached the Turkmenbashi port, and I was convinced that unloading the ferry and clearing customs would take 12 hours at the very least. The boys told me I was being negative, but in hindsight that was a very optimistic outlook. A whole new load of people were now under huge pressure to get out of Turkmenistan as soon as they got in. Probably 70% of the Ralliers on the ferry had visas for Turkmenistan that would expire in 36 hours or less and we hadn’t even landed in the country yet. The fastest way out of Turkmenistan if to flee directly north to Kazakhstan, however most Rally teams need visas to enter Kazakhstan and only have single entries. Entering Kazakhstan in an effort to avoid deportation out of Turkmenistan would mean giving up Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. No one had any idea if the Turkmenistan Embassy would allow them to buy more days to change their dates, or if they would just be sent straight back.

At 3:00PM, the engines shut off. Land was within sight, barely. We came to a halt and dropped the anchor. I assumed that this was standard procedure until the captain received some type of word that there was space for the ferry to dock. I expected perhaps a 6 hour delay. Again, I was told I had a negative outlook and again, in hindsight, 6 hours was way too optimistic. We received news that the ferry’s steering was having issues and we would resume our course at 5:00AM the next morning. The kitchen ran out of water. I guessed it was only a matter of time until we ran out of food. We managed to find our way down to our vehicle to refill water jugs out of our 25L reserves. I also picked up my camping gear and my hammock, because there was no way I was going to sweat out more water than I needed to by staying inside again that night. I ate every meal that was offered to me, stuffing in as much as I could, because by this time I had no faith I would ever get off this damned vessel. By now, people’s Turkmenistan visas would be expired by the time we reached the country.

I strapped my hammock inside of a Do Not Enter gate next to the lifeboats. There was no railing between me and the edge of the water. An Aussie guy strapped his hammock up a few meters away. I know people were jealous of our wicked spot. Honestly it was the best sleep I’d had in a few days and I woke up as the sun starting cooking me at 6:00AM. I peeked out of my cocoon and saw boats. Land. We had docked at the Turkmenbashi port. About an hour later there was a rumour that the passports were being handed back in a very official way. The ferry officials couldn’t really pronounce our English names, so they decided to hand over piles of passports to Ralliers who were just yelling out the names. You yelled back and jumped up and down when you heard yours, and then your passport got filtered through the crowd towards you. Organized chaos. You gathered your teams’ passports if you heard them. 

By 10:30AM the trucks were unloaded and all Rally teams drove off the ferry onto Turkmen soil and parked 20m from the water. We had just regained our passports from the random ferry pile, but now we were instructed to chuck them all in a sack that a man was holding, claiming he would call Ashgabat and give people visa extensions. Very secure. This man drove out of the port with our passports and we waited while the desert sun came up and started its daily baking process. Another hour after that we were escorted into another parking lot (this was getting boring), still without our passports.

Thus began Turkmenistan’s passport control, customs and insurance purchasing. The ferry had not provided breakfast to us, so we were hungry to begin with. There was no toilet on this side of the border. There was no food. Our water bottles had become so hot you could have brewed tea with it. We sweated in the sun, waiting for our passports. There was no word. By 12:00PM, they began to miraculously return in groups of 10 (with the same process – they were handed out through the Ralliers). When we got our passports back, nothing had been done to our visas. We didn’t actually need an extension so we weren’t too crushed, but why was the two hour delay necessary if nothing was done to anyone’s visas during that time? Once we had our visas in hand, we lined up for a window where we paid a $14USD cash tax for whatever, who knows. This line took a very long time. The woman behind the window was writing two receipts per person, excruciatingly slowly. After we cleared this window, we moved to a second queue to get our Entry stamps. This line took a very long time. After we cleared this window, we were instructed to get our bags from the car and bring them through customs. This line took a very long time. By now it was 2:00PM. We sat in the bag queue for eons. It barely moved. People were just sitting on the floor while five Turkmen officials on the other side tore apart bag after bag, one at a time. They went through First Aid kits, asked about every medication and went through all sorts of pockets. It seemed like the locals had it worse but whatever way you looked at it, they could have been doing it a whole lot faster. After we had cleared our bags through customs we had our passports checked for the billionth time that day we were confined to a waiting room. Everyone was confined in this room except for Aaron, the registered driver. In this room there were a few seats, but no toilet, no water and no food. No one knew how long we would be there for. Meanwhile, Aaron went through hell on the other side of the barricade trying to buy insurance. He went through a total of 7 queues and windows and had to pay $148 USD in cash for car insurance –he didn’t even have that on him so he had to borrow from another team until we realized oh shit, Aaron has no money. We tried desperately to explain to the guard that we needed to hand cash through the barricade. It took a good 6-7 minutes of charades, but we managed. The guard didn't seem pleased. After the insurance was bought, Aaron was taken out to the car and the car was searched thoroughly. He then drove the car around, we bought another ticket (not sure what that was for?) and we finally, finally drove into the country at 4:00PM. We were one of the first teams to make it through. Others were there until 7:00-8:00PM.

We had to make it to Ashgabat, which was at least an 8 hour drive away. The countryside was industrial plants, camels, shacks and desert. The road quality had plummeted. The potholes had come out to play. We still had not found food save for a few Cokes. We stopped at a café and got some very sub-par non-filling pizza and then trucked onwards. We arrived in Ashgabat at 1:30AM. It seems like Turkmenistan spends all of its cash on Ashgabat, and nothing on the rest of the country. The city was overdone. It was sparkly and white. Clean and orderly. It was a direct contrast to its surroundings, so it felt fake and controlled… which I think is what Turkmenistan is going for. Controlled, anyway. We searched desperately for a hotel but most of them were “full” or too expensive. We were not allowed more than two people per room. When we finally found one (overpriced), they expected US cash on the spot. We didn’t have any left after the insurance at the border. We let them keep our passports as leverage and said we could pay in the morning. The hotel looked nice on the outside and had a humongous interior… and tiny crappy little rooms. AC that barely worked, water pressure was nearly non-existent, and electricity that flickered on and off. No wifi, because hotels in Turkmenistan don’t do wifi. Who needs wifi when all social media sites and communication apps are blocked here? The next morning we slept until check-out and then went on an adventure to get US cash. It was a lot harder than we expected.

For one, you need your passport to withdraw any money. The hotel had most of our passports. That was problem number 1. The second problem, which was much bigger, was that banks do not exchange any currency and give back USD. They will exchange USD for another currency, but they don’t hand you USD. You cannot withdraw it out of an ATM. Turns out there is only one bank in the entire country that allows you to withdraw US cash, and they only do it off of Visa cards (oh joy for that hefty fee, can’t wait to look at it!). We found that bank 5 minutes before it closed for an hour, so achieved absolutely nothing. The bank building looked like all the rest: sparkly, shiny, embroidered with gold metal and white paint. I took a picture of it and was immediately assailed by a serious looking guard who made me go through my entire SIM card to show that I had deleted it. You can’t do anything in this country. We returned at 3:30PM and were told by people waiting in line that, no, you can’t withdraw US cash now. That’s only in the morning. We were royally screwed. We weren’t even allowed to pay for our hotel in local currency. No one likes to receive the Turkmenistan Manat. They hate their own currency and the US dollar is king. We refused to believe the bank wouldn’t give us money, so Aaron pulled a very not-Canadian move, desperate times desperate measures, and scooted up to the window in front of the whole line and asked, “US Dollars – withdrawal?”

The girl behind the desk was the same one from that morning. She was very pretty, but she was even prettier when she said Yes, US Dollars. Saved. It took another 45 minutes to get our money (it was a 3-window process coupled with passports and about 5 signatures) and we were off. 

We headed north out of that strange city, into the desert. By this point I had wanted out of the country since we hit the border, but there was one thing we had to see: The Door to Hell.

Aptly named, it’s a fiery pit in the middle of nowhere. You need to go off-road about 5km for it. We parked the Agila (she was in bad-ish shape) and took a jeep in with our camping gear. There were a few other Rally cars that made it all the way to the crater, but most of the teams there had also taken jeeps in. 

The Door to Hell looks a lot more sinister at night than it does in the daylight. The heat comes off it in huge gusts of hot wind and the gas makes the view behind it shimmer. There are different stories as to how it was formed some 40 years ago. One goes that they were drilling and this hole collapsed. One small spark was all it took for the whole thing to set fire and its been alight ever since. The other story is that they knew this pocket of gas existed and thought it was a hazard, so they lit it on fire thinking the gas would burn off… and it just didn’t. It was one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen.

We camped a safe distance away from it. At 6:00AM the next morning I drowsily awoke –too little sleep the last few nights- and unzipped my tent fly. Unravelled the end of my dry bag holding my clothes only to find a huge, huge white spider literally hurl itself fat body into my tent. I jumped backwards, but there really isn’t far to run when you are trapped in the smallest of small one-man tents. I felt like my cat when she gets backed into a corner by a dog. The last time that happened, she shit herself. I’m not making that up. I wasn’t too far away from doing the same. I wanted to scrape the spidery terror out of the tent door, but every time I moved, it knew and it ran quickly. I just didn’t want it to run right at me. Luckily for me, I was hyperventilating, freaking out and crying so loudly that I woke up all the boys in the tent beside me and they came to check out what could possibly be such an ordeal at that hour in the morning. Lane found out first. He tried to kill it and tried doing it with every single soft thing he could find. First he tried using a water bottle with a hollowed out bottom. That did nothing but piss the spider off. I was still in the back of my tent panicking. 

Then he tried squishing it with my toiletry bag. Didn’t work. The stupid thing was invincible and angry. Finally, the sandal technique did the trick… it took a bit of weight though. I think I heard its exoskeleton crush into itself. Needless to say I was awake after that. I’d seen one of them on the ground the night before but didn’t think too much about it. The next day I asked another Rally team about the spiders. They had slept on the ground and woke up to one right next to their faces. They’d brought a local over and pointed at it and all the local did was make a slitting throat gesture coupled with a facial expression that read, “very bad”, before he quickly backed off. I asked another local about them later that day and he said, “If one bites you… you need to go to the hospital.” I still can’t find out exactly what their name is, but that’s enough information for me: stay away.

We drove towards the border of Uzbekistan, hoping to cross that evening. On the way we destroyed three tires (2 bent rims and one tire shredded). The boys’ back-up wheels were acquired at a scrap yard and aren’t the right size. They’re a bit big. They’d tested them when the car wasn’t loaded so fully (read: without me… I weigh a lot). We had to put both of the larger tires on the back since they are a different size than the others and when we did and started going there was an awful grinding sound from the wheel well. We all unloaded again to figure out where the wheel was grinding into the car. First culprit was the bumper, so that had to go. Lane and Nick removed the bumper and strapped it to the roof. We reloaded. Now the wheel only ground when we hit the tiniest of bumps (all the time). We unloaded. Nick and Lane started bending the wheel wells out. We reloaded and drove with slightly more success. We stopped twice more for some more well-bending action before we were comfortable attacking the potholes but by then we had become cautious: if we destroyed one of the back tires, we wouldn’t have anything to replace it with.

We met up with three other Rally teams by accident at a gas station (there aren’t a ton of gas stations so the chances are high) and convoyed with them to the border of Uzbekistan. Two other car in the convoy were also Agilas with spare tires, so we had back-up support in the case of another blow-out. The roads were atrocious. So much fine dust, sand and potholes that could eat the Agila for breakfast all came to the party. Our four vehicles bumped and wove towards Uzbekistan: let us out, let us out, let this road end. All of us were so covered in dust, dirt and sweat that paper towels came away from our faces brown after one swipe.

While the country itself is the strangest I’ve been in (mostly, strict and crazy), the locals are another story. They’re awesome. They all waved at us, honked at us, gave us thumbs-up and smiled. We stopped for drinks at a small shack and were gifted with a free watermelon from a little girl. We gave her a Canada badge and a Canada hackey sack. When we arrived at the border, they had closed. Yes, in this country you are not even allowed to leave when you want to. They had closed 20 minutes early. We had arrived 10 minutes after they closed. Disheartened and dirty, we all turned around to the nearest city, thankfully only 10km backtracking, and made for the only hotel. We don’t like Turkmen hotels. They’re overpriced and they suck. While we were in the hotel lobby deciding what rooms to get with all the rest of our convoy, it became apparent that the only hotel in town didn’t really have enough rooms for us all. Since they will not allow people to sleep on the floor, this was an issue. They will also not let anyone sleep in the car. A local listened to the whole conversation and then offered that 8 of us (EIGHT!) could sleep at his place for free.

Allow me to put this into perspective, not that this situation really needs it. I’ve Couchsurfed a decent amount in other countries. For those who don’t know Couchsurfing, it’s a website where travellers stay with locals for free. You have references and profiles and schedules, etc. etc. etc. It’s a well-established thing. I’ve also had locals offer me a place to sleep outside of Couchsurfing– mostly when I’m traveling by bicycle, but this offer topped them all. The largest number of people in one host’s place I have ever seen is 8, and that host had three spare rooms. This Turkmen man had two rooms in his entire place. When we got there he let us all shower (bucket and water!) and he and his sister gave us all local food. His sister and her friends wanted to take a bunch of selfies with me, so that happened. The seven boys got mats in one room. The man’s father slept there with them and tried to get them all to drink with him. I slept in the other room, sharing a bed with his sister. Special treatment... or maybe one girl sleeping on the floor with 9 men isn't appropriate in Turkmenistan. Our host slept on the floor by our feet. Nearly every inch of that place had a body sleeping on it. Honestly, this guy made our entire stay in Turkmenistan. I love people like him. They make the world go round.

He saw us off the next morning as we headed to the now-open Uzbek border. It was the last day that our Turkmen visas were valid so he had to get out. We were the first car at the border and the first one out. There was no line up and things moved a lot more quickly than the border getting in. All in, it took us 3 hours. One team got deported because they didn’t drive the route they said they were going to (they were trying to exit at the wrong border point). Border control instructed them to go to the exit point that they had stated they would go to, but it was a 3.5 day drive away and their Turkmen visas would expire before then. So they chose deportation. Apparently it was free. I don’t know if it will mean trouble for them getting into other countries like Russia… only time will tell.

We drove to Urgench, the first decent-sized city after the border, in hopes of getting our dire tire situation taken care of. We withdrew some local currency and laughed at how ridiculous it is. People need to carry around bricks of cash here because the denominations are so outrageous. $50 USD turns into a stack of notes that won’t fit in your pocket no matter how hard you try. While Lane and Kael waited at the bank for money, Nick, Aaron and I sought out a repair shop. We found tons of them but picked one with a bunch of tires in front of it. We mimed what we wanted to have done and they mimed, yes we can. Then a young kid got on a bicycle and rode away. Meanwhile another guy took a hammer out and beat our rims back into shape. The younger kid came back 10 minutes later with a tire. Within 20 minutes they had fixed 5 tires and given us a whole new one… for $30CAD. They signed our car and we took selfies with them and then we were off, once again. We picked up Kael and Lane and headed for Khiva.

We’d only heard of Khiva the day before from other teams. It wasn’t that far away, but after the past week we all agreed we could use a short day. And a shower. And wifi. And a connection that doesn’t block Facebook and WhatsApp. When we arrived we scouted out hotels. First we found a basic one for $12.50USD each. Then we accidentally ran into a 4-star hotel. They told us “$160USD for a double room” and we just walked away. Two minutes later a hotel employee came out and said, oh, we have a discount. With a little haggling, we got two twin rooms and a double room for $130USD. Pool and breakfast included.

I showered for probably an hour. I’ve gone some good no-showering stints during my travels. I did 12 days in Iceland and I was cycling every day. I did 6 days in New Zealand, hiking every day. But I can honestly say that I have never been so filthy as I was when I arrived in Khiva. The water looked like mud coming off me for about 5 minutes. I hand washed my dress in the sink and no matter how many times I rinsed it, the water still turned dirty.

Will I ever be clean?

Today we head east. Like always. Check out location here!

Cheers from Khiva, Uzbekistan.

Read next: Episode 12

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