Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sim City world

I don't know where to begin on Turkmenistan, it's just so weird. Turkmenistan is one of the wackiest countries in the world. The ruler is super paranoid and has almost totally shut down the country to foreigners. Tourist visas are really hard to get and require an accompanied guide the whole time which is really expensive. The trick is that it is possible to get 5 day transit visas and once you are in, well, there shouldn't be any problems. It's very safe, just suspicious.
There are roadblocks and police checks everywhere and you are constantly having to register your passport details wherever you go. In Konye-Urgench to buy a ticket for the ruins we had to register our passports. Then when we went to the museum, we had to register again. The people really are super friendly, some of the best in the world. It's seems to hold true that the more oppressed the people are, the nicer they are to us.
The scenery out there is also pretty wierd. Beautiful in that lost on the moon kind of way. There is even less life out there than the other deserts we've been through. It was 45C of course so we were roasting. On the way west from Ashgabat (driving at Mach2) there were times where as the result of the haze and the flat, uniform landscape, there was the standard mirage on the road in front of you but also to either side so that you get this wierd feeling of driving in the middle of well, a mirage and nothing real around you. Quite trippy.
President Turkmenbashi is a crazy guy. One of the world's top megalomaniacs and obsessed with his own personality cult. He grew up an orphan and is obsessed with his parents. He even renamed the month of April after his mother. Ashgabat is something you just have to experience. The president just randomly bulldozeses huge sections of the city and then builds it with whatever he wants. He especially loves hotels, parks, statues (of himself) and fountains. White marble and gold are the look he favours too. They are beautiful structures and awesome to look at but completely useless. The buildings are empty and hardly anyone is in the parks.
It's funny because he's built these parks and museums and shopping malls and when you go in, the only people there are the guards or cleaning staff, repolishing spotless, unused surfaces.
Very surreal. We met a few American businessmen in Ashgabat that had flown over the president's new helicopter that he bought. It's gold-plated inside (even the toilet) and has a shower too! First in the world.
The sad thing is that all the residents of these bulldozed areas are left with nothing. Anywhere he isn't interested in, be it 2 blocks away from all the cool monuments or on the other side of the country, is sorely neglected and falling apart. The soviet memorials and parks are full of weeds and their fountains no longer work, in complete contrast to the new ones he's just built (including the largest fountain in the world, the middle of which is a shopping mall!). The whole thing really feels and looks like Sim city when you view it from above on the Neutrality arch monument (which has a golden statue of the president that rotates throughout the day to always face the sun).
Maybe it's a result of being out here for a year, or they really are bad but we found the taxi drivers there to be totally unreasonable. After overcharging you to go somewhere, they then follow you around or stand outside of the place you are at demanding even more. Usually you can just tell them to go away or ignore them and they will give up after a few minutes but not in Turkmenistan. Unbelievably persistent and after they already have more than they deserve and agreed on. I couldn't believe it. Nearly fought the first one but the homestay family got between us and I finally remembered what country I was in. The second one, at the ferry terminal, was just as crazy. To be perfectly honest, in the end we didn't pay him enough because he had told us a price and then we agreed to it. When we got to the end he tried to jack it up to an unreal amount. Well, when you really don't have any more money and would've taken different transport under those conditions, and he makes up all sorts of lies to get more money, and when he threatens to stay there and prevent you from leaving the country, but you're not leaving and have nothing better to do than just sit in a waiting room for more than 24 hrs, he doesn't have much ground to attack us from. We are very good at waiting people out now. It took him a good 2 hrs or so, trying to cause a scene and turn the other people there against us but as it went, if you are in a building full of police, customs and immigration people and nobody cares he can't do much without getting himself in trouble too. Savannah was right about my "Oscar winning performance" though it's too bad the girls missed it. I brilliantly portrayed the distressed man with nothing left in the world. It was modelled after Hudson's "What are we supposed to do now man?!?!" from Aliens and I'm sure Bill Paxton would be proud. We should've got it on tape or something....... Of course for the next 40 hrs the other passengers on the ferry were making reference to it and laughing at me. They were cool but I think they thought I was a little crazy. They liked the girls though.


At 12:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Watkins,
Sounds fun and a bit scary. Just wanted to say hi and let you know I'm still reading your interesting blog updates.

At 6:18 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haha! Hudson's awesome.



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