Hitchhiking in Turkmenistan is challenging and for us, it ended up as an arduous journey from Darvaza to Ashgabat. So here’s how our little adventure went…
Thankfully our hitch hiking experience was nothing like the above cold journey! Okay, so we were sort of stranded in Darvaza after seeing the gates of hell as there was supposed to be a bus to Ashgabat at 11am but in the end we found out that the bus was only coming at 4 or 5pm. We didn’t want to wait that long as we only had limited time in Turkmenistan, so we decided to find another way out.
Coincidentally, there was a bunch of people having lunch at our chaikhanahs and they happened to be heading to Ashgabat too. They drove a huge blue truck with a large open-aired container at the back and they said we could get a lift from them. We were excited as it was our first time getting driven in such a huge truck!
We happily hopped on the truck with them and we were intrigued to see how cozy and capacious it was inside the truck. There were 2 beds, one above the other, behind the front seats. The 4 of us (including our 2 Japanese friends that we met on the way) squeezed together on the lower bed. It was very comfortable actually. There was a curtain separating the beds and the front seats and we were instructed to draw the curtains whenever there was any sighting of police.
Our driver, which also happened to be the youngest amongst them (looked like he was 18 or younger), was high and crazy! He kept singing (out of tune) at the top of his lungs and talked loudly non-stop! Half the time he kept turning back to make conversation with us and it got us quite worried as he was obviously not paying much attention to the road. Thankfully they spotted a policeman ahead of the road and the young driver immediately swopped seats with another older rotund fella which seemed more appropriate to me.
Unfortunately in Central Asia, the concept of hitchhiking isn’t quite established yet and drivers will still expect you to pay. Mid way, our driver suddenly asked for Manat from us to pump petrol and at first, they asked for 100M (25M each) which was way too costly! The public bus only cost 10M per person. So we agreed to give only 10M each and the driver reluctantly accepted the money. Though he did try to ask for an additional 10M but we again politely rejected and used the student excuse (which always works) on him.
The funny thing was when we were almost nearing Ashgabat (about 20km away), the driver suddenly turned into a smaller lane and the truck started to slow down and eventually came to a stop. The driver claimed that the truck ran out of petrol! You mean they pumped the petrol with only the 40 Manat from us? And so now we’re paying for the price of it because the truck has come to a stop. The driver got out of the truck and found us another car to send us to Ashgabat. That would cost us another 4M which was reasonable, or so we though.
So we got off the truck and entered the other car which was in the worst conditions ever. Its left passenger door was stuck, its back boot couldn’t close properly, the front seats were fully inclined backwards which made it very difficult for people to sit at the back. We were surprised that the car could actually still function properly when it was almost falling apart! But after 5 minutes, for some unknown reason, he told us to alight and he found us another taxi. He didn’t charge us for that short distance. But this new taxi wanted 20M from us which was too expensive. So we decided to wait by the road for another car, bus or to try hitch hiking again.
Fortunately, a marshuka (mini public van) heading towards Ashgabat promptly arrived and we quickly got on it. But once again, we were faced with another problem. Our baggage was just too bulky for this small van! We had a difficult time squeezing into the van and the driver was quite agitated with us. Despite the van being so full already, he still continued to accept more passengers! And in the end, he collected double the fee from us as he claimed it was for our baggage.
After alighting from the marshuka at Tekke Bazaar, we had to take another public bus before finally reaching our hotel. Sometimes we wonder if it was easier to just hail a cab right from the start which will bring us directly to our hotel. Might be costlier, but at least it’ll save us all these inconveniences. But then again, what’s the fun of travelling if not for all these inconveniences?
Check out our other post on things to do in Turkmenistan with a 5 days transit visa!