We have only gone 20 metres when the driver tells us he will have to raise the price. I hate it when that happens. So we stop and pick up another passenger and the price falls (although I get stuck with the middle seat – no easy thing in a Russian-made car).
And the car is not so good anyway. It has broken down a bunch (and the mechanics didn’t fix it, despite saying they did – funnily that rule that problems never surface in the test drive applies in Turkmenistan as well), but fortunately my travelling companions at least have the sense to open all the windows to fight the powerful pre-summer heat.
Beside me is my guide. In Turkmenistan it is required to have tourists accompanied for their time in the country. So I have been met at the border, taken to the house, taken to the train (shock horror, I travelled by myself), met on the train, dropped at the hotel, and then taken to the next town. Tomorrow I will be accompanied to the border. Still, my guide is nice. And I have never had one before. Well not like this anyway.
Now we have the greatest hits of Stevie Wonder playing. Stevie just called. He says he loves you. Kinda surreal to be racing across the desert in Turkmenistan, skirting the Kopet Dag mountains in the south (border with Iran) and turning left to Mary rather than right to Gushgi (border with Afganistan), and be listening to mawkish love-songs by a star whose peak has long since passed. Especially when the songs are in English and a majority of the people in this car understand not a word.
Merv is, I can now say, amazingly cool for a bunch of old buildings. A tale of five ancient cities. Some more obvious than others. I am not quite sure why they do them up though. I thought the whole point was that they were old.