DAY 26 – A hell of a road

215 miles
#Darvaza to #Nukus (a.k.a. the Road of Hell)

The only thing that can come after the Gate of Hell is the Road of Hell. The thing is that you don’t know it from before.

The dawn in the desert is nice and beautiful. But it comes at 5am, and that’s why it’s shit. You’re in the desert, there’s nothing covering you from the sunlight, so the only thing you can do is waking up. We roll in the sleeping bag some one hour before definitely waking up. It’s 6pm, it’s time to reach Uzbekistan. We know we have to climb up the hill again from the other side. It will take a while. But we’re full of will and hope. On the other hand, Uzbek border closes at an unspecified time between 3pm and 6pm, so we need to make a move.

On the way back to the main road, nice local bikers run the hill with you, trying to bother you to make you get stuck in the sand, so that you’ll have to pay them for help. Team Kudos has some problems with that, but luckily we manage to overcome the nasty hill, reaching the road after some 2 hours and a half. It’s 9am, there’s only one not even too long road dividing us from Uzbekistan.

Yeah, one road. A hell of a road. A road of hell. Call it as you prefer. If this was a TV series, now you should have a flashforward with twelve Mongol Rally teams waiting in No Man’s Land, all covered in sand, someone lying on the ground, someone crying in a corner (there were no corners btw), Jelly Belly with a layer of 1 cm of dust outside and inside. But this is not a TV series.

Like every respectable supervillain, the road of hell doesn’t manifest its viciousness from the beginning. It makes you suffer little by little. Then, when you’ve finished your power, it gives you the final blow. The bit we’re talking about is actually the Darvaza-Köneürgench (Google Maps please). The first 100 kms are the same as the day before. Tarmac with horrible potholes coming out all of a sudden. More then once the carriageways separate, and understanding if you’re on the right side is almost impossible. It’s already stressing driving like that, but this is nothing. We stop to swap drivers in a random shop on the road (the first one after Darvaza), where we meet Erik and Bertha, the Beontheroad guys. From now on, a road as we usually like to think does not exist anymore. Seriously, it’s really hard to say that that was a road. It doesn’t fit the definition. There is basically a continuous strip of ground, with a variating width, whose soil is never flat. Not a single metre where you have continuity of surface. Cracked tarmac constellated with holes deep several cms, gravel with rocks (probably leftover of previous tarmac), compact mud soil with massive bumps, sand. Many of these are present at the same time in the same pice of “road”. Driving more than 30 km/h is almost impossible. A long strip of gravel ends up on a bridge, which is the only bit in which the asphalt is smooth. The problem is that the bridge doesn’t end. Or better, it ends in a pool of sand unbelievably deep. More than that, the temperature is horrible, around 41-43 degrees.

The exhaust sings from the bottom, the roof rack and basket creaks at every hole and bump. The panda head resists.

We reach the border at 2:25pm. We’re sweaty and completely dirty of dust. There are a couple of MR teams already there. Many others will join us one after another. Turkmen officers, poor guys, they’re eating, so nobody is allowed to pass to the checkings. We wait some 45 minutes, then they start. They check the car (see Day 24), and around 4pm we’re free to enter No Man’s Land, hoping that Uzbekistan will be so nice to let us in. There are three MR cars waiting in front of the gate when we arrive. After 30 minutes, the cars are 10. Nothing happens. Ilaria chats in Russian with an Uzbek Rambo soldier, trying to understand what’s happening. There are two cars inside the custom, being checked. We need to wait, apparently. Only two or three cars are allowed in per time. It’s 4:30pm, and it’s taking almost 1 hour per car. We’ll never make it. We already start studying the area, trying to understand where it’s better to camp. The three cars in front of us enter. It’s 5:45pm when they let us in. “If we’re in, we’re in Uzbekistan, they can’t leave us in the custom” we think, although Uzbek bureaucracy tries to prove us wrong. The form we need to feel to enter is in Russian, and when we ask for one in English, the only answer we get is “Russian is an international language”. Good to know for the future. We fill the form quite randomly. The border is about to close, so they let everybody in and car checking becomes more superficial. It’s almost 7pm, we suppose also Uzbek officers have a life.

When we leave the custom to our back, the road becomes almost normal, but the sound of the car body cracking and the exhaust clanging still rumbles in our heads. Our legs don’t stop shaking. We’re trapped in a coma where everything moves and makes noise. Maybe the night will help getting over it.

Number of countries crossed: 12
Days without accidents: (let’s say) 1
Number of times the counter has been reset: 1