August 28: Kunye Urgench, Turkmenistan
7:50 We camped last night near the town of Kunye Urgenche and today we will drive about 200 km to camp near the Darvaza gas crater. The first 100 km is said to be very rough and we don’t expect to do more than 30 or 40 kph.
12:15 Duncan has prepared lunch today so we pull over on the side of the road and tie into warm cabbage and peanut butter salad. It’s not one of my favourites but it’s all there is so I manage to choke back a few forks full. Most people seem to enjoy it so perhaps it’s just me.
13:30 We stop to to check out the ruins of another ancient caravansary. These “inns” were spread along the Silk Road at intervals of 30 to 50 kilometres. Many have been lost over the centuries and those that remain are little more than mounds of clay and stone. This one still has some of its turquoise tile cladding.
14:50 We stop at a modern-day caravansary (a roadhouse) and attempt to buy wood. They are fresh out.
15:19 No luck at a second stop for wood.
18:30 The lasagna was perhaps the best I’ve ever had! Hats off to Rodney and Duncan.
18:40 Rustam’s fiancée and her father arrive in a Toyota SUV. We’re camped about 8 km from the ‘The Gates of Hell’ and will use the SUV to make the final run rather than risk getting stuck in the sand with our large Dragoman truck. By now you’re no doubt asking what the hell a gas crater is. The short answer is that natural gas was discovered near here in the late 1960s and drilling commenced. Soon after sinking the first well there was a huge cave-in as an underground cavern collapsed. A 70 meter wide crater opened up and the natural gas caught fire. Officials thought it would burn itself out within a few weeks but nearly 50 years later it’s still burning. A three hour visit to “The Gates of Hell” is one of the more memorable experiences I’ve had in Asia.