Stop in Turkmenistan or Fly to Kazakhstan?
When you’re in the middle of an intense adventure, and your gut says something is wrong. Do you follow your gut, or ignore it?
I realize it sounds as though I am in the throes of having to make a big decision, but, truth be told, I already made it; my question is more of a delayed query.
Are you confused? I don’t blame you, in some ways, I am still confused. Allow me to backtrack a wee bit.
We (Charlie and I) were in Baku, Azerbaijan when we discovered that Charlie’s Kazakhstan visa was only good for 9 days, instead of 30. It was an error, but not one that we could correct. At the time I suggested we skip Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and go straight to Kazakhstan. Charlie disagreed. She felt we could still go to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and then cross through Kazakhstan in 4-5 days. I didn’t really share her enthusiasm, which was a first for me. I’m usually all for these kinds of situations.
I let things be, and didn’t press the issue.
I didn’t sleep well for the next couple nights. I was having dreams about Kazakhstan, and the fact that 4-5 days didn’t feel right. It was odd. I generally don’t dream about these things, but here I was, dreaming about it. As a result, I became quiet, reserved, and a tad grumpy. It was weighing on me. But, I let it be.
When the day came for us to take the ferry across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, I had an ‘off’ feeling. Something told me things weren’t right. I figured it was due to all of Ishmael’s double talk, and I boarded the ferry.
I hardly slept. I was quiet, reserved, and grumpy. I couldn’t shake it. Kazakhstan is one of the toughest countries to drive in. The roads are rough and almost non-existent at times. To cross it in 4-5 days we would have to have perfect border crossings, almost perfect roads, and absolutely no problems with the car. I wasn’t convinced that this would be the case. My gut was telling me that going to Kazakhstan was a bad choice.
When we docked in Turkmenistan I realized that the following day was Friday and that I probably wouldn’t be able to pick-up my Uzbekistan visa in Ashgabat until Monday; the day after Charlie’s Turkmenistan visa expired. I suggested we skip Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and go straight to Kazakhstan. The border wasn’t far from where we were, we could totally do it.
I was more than a little surprised by her answer.
Charlie didn’t want to drive through that portion of Kazakhstan as the roads were rough there. She wanted to see Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. She was planning to leave me in Turkmenistan and told me I could find a ride, or another way to Kazakhstan and meet her there.
I was angry, frustrated, hurt, shocked. I had spent almost $200 to get to Turkmenistan (ferry, plus visa fees) and now I was being told that I would be left there to figure out how to get to Kazakhstan on my own.
The next day was a quiet one in the car. I thought about how I would get myself to Kazakhstan, I thought about all the extra costs that had just been dumped into my lap, I thought about the reservations I had about Kazakhstan, and I thought of the possibility of having to endure a similar situation later on in the journey if I found myself stuck in Kazakhstan.
No matter what angle I looked at, the thought of going to Kazakhstan didn’t fit. It was more than the extra money, it was the feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere and having to find a way out. It was the thought of blowing through a country because of a visa, it was the amount of extra strain and stress it would bring. There is no way I would have been happy with speeding through Kazakhstan.
My decision was a very difficult one. I decided to follow my gut, and end my part of the Mongol Rally.
It was a heart-wrenching decision; that became even more so when the realities of being in a country with next to no internet access, and no international banking, became evident.
I cursed my situation several times as I tried to book a flight to Canada, then when I was trying to sleep in the airport, then when I was on the flight to Istanbul, then on the flight to Toronto, then for three days after I was home.
The Mongol Rally was my epic adventure. I had every intention of finishing it. I had no idea I would be told that I was being left in Turkmenistan, and then invited to find my own way to Kazakhstan.
As I sit at home, writing and reflecting, I wonder about my decision to follow my gut. I know that I am a lot harder on myself than I need to be, but truth be told, I struggle with feeling like I’ve failed, and let others down. It’s something I need to work on, but right now, I’m not ready to accept that as a logical answer. Maybe in a couple more days.
I’m not the only person who will not finish the Mongol Rally. Several teams never get to Mongolia. Relationships and friendships disintegrate during the rally. These are facts. The Mongol Rally tests you and tests you, and tests you. You think you know what it’s about, and then you start driving, and all your assumptions go out the window.
Was it a mistake to do the Mongol Rally with a stranger? I don’t know. Things are still fresh for me. I want to let some time pass before I answer that question.
Do I regret doing the Mongol Rally? No, there were lessons learned, and that is never a bad thing.
Would I do it again? Yes, but in a completely different way (something I will elaborate on in another post).
I knew the Mongol Rally would be a challenge, and one of the most intense journeys of my life. It was one of the reasons why I decided to do it. Although I’m irritated about not getting to Mongolia, I did get to Turkmenistan! I guess that in itself is a fabulous feat, right? Please say yes, my ego needs a little stroking right now.