We dragged ourselves reluctantly out of the lovely comfy beds in the Hotel Sharq the next day and headed straight to the airport in a taxi. We went back to the ticket desk where the same miserable woman with inch thick make up on told us she couldn’t sell us tickets as the flight was full. “What? But we wanted to buy tickets last night and you said we couldn’t and had to come back today!!”
“You have to see the airport manager”.
So we wandered off to locate the airport manager who was a) hard to find, b) equally as miserable and c) the Pickwick Papers, but seemed to understand that we wanted to be put on stand-by for the Termiz flight and told us to take a seat in the waiting area. After a while he came back and said there were some seats and told us to go back to the ticket desk. Susan grabbed the passports and dashed over to the desk only to find that foreigners are only allowed to purchase flights in DOLLARS for some bizarre reason! We had enough Uzbek Sommes for the flights, but only enough dollars for one! AND the card machine was broken so we couldn’t even pay by visa! There was no way we would have had time to find an ATM (the banks we could use in Uzbekistan were very limited and tended to only be in the big five-star hotels back in the city centre) and make it back for the flight. Gutted!
There was another flight to Termiz that evening, so we had to resign ourselves to getting on that one instead (the other option being to head down from Tashkent to Khojand in Tajikistan but that would have meant missing out Dunshanbe and we really wanted to go there! Even if we only had time to have lunch and a beer on it!), and since we couldn’t buy the tickets for THAT one due to the ridiculous currency situation we would have to come back later once we’d managed to get some dollars from somewhere. It was only 6am, we’d had next to no sleep and we’d left our amazing comfy beds well in advance of the 12 o’clock check out time so we reckoned that if we went back to the hotel, and told the lovely girl on reception (she was still there – they work some crazy 24 hour shifts in these parts!) what had happened she would probably let us back in the room until then. Then we would head to the airport via an ATM for dollars and if there were no seats left on the plane and we couldn’t get stand-by seats, there were still marshrutkas leaving for Khojand that we could catch instead. As predicted the receptionist was lovely and said of course we could get back in our rooms for a few more hours sleep!
We had intended to be up and about early to catch a daytime train to Samarkand to get back on track, but the previous night’s vodka session had taken its toll and neither of us wanted to get out of bed, despite our friend the receptionist continually knocking on the door telling us we needed to get up if we wanted to get the train. We had told him the previous night that this was our plan, so bless him, he reminded us shouting “Girls you will be late!!!” (followed later by “Girls! You will be VERY LATE!!”) through the door. When we finally emerged it was around lunchtime, and upon paying the bill we found that the cheeky “what is your opinion on sex?” birthday vodka gifter room invader of the previous evening had actually charged it to our bill! And it was Uzbekistans best vodka! But then OK it was only less than a fiver so we just laughed it off but ee, that’s a shan birthday vodka that like dude. After a breakfast beer or two in the room we packed up and headed out to the nearest internet café (that was located upstairs in someone’s house and had to be accessed via a rubbish tip) to check out trains and flights as the hotel wifi wasn’t working and neither of us had any 3G signal. After having no luck with trains (and a lot of our go to rail websites being blocked by Uzbekistan!) we’d come to the conclusion that our best option was to get a flight to Tashkent (the Uzbek capital), where hopefully there would be more transport opportunities available. We could see that there was a flight that evening at around 9pm but he Uzbek airlines website wouldn’t let us book online – we put this down to the ancient browser on the pc at the internet café and decided we’d head to one of the posh hotels in the centre to have a beer and use their wifi.
Ever upwards to The Intermnet
Totally where you would expect to find The Internet
So, we were rudely awakened by the dustmen aka Mr Dima at about 6am the next morning, just when the sun was starting to come up and we could actually get some sleep. It had been so cold in our desert tent that we’d all just spent the night shivering and hoping that we wouldn’t get hypothermia. Susan, who isn’t too fond of being dragged out of bed at the best of times, was in a horrendous mood so Jill and Vita helped Dima pack the tents up and load the stuff into the jeep while she took her cup of cowboy coffee (made by Dima on the camp fire) down to the gas crater to warm herself up, since it was her birthday after all. There was only 1 other person around the crater so watching the light creep over the desert while DJ Gas Crater hissed and spat was a fine way to spend her first morning as a 40 year old. As magnificent as the sunrise was, it was still DJ Gas Crater who turtelly sturl the shurr and even with lots of attempts it was impossible to catch just how stunning it all was on camera. When she wandered back up again everything was packed up and Susan was in a lot finer fettle so we all piled into the jeep, said a tearful yet fond farewell to the new guest DJ for Marijuana Fuelled Murders and set off for the Uzbekistan border.
We dragged ourselves out of bed after our lovely relaxing two hours sleep and on going out to the balcony with a breakfast lager bottom, we discovered the beautiful snow-capped mountain view that the darkness had hidden from us last night (from Susan and Vita’s room that is – Jill’s just had a view of a corrugated iron hut with bins of potato peelings and some cats). We headed down to the lobby, thinking we were already late, but Dima was nowhere to be seen. After giving him half an hour we decided to give him a ring to see where he was, only for him to inform us that it was only 9am – it turned out that Jill and Susan’s phones had both updated to Pakistan time instead of Turkmenistan and we were an hour early! Aye, like we REALLY couldn’t have done with that extra hour in bed!! We bought some beers for the journey from the shop at the hotel (for an exorbitant $1 each) and once Dima turned up (on time) we headed off in the car towards Alaja farm. The ride through Ashgabat was interesting and Dima took us on a quick tour in the car since we had lost a day due to our flight mishaps so we wouldn’t get to go wander around and go to the amazing sounding crap theme park, Turkmenbashi Tales which we were the most gutted about! Ashgabat is a very rapidly developing city with lots of the country’s huge oil and gas profits being poured into building the grandiose, white marble fronted buildings with seemingly no purpose, or people. Even the multi storey car parks, bus stops and traffic lights were intricate wrought iron patterns, painted white and gold. For anyone interested in seeing some better pictures of the place than ours from a moving car, here’s a good article with some great photographs.
Well, we don’t even know where to start on this one. Just as Susan and Vita were panicking and running through Dublin airport as they had heard a gate closed tannoy for their flight to Gatwick , a message arrived from Jill saying she had boarded the wrong plane and almost flown to Belfast ! Resulting in her missing her Gatwick flight and having to pay a fortune to detour through Heathrow with British Airways instead.
After a few hours in the No. 1 lounge in Gatwick of Susan trying to teach Vita how to play playstation, and Vita throwing a variety of pastries around, Jill finally made it to Gatwick and we were reunited as a shark with 3 privvy legs. We celebrated it in style with Bloody Marys and some nice relaxing episodes of Charmed, which made us realise that as we had the power of three we may also possess witchy powers, which we used to refill the porridge kettle with chilli – coincidence? We think not!
On top form and with joy in our hearts we merrily skipped to the gate to catch our flight to Moscow, from where we had a harrowing 6 hour wait in the lounge with free bar and food to catch another flight to Ashgabat. Upon proudly displaying our boarding passes to the gate keepers we were asked where our visas for Moscow were, well we don’t need any as we are only transiting and not leaving the airport (we had done much research on the subject and found that this was all fine and dandy so were certain of our status), to which they replied “Easyjet is a point to point airline and as such we don’t do transit”. A phrase which was about to be burned into our brains from hearing it repeatedly during the next few hours. Whilst on the phone to the manager, Phillipe, we sadly watched our flight to Moscow depart down the runway, so close and yet so far away. An emotion to which we were about to become very accustomed. Heads still held high and refusing to be cowed by The Man we defiantly strode back to the obvious next outpost, Wetherspoons, to weigh up our options.
The Pinge & Wang (and friend!) news team will assemble at Gatwick Airport (Susan and Vita flying over from Dublin and Jill getting the train down from Sunderland) to catch the 13:10 Easyjet flight to Moscow, arriving at 20:00 Moscow time. There we have a long eight hour wait before our flight to Ashgabat (at 01:30) so will check ourselves into the lounge to enjoy the complimentary drinks and snacks for a bit, while we use the time wisely trying to get Vita to teach us Russian (she’s fluent – score!).
7th March: Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)
We land in the Turkmen capital at 07.15 and will be met by our tour guide who will be taking care of us during our time in Turkmenistan. We were reluctant at first to book a proper “tour” package as we always pride ourselves in being able to organise and implement our own logistical plans without any outside help, but in Turkmenistan an organised tour is a necessary evil that you need in order to get a visa. We specified our own itinerary though and the price was quite reasonable, so it didn’t end up too much of a hardship. We are staying in the Hotel Paytagt – the cheapest, most central hotel we could find (accommodation in Ashgabat is surprisingly expensive and there are next to no hostels!) – so hopefully we can dump our stuff, freshen up and head out to explore the city. We don’t need the guide to accompany us in Ashgabat, so we’ll probably have a leisurely wander (interspersed with taking in some local booze) as we head to the main attraction for the day, the Turkmenbashi Tales – a theme park based on Turkmen fairytales! We’ll probably be knackered after the lack of sleep (hopefully we’ll catch a few hours on the Moscow-Ashgabat flight If we’re not too hyper and excited) but we will soldier on and attempt a shot at the night life.
8th March: Ashgabat (Turkmenistan)
We will spend the morning horse riding at Alaja farm (just outside of Ashgabat), who are famous for their strong and graceful Akhal Teke horses (the Turkmen people love their horses even more than their vodka!). Susan, who was a horsey child, is really looking forward to this but Jill has serious reservations as her only horse based encounters have involved falling off them, usually into something spiky. In the afternoon we will visit Kow Ata – an underground lake in a cave (also just outside of Ashgabat) that is always around 30 degrees (due to sulphuric gases from the rocks) for a nice swim and to see Central Asia’s largest colony of bats that also live in the cave! Another evening and night in Ashgabat.
9th March: Erbent Oasis, Gas Crater (Turkmenistan)
We have a driver for this part of the tour (luxury!) and will be leaving Ashgabat by car and travelling into the Karakum desert, stopping at the Erbent Oasis where we will hopefully see some nomads, milk some camels and touch some of their beautiful Tazys (traditional Turkmen hunting dogs that are quite similar to Afghans). . From there we will continue North via the mud and water craters then spend the night camping next to the Gates of Hell gas crater in a yurt, celebrating Susan’s birthday at midnight and hopefully avoiding getting bitten by Caspian Cobras. We really can’t wait for this – it’s going to be epic!
You all may be thinking that it’s been a bit quiet on the Pinge and Wang front recently (we admit it and we’re sorry – we’re never going to get on Ellen at this rate with this lack of commitment to our social media outlets and with our knees at our time of life!!!) but behind the scenes it has been a hive of activity, working away to finalise the itinerary for this year’s amazing trip: The Stannering. We’ve come up against a lot of obstacles – closed borders, routes, visas etc… It’s been a logistical nightmare, but now we are basking in the warm glow of having proposed another fabulous trajectory that would make Peter Powell proud!
We’ve also had no end of bother with bureaucracy, involving Jill having to get a new passport (because Uzbekistan refused her visa with the scruffy, beef sauce covered, guilty-stamped one that has been with us on all our previous adventures), Susan having to take a day trip to Northern Ireland to buy return UK postage for her Uzbek and Tajikstan visas (but getting a fun evening in dubious bars in Newry being fought over by old men out of it) and being concerned about Turkmenistan’s fear of good for nothing Latvians.
Oh yes! We forgot to tell you! We have a companion for the first (and maybe second) leg of this trip – our lovely friend Vita will be joining us as we rock the shit out of Turkmenistan! You know that usually we’re partners in crime and don’t want anyone else along for the ride (and no one else could put up with us to be honest), but this year is kind of special as it’s Susan’s 40th birthday! She had wanted to spend it on the moon, but budget tourist space flights aren’t a thing quite yet so she’s settled for camping at the Gates of Hell in Turkmenistan as the next best thing (“Turkmenistan – the next best thing to the moon” – Turkmen Tourist Board, you can use that if you like!) and invited a few close friends along for that leg of the trip. BUT, our Turkmen tour organiser (you can’t get a visa without an organised tour – booo) has warned us that it is unlikely that Vita will be issued a visa as Turkmenistan think that “people from all ex-soviet countries are trouble makers”! The cheek! Of course, Vita is no trouble maker and we’re hoping that he’s talking bollocks (the Turkmen Embassy in London seemed to think when we asked!) and that the consul will be won over by her very angelic-looking visa photos!
So the progress report for the day is so far we have: finished the trajectory, booked the tour in Turkmenistan, booked the Almaty- Yerevan flights and applied for Uzbekistan visas (Jill for the 2nd time!). Shit’s starting to get reeeeeal!!!
Coming soon – the moment you have all been waiting for… OUR 2015 ROUTE MAP!!!!
In our mission to become internet superstars, give up our day jobs and instead get paid to go to dubious places and get into scrapes with hilarity ensuing (the things we do for your reading pleasure!), we thought we would make a little inspirational graphic to remind ourselves of our mission statement and core values, culminating in the heady heights of getting onto The Ellen DeGeneres Show (thanks to our social media consultant Antonine for getting us on track). Please see below, the REAL Maslow hierarchy of needs.
As you no doubt know, one of our favourite travel activities is finding grotty little dive bars in which to talk the toot to drunk old men. The grotty dive bars thing has long been a tradition (as we would rather stay away from the touristy places and get to know some of the locals), and we didn’t really give much thought to the old men part until we were in Estonia earlier this year, reading through the “In Your Pocket” guide to Tallinn and noticed “Vaali Bar”, a “small and stinky local institution” promising “cheap drinks and unusual elderly regulars” and thought that sounded right up our street (declaring “I love talking shit with old men!”, “I love talking shit to old men too!!!!”) and our great night there with our new friend Aaaaaaaarrrrrrnie, that we decided that we should make more of a conscious effort to meet more old men and make it part of our mission statement and core values.
Looking back, we’ve had some of our best craic with old men! Drinking beers in a record shop in Tulum (Mexico), driving around the castles of Transylvania (with beers, obviously)…and our favourite occasion when, after being warned that the men in northern Albania were dangerous and would kidnap us, we happened upon a hut halfway up a mountain near Thethi where the old mountain men within greeted us warmly, offered us beers and we had a fabulous evening drinking, playing dominoes and chatting in broken English/Albanian – these are some of our greatest old men times! So, we thought we’d put together a list of reasons why old men are the best.
If you are a keen follower of our adventures, you will recall that in our Eastern Eastern Europe Rewangering this year, we really wanted to go to Belarus but you needed complicated, expensive visas to get in. However in May Belarus held the Ice Hockey World Championships, and anyone with a ticket for one of the matches could get into the country without the need of a visa, hence we became overnight fans of the sport and got 2 tickets!
In a complex bit of logisticing, Jill’s flight to Dublin was first thing on the Thursday morning then we had a flight to Oslo at 5pm so we decided to go out and meet Aaron and Ger for some lunch during their break. We had a nice catch up, wine and some mussels at a nice restaurant with a terrace before it was time to taxi to the airport. As an added bonus, Susan had a voucher for Uber so we utilised that to get a luxury car and chauffeur like real ladies. We were met at the bus station in Oslo by Christopher (from Norway – another one of the Amsterdam/Copenhagen gang) and his Australian girlfriend Kirsty and had a few beers in the bar at the station before Christopher proposed that since Jill had never been to Oslo and didn’t have time to see it all, we should go up to the panoramic bar at the top of the Radisson hotel (which was conveniently just across the road) and sit in the window with the good view and they would give an aerial tour of the city. So we did that which was lovely (although we daren’t even think how much the beers we had in there cost, as it’s around £8 for a pint in a normal bar in Oslo! Christopher and Kirsty got them though, since it was their idea to go there and they are used to those prices and less likely to die of a heart attack than us!) and then met Erland, another good friend of Susan’s, and an ‘orrid unt of a man, for some dinner. It was about 1am by the time we got back to Howie’s (Susan’s torrid gay affair, whose house we were staying at and Erland’s twin brother – he was actually not there at the time as he was up visiting his parents in Trondheim but he and his husband Matthew had said we could stay there and Erland let us in) so we settled down to a nice relaxing two hours of sleep before we had to get the bus to the airport at 3. This was not very much fun as you can imagine – our flight to Vilnius wasn’t until 6.30am but the latest bus that would get us to the airport on time was the 3 o’clock one! So yes, it was very grim but we managed to make it and had a bit more sleep on seats at the airport before the flight boarded.
Wandering in search of a nice loose egg, your favourite idiot broads abroad embarking on an yet another enchanting voyage of self-discovery (not the kind that's in those arty french films with subtitles and hairy biffs). Join us in our journey!