We love all our destinations, which is why we’re so proud to take people there. If there is a place we don’t like, we don’t take tours there. Or not even don’t like, but just don’t love. However, there is one place that holds a particularly special place in our hearts, and that is Turkmenistan. We (Eilidh and Ben) even got engaged there all the way back in 2012. Turkmenistan was where our lives in running tours all began, and even if we never went there again it would always be special.
The first time we ever went there we crossed the land border from Uzbekistan, and we immediately knew we were somewhere unique, but extremely hard to properly understand. Most visitors barely scratch the surface, but we think those who have come on tours with us have left with at least a better than average understanding. When we first left Turkmenistan by crossing the border into Iran, we knew it would remain a big part of our lives.
Gaining the trust and friendship of Turkmens doesn’t come easily. They are protective of themselves and are careful in their dealings. Whoever you travel to Turkmenistan with, you wouldn’t want to go with someone who has little to no experience there. We’ve seen too many times the negative effect this can have, whether it’s something as tangible as the exchange rate you get, or something you might not even realise like the experiences you have, or how you are treated.
We were the first people to start organising Independence Day tours. Others thought it was too hard (which it is) and too risky, due to the much higher chance of visa rejection over this period. But we knew it would be awesome if we could pull it off, and made it our mission to do so. So we persisted, and we’re proud to say, we succeeded. Others did start offering tours during Independence Day, however just being in the country during that time isn’t enough, you need to have also organised access to the events. It was always a bit sad seeing other groups sitting in the hotel lobby as we were heading out to the Independence Day Concert or Presidential Horse Racing Event.
Although we’re not entirely sure, we think that Eilidh is probably the western person who has been to Turkmenistan the most, with almost 60 visits to her name so far. She has travelled to every corner of the country and knows it better than many locals.
There was one story in 2018 when we were invited to a tourism festival in the resort town of Avaza on the Caspian coast. The then Ministry of Tourism wanted to invite some westerners who would properly appreciate the event and so they contacted us to ask if we would be interested. Of course, we would always have said yes, but they felt the need to sweeten the deal by providing a night’s free accommodation at a 5 star hotel in Avaza and a lunch with the Minister of Tourism himself! We were over the moon at the entire event, the whole thing was just amazing, and we were completely in love with everyone. And I remember clearly some guests coming up to us and saying “You’re actually making us enjoy this more due to how much you’re enjoying it. It’s amazing seeing someone who has been here as much as you still being so amazed.”
People often ask if we get bored of going back to the same places over and over, and whilst the answer is sometimes yes for some places, there’s not a single place in Turkmenistan that we could ever imagine getting bored of visiting. From the monuments of Ashgabat to the Gates of Hell, the Dinosaur Plateau to Yangykala Canyon, Avaza, the bazaars, and even the hotels we stay in and restaurants and bars we frequent!
Getting to properly understand the culture, mentality, mindset, history, and everything else that goes into making any country what it is, is important and can be difficult anywhere, but more so than anywhere else we’ve ever visited, Turkmenistan is just such an enigma, and unlike other countries, outsiders just rarely make an effort or have the opportunity to dig as deep as we have and continue to do.
We reckon we run pretty cool tours to all our destinations, and pride ourselves on really making them unique and interesting trips, but if there’s one country that we do well, it’s Turkmenistan.