The Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2010

September 10th - October 16th, 2010




Samarkand to Turkmenabat

Some Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest…


We said our goodbyes to the fabled city of Samarkand in the early hours of this morning. The first car on the road was Car 107, the big black Austin Sheerline of the Australian crew Norman Brice and Colin Ryan. They were out of the hotel at 3.30am, anxious to be early at the tricky border crossing out of Uzbekistan, and then entering Turkmenistan. Final destination: a local lunatic asylum.

The latest chapter of woes for the Austin crew was over-filling the engine with oil, so much so that lots of oil left an oil-slick trail down the road the other day, and also a wheel-bearing has been replaced (grease having been washed out on one of the earlier river crossings – another victim to not having used waterproof grease).

The rest of the rally were starting out from 5.0am. An extensive breakfast had been organised for all at our hotel from 4.30, one of the best breakfast’s we have seen so far. The day has been boiling-hot from the moment the sun came up. Hanging around at borders in the full heat of the sun surrounded by the Taklamikan Desert is certainly a test of endurance.

At the border, Andreas Pohl and Rainer Wolf of Germany in a 1928 Bentley were successfully towed across the border – then finding a truck to take them to one of the hotels organised for the event, the car is suffering from engine problems.

The rally has been split up tonight into four hotels tonight – one is not exactly a hotel, it’s the local Sanatorium, such is the difficulty in finding enough beds for the whole event. This has caused some amusement. Crews finding a run down ex-Communist era concrete block, windows missing in part, overgrown grass in the gardens on the approach, and in-patients who are mentally ill walking zombie-like, shuffling up and down long corridors lined with large ceramic tiles.

The bedrooms have two camp beds, a small table with an oilskin tablecloth, a cupboard contains a toilet, another cupboard door leads to a shower, and “facilities” are shared with an adjoining room. Soap, towels, plugs for the washbasins, are absent, but, hey, we could just as easily be camping in the grounds.

This place first saw a car rally when our Around the World in 80 Days was accommodated here ten years ago. Since then, some things have improved. There are no longer iron bars across the windows. There are photographs up on a hall wall showing the latest “advances” in electrical treatment…one elderly woman is having an implement that rather looks like an electric toothbrush being applied to the front of her forehead, and the operator looks more terrified than the patient. This might explain why so many patients are shuffling around, some are in bright Kermit-green pajamas with blue slippers, with nurses in attendance in blue nylon overalls…everyone here looks as if they have been here for years.

Stephen Fitzgerald, in Car 104, the white Mercedes 280, arrived dressed in a striped orange shirt that rather blends in with the local lunatics…he wonders if any of us would ever be allowed out in the morning, and expresses strong objections to staying in “a hovel”. He calmed down and reluctantly accepted his lot once others explained this was actually the best place in town with off-street car parking.

Tomorrow: We all face a long hot day hacking down tarmac roads through the Taklamikan Desert.


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