Living in Turkmenbashi for four weeks

by Ollie, 13/02/2014 

At the moment myself and Alison are living it up in California, if only for a little while. Before we went on our holiday though, I was working in Turkmenistan for four weeks. Our next post will be all about California and its delights, but first some more on Turkmenistan. 

As neither the tug or dredger had any accommodation, I was living in a hotel while over there.
Every day we would be ferried to and from the project area in a van with a local driver.

Turkmenistan is an interesting place, Wikitravel mentioned vast deserts, a hotspring in a cave somewhere in the mountains and a crater where natural gas has been burning since the 1970s.
There are also a lot of ancient ruins on the Silk Road to be found across the country and I would have loved to visit the lot of them, but alas, work did not allow it.

Turkmenbashi, the city we were staying, does have a bazaar which I was able to visit during my free time. It's a big market place where you can get local food and wares like sturgeon, a fish only found in the Caspian Sea, and tapestries. But of course you can also get Western stuff there like clothes, dvds and electronics. 
It's a place where cultures blend. The mixing of cultures can also be seen in the local people. Most have either Slavic or Turkic/Persian appearances but in some people you can detect the genes left behind by Genghis Khan and his Mongol hordes.

Translation please
Most people have very little English or none at all, so it's very hard to have a conversation. I tried having one with the man who I bought some fruit off at the bazaar but neither of us understood one word the other was saying.
The one person who did have decent English was the driver who brought us to the ship every day. From him I kind of gathered how the country works.

Like the majority of people in Turkmenbashi he is an ethnic Russian. In the country as a whole they form a minority though. As a consequence they are discriminated, for example the Russians need to pay tens of thousands of Euro if they want a job in the civil service or if they want to go to college, whereas native Turkmen don't.
The country is very rich in natural gas and oil and thankfully the whole population benefits from that. Well sort off.
A lot of daily basics are subsidized and every month everybody gets a certain amount of free petrol. But a lot of the revenue gets spent on preposterous projects like big hotels and convention centers that are never used and are just prestige projects for the regime.
No doubt a lot of the revenue ends up in the pockets of the regime and their inner circle.

Police are everywhere.
This guy was on the hotel grounds, not a good idea to
take photos of them, but he didn't notice me
Turkmenistan is a proper police state, men in uniform are everywhere, as are pictures of the Turkmen president. You’ll see his face on buildings, the front pages of the local papers, on billboards over the motorway and even in the lobby of the hotel we are staying. You can get in serious trouble for insulting the man.

I doubt there is much freedom of speech, all the social media websites were blocked and all the newspapers are state owned and don't seem to report much other than to say how great their president is.

Corruption seems rather rampant there as well. On our way from the hotel to the project area we had to pass a roadblock. To ensure smooth passage we had to give the guards some food and drink every day.
Same thing for the crew change of the ship, every day a border guard and port state control officer would be present for the crew change and they would demand to see our passports, offshore passes and a whole stack of forms that needed to be filled out. If these lads weren’t happy they would delay the whole thing or just not show up the next day which meant no one could get on or off the ship, so we’d give them food and drinks as well.

Turkmenistan, an interesting place indeed. 

Turkmenbashi is a bit of a dull city, I wouldn't recommend it as a tourist destination, but the sunrises were amazing!
Turkmen children's play ground 

Good old Lada, still very common in Turkmenistan
The light of sunrise makes the place look less grim. The city is perfectly grand to walk around though.

The hotel my colleagues and I were living in...
And the houses the neighbors are living in, bit of a contrast

The meat section of the bazaar

The fruit hall of the bazaar. I felt a bit awkward taking photos in the bazaar, I asked a few times if it was ok and most people said no. This man said it was ok, but he still wasn't looking very happy.

It's the women that are doing all the dirty jobs in this country, I never once saw a man clean the streets. 

Even though there are pedestrian crossings with traffic lights that drivers abide by, pedestrians don't give a shite about them and cross the busy streets where ever they feel like. In fact, I got some very funny looks from all the drivers when I did use an official crossing.

According to our driver this is the president's holiday home if he visits Turkmenbashi. It cost millions to build it and even though he has visited the city since, it has never been used

The president's mug is everywhere, this fella must really like himself and wants everyone else to like him as well. His predecessor was even worse though, that's his statue in the foreground, holding the book he wrote which is being taught in schools at the expense of physics and maths.
The bath in my hotel room, and no I did not use it as a toilet.

The last week I was in Turkmenbashi it had been snowing and temperatures dropped to -15

Mist on the Caspian Sea.

Ice sculpture

At some stage the heating in the hotel stopped working, an electric heater was brought out to stop the aquarium from freezing solid. Wether we were outside or inside the hotel, we had to wear big coats, gloves and hats to stay warm. 
The literature that was available in the hotel. Not my cup of tea.


  1. Interessant land en wat een verschil tussen arm en rijk mooit foto's heb je weer gemaakt

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Het is een interessante plek. Bedankt voor het compliment!

  2. Terrific photos Ollie. They tell quite a story.

    1. Thanks a million. 20 photos say more than a thousand words :-)

  3. Sorry, but why in photo not new modern buildings from Avaza, its not away from city?:)

  4. Thank you for your comment TKM. Avaza is a few miles outside of Turkmenbashi and I did not venture there, so unfortunately I have no photos of it.

  5. Thanks for the pics of my hometown!