It was very windy during the night, so windy that we were worried the tent might give way. Justin was on the windward side, and had to put his head inside the sleeping bag so that the tent fabric wouldn't bash against his head. We heard a bunch of birds at some point during night, not sure exactly when. Justin got up at 6:20, and there were birds in the crater, eating insects on the crater floor. How the insects got there, we have no idea.

Right at sunrise, it began to sprinkle, and then shortly thereafter it started to rain. Back in 2008 we got snowed on in the Atacama desert, and today we got rained on in the Karakum desert, where it rains only about 4-5 times a year. Perhaps we should rent ourselves out to places needing rain. Breakfast was in the tent because of rain; we had bread, apples, cookies, and salami. We also had some coffee and hot chocolate. Because of eating in a tent, plus the hot chocolate, it reminded us of our mornings on Mount Kilimanjaro. We took one last walk around crater whilst Tore and Aman put away all the stuff. They drove down to get us, and before hopping in the vehicle we got a group shot. We were on the road around 8.

The rain was now done, but there still were light sprinkles. We were heading north, and the view was nothing but desert. It reminded us of Namibian desert, with dunes and low scrub. We saw something we'd never before exerienced, which is camels drinking water from the potholes that had filled up with rainwater. To pass the time, we listened to podcasts. Crystal was listening, ironically, to one about the Silk Road - but the dark web site, not the historic region. Justin was listening to one about sports bars. He was also putting all the pictures onto computer, and then the USB memory stick, on the off chance the cards got viewed and wiped at the border. Aman took a smoking break about halfway, near a bridge that was being re-routed. We had three stray dogs join us, including one that was wagging her tail at warp speed, hoping for some bread.

Around noon we got to Kunya Urgench, or "Old" Urgench. It was a city situated on the Silk Road, which was famous for being the route between China in the East and Europe in the West. It was made famous during the times of Marco Polo. Kunya Urgench had actually been around much longer, going back to 400-500 BC. It rose to prominence, however, between the 10th and 14th centuries, when it was the capital of the Khwarezm area (which now is split between Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan). In the 10th to 14th centuries, however, this area was still part of the Persian empire. Genghis Khan destroyed the city in 1221, but it was re-built even better. Timur attacked in 1373, and the local ruler surrendred, only to rebel a few years later, at which point Timur destroyed the city as well. He burned everything to the ground, destroyed the irrigation system, and planted barley over the remains of the city. Amazingly, it was re-built again, albeit much more modestly. It began to decline in importance, and in the 16th century the Khwarezm capital was moved to Khiva (where we were headed tonight).

So there wasn't a ton for us to see in the old city. Some of the best remaining sites are the Turabek Khanum mausoleum, the Kutlug Timur minaret, and the Tekesh mausoleum. The Turabek Khanum mausoleum was the first thing we saw, and the inner dome was in fantastic shape, but that was about it. There were birds (and bird crap) all around the interior, and the exterior was a shell (literally and figuratively) of its old self. The minaret is about 200 feet high, and really stands out given how flat and barren the surrounding terrain is. It must have been visible for miles and miles back in the Silk Road days. The Tekesh mausoleum has a more conical roof, and it was in better shape than the Turabek Khanum mausoleum roof. It was unseasonably cold outside, and so we didn't waste much time loitering. On the way out, we saw a caravanseri (basically a place where visitors and their animals could spend the night), although no one is positive this actually was a caravanseri. Usually the caravanseris are on the outside of a city (presumably for safety and/or sanitation), and this one was within the bounds of the former city walls. But no one really has a better idea what this building was, so caravenseri is the best guess.

From Kunya Urgench, we actually turned and headed southeast, and got to the city of Dashoguz around 2. Compared to Ashgabat, this looked like a "real" city, with inhabited areas, buildings that looked a little run down, people walking the streets, etc. Because of this and the gray skies, it had a sort of Russian or former Soviet feel to it. Tore mentioned that Dashoguz was in fact more Russian, whereas there are more ethnic Turkmens in Ashgabat. The attire of the people, particularly the women, also looked more Russian. We grabbed a quick lunch, and were the only guests besides for one large table with a group of Americans. We both had chicken, since it was already prepared and we got the vibe from Tore that we were running behind again. We had a nice chat with Tore at lunch, from his job search in Dubai (since travel guiding in Turkmenistan is really only 4 months a year) to issues about Turkmenistan's future, such as whether the current President will stick to 2 terms.

The border was just east of Dashoguz, and we got there around 3 or 3:30. At the border, we were just a tad too late, getting there just behind group of Malaysians, maybe 12-15 people. For the dozen or so people, it took close to an hour just to get to the immigration window. There were tons of people working there, but most seemed to be standing around, and only 1-2 were at the immigration window. We were peeved, but weren't about to show any visible frustration. Thankfully there was no camera check (in hindsight, maybe we should've taken some more pictures) at the security check. There were still a half dozen people in front of us, waiting at the immigration window. As we got closer, we listened to what they were asking, just in case it required us to grab some documents or check something on our itinerary.

Crystal was first to the window, but Justin got through first. The agent was asking Crystal about when the new iPhone was coming out, and how much they would cost. Once we got outside the immigration office, there was about a 100 meter walk to a gate. The gate was the beginning of the "middle ground" between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Justin walked as slowly as possible, not wanting to stand still, but also trying to wait as long as possible for Crystal. She eventually got out, and we met right around the gate, where they were doing the last check of our passports and visas before getting on a bus to drive us across the middle ground to the Uzbek immigration building. At this final check, despite a half dozen people already checking her passport and visa, Crystal couldn't leave. None of the people spoke that great of English, and while one person told Justin it was "minor problem," he wasn't re-assured. As it turned out, the exit stamp wasn't pressed hard enough, and it was unclear whether the arrow indicated an exit or entry. We were leaving, who cares? Seriously Turkmenistan, get over yourself. Of all the countries we've visited, this was the first one where we had such a visceral negative reaction, and neither of us are in any hurry to return.

We took the minibus across the border zone, along with 4 or 5 of the people on the Malaysian tour. At the Uzbekistan building, things weren't going much faster. It was now getting kind of close to 6pm, when the border theoretically closes, and we were having nightmares about having to either go back to Turkmenistan or having to sleep on the floor of the immigration building. We were chatting with each other with the Malaysians behind us, and when one of them told us that it was our turn to go to the immigration desk Justin said "Terimah Kasi" ("thank you" in Malaysian). There was a delayed reaction, and then the guy asked Crystal "you two speak Malaysian?" She struck up a conversation, lamenting our common situation with the long wait and also about our multiple trips to Malaysia. There was one last long line for the day, this time at Uzbek customs. Unbeknownst to us, we needed to fill out duplicate forms, so once we were at the agent desk we had to stop and go back to fill out a second copy. The agent and one other employee were arguing loudly, with our best guess on the subject matter being something about staying past 6pm to finish all the remaining travelers. In our head, we imagined something along the lines of:

Of course, we could be totally wrong, but we enjoyed the fake conversation we were imagining based on the real argument in a language we couldn't understand. Outside, we finally met our driver, Firdacz, right around 6. That's correct, it took between 2-3 hours to go from Turkmenistan to Uzbekistan with less than 20 people in line. On the plus side, the sun had finally come out, the sky was blue, and Firdacz gave a very good first impression of the country. Just looking around as we drove southeast, it was an entirely different country, literally and figuratively. Firdacz asked us about the massive shooting in Las Vegas, and then when we said we'd been off the grid for a couple days, he told us what he knew. People back home had been joking about us being unsafe on our travels to Central Asia - turns out it was far safer in Central Asia than in Las Vegas.

For a day as gray at is was, we had a very nice sunset. We got to enjoy it when we had a flat tire next to a sandy bank and small pond. Up close, with the sunset in the distance, we pretended it was a sandy ocean beach. We got to our hotel (Hotel Asia Khiva) sometime after 7, and it was getting very dark. At the check-in desk, they were finding a room for us, and one of the employees said to the other "MIR" and we got moved to a different building. So we actually checked in at building 3. Our room was on the ground foor, right next to the front desk. Every MIR client must be at least 70, as every hotel we'd been to (except for Ashgabat, where invariably they wanted things to seem busy) gave us a room right next to the elevator or stairs on a very low floor, including the ground floor. And maybe every MIR client is over 70, as the hotel was full of Americans, all over 70. We don't know if they were with MIR or not.

We went into the walled city for dinner. Khiva was another famous city on the Silk Road, having existed for 1000-1500 years. By the early 1600s Khiva became the capital of the Khwarezm region, later known as the Khanate of Khiva. For a couple centuries, Khiva was a self-governing empire. The Russians took over Khiva in 1873, but they let Khiva remain semi-autonomous. After the Bolshevik revolution, Khiva was made its own Soviet Republic for a short period before being swept into the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic.

What is notable about Khiva is that throughout all of this is that it remains, to this day, a fully self-contained city within city walls. Our hotel was literally across the street from the south entry gate, and after walking into the city we meandered around looking for a place to eat. The streets were pretty dark, and we noted one guy in his workshop carving wood products. We passed by a really tall minaret, but there were still no restaurants to be found. We probably walked around for 5-10 minutes before we found anything. In what we can only assume is the center of the city, we found a busy restaurant. At first we got turned away since we had no reservations, but that may have been a mistake based on something being lost in translation. A guy who spoke much better English came by and said they had room. We asked about whether we could use a credit card, and he said no. But he said we could use dollars, although even that was not 100% clear. Justin got some plov, Crystal got some lagman, and with that and two glasses of wine, the total came to $7.33. We gave them $10 and were happily on our way.

After dinner we went to the bar at the hotel, which was empty. The bartender was just watching music videos, which he turned down after we came in. Shortly after we got there, a ounger group, who had been drinking somewhere else, came in and said hi, then sat down across the bar. A little while later, we met Jonathan, a tour guide from Vancouver. He was there guiding a larger group. We chatted about many things, including Turkmenistan (and how empty the buildings are and its weirdness generally), cheap food prices, closing Darvaza crater, what we liked about Vancouver, and the recent happening of Canada taking in folks from California, Oregon and Washington. Another tour guide, a lady from Italy that Jonathan knew, came about halfway into conversation. We chatted with both of them for awhile; we needed to get to sleep, but it was good conversation, so we didn't get back to room until about 10:30. We watched the news at 11 - that was a bad idea, as it was all about Las Vegas, gun control, and Hurricane Maria. We were soundly asleep before midnight.

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