This morning I met the rest of the tour group. A fair mix of people but out of 18 or so I think only 2 were younger than me. Its a who's who of travellers. Think of a place and someone in the group has been there. I'm impressed with the age and fitness of many of the older members of the group. As it turns out the next few days will be tough, but today was a stroll in the markets.
Our first group trip was to the Tolkuchka Bazaar. It recently moved locations as it was apparently too cramped. Now its this massive spread out place that is an effort to walk between the various buildings. I was tempted to buy a camel for $500, but was told by Matt and Ellen, truck driver and tour guide said it may be difficult, but were open to the idea as the baby camel was cute. Also carpets were on offer, plus anything else you'd buy in a market. I had a delicious pastry filled with with meat.
The thing you also notice about Ashgabat, is just how empty the streets are and how many monumental marble buildings there are. The previous president of Turkmenistan, known as Turkmenbashi (father of Turkmen) loved himself. After Kim Jong-il he was crazy dictator #2 in the world. It was dictated his photo was to be displayed on planes and buses. The local vodka had his photo on it. The major seaport on the Caspian sea was changed to his name. January was renamed after him and April renamed after his mother. He passed away unexpectedly a few years ago now. Some of the craziness like gold statues are gone, but plenty is still visible. The current president seems to love himself a bit less. That said the locals get a free helping of petrol each year, free power and water. The signs of it being a police state though are still evident.