Fiery Push Onwards to the Door to Hell
Ashgabat, Turkmenistan to Derweze, Turkmenistan
After mosquito or crazy Turkmenistan blood sucking buzzing night, we hit the road at sunrise off to Ashgabat. Ashgabat is one beautiful city. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1948 then rebuilt under Soviet rule to the beautiful city it is now. All white marble building with ornate lanterns. Now these are ginormous building, minimum 5 stories in height.
By God’s guiding hand, we somehow navigate through the city and come to the only “banky” in the city and country for that matter that has an ATM and can pull out dollars. Also it happen to be right next to the largest mall in Central Asia. A ginormous 3 story building with all the stores that no one can afford to pay for and a well stocked supermarket in the basement. It reminded me a big like Mega Mall in the Philippines.
AND there were other Mongol Rally caravanning to the Door to Hell.
History Lesson: The Door to Hell is a natural gas mine that collapsed in the middle of the Karakum Desert. Then afterwards the brilliant engineerings expecting dangerous gases to be released light the natural gas on fire to burn it off… This was back in 1971…the fires are still burning..
So anyways, when I mentions that this “door” is in the middle of the desert, I really do mean middle of the desert. Its a few hour drive to the point where you turn off the road to go offloading. In which the last 7–12 km (the locals all gave us different numbers with our poor hand motion and drawing in the sand communications… ) will take a normal 4x4 car 15–20 minutes to get to the crate of fire and our yakmobile…. well expected time is 5–7 hours…
No more than a couple hundred meters off road there is a hill… this hill is by no means a crazy hill…to walk.. but to drive a weighed down VW Polo with a 1.0 liter engine. Its near impossible. Not only is the % grade of the hill too much for the car.. there is absolutely no traction as the hill is covered with about 6 inches of sand. Also possibly the fact that we didn’t get to the hill until well far dark.. about 11pm.
First attempt, we back the car up as far as possible and gun it up the hill. We got just over 2/3 up the hill before we hit a sandy patch that stopped our car dead in its tracked.. we were hopeful at this point…. but as we were backing down the after a few good pushes..
Screeecchhhhhhhh… scrapping noises.. loud scrapping noises.. metal on metal screeching… tires spinning in place.. What in the world?!?!?! “Someone shine a light under the car!”
We look under the car and see something metal under the car. We try to push the car forwards, backwards. rocking it to building momentum with no luck. We borrow a tow hook from another team and Ian hooks up the front of the car to his to try to pulled the car out…
Cars revving… POP… the tow cable snaps… someone forgot to put the emergency brake down… doh!… we can’t move the car… we end up jacking the car up to find someone’s broken crushed fuel tank underneath our car… we pull it out and attempt for another go after a bit of debate on whether to move forward. This is all happening while the locals that offered to drive people up in their 4x4 for $10 a person are on the sidelines. I would assuming internally laughing their brains out at the attempts of this VW polo trying to skirt its way up the hill…
Attempts 2&3 we try for riding the side of the road a bit… but we fail.. this all happened over a few hour stretch… we haven’t made it over the first hill… defeated by fatigue, sand, dehydration (I imagine) and a sputtering car at this point, we decided to get a ride with the locals with our camping gear, which we conveniently have consolidated in our Mountainsmith duffles (Thanks, Jeremy!).
We get on this huge water truck the size of a Mad Max behemoth and goes up and down more sand dunes, which our car would DEFINITELY have gotten stuck on and after a 15 minute drive we make it to the Door to Hell.
At the doorway, a bunch of already defeated teams are partying around the crater. We join in and party away our defeated selves and sleep our woes away….