So we set off from our pitiful campsite too close to the main road to Dervaza and drove back to Ashgabat. Since we left before 9am it wasn't so hot and the ride went quite quickly. Except for the 3 times we were stopped by police and the crazy 30km/h sign and the associated 15USD bribe.
Back in Ashgabat at midday we needed a break, so we decided to go back to Grand Turkmen Hotel and pretend we were still guests. We enjoyed to the pool, tried to use their internet and got some supplies from the Russian market opposite.
We then thought we should drive the 600km/s to Turkmenabat and get out of Turkmenistan as there seemed plenty more to do in Uzbekistan. We left about 1pm.
Unfortunately the road running east of Ashgabat was very poor indeed. We made slow progress as well as lost a hub cab, rattled and swerved the car through mountains and valleys of warped asphalt shaped by heavy trucks no doubt.
Finally we arrived in Mary (200km off our target) an hour after sunset. My impression of the time was surprisingly a very typical Soviet layout with a large square and a horrendous looking Soviet style hotel at one end. In the square we noticed a couple of busy looking restaurants and there we saw a red Mongol rally car belonging to Team America. We joined them and their Turkmen hosts for food and beer. [The food in Iran was really very disappointing, and boring. I can't count the number of times we had rice and kebab, and a grilled tomato if we were lucky. By comparison the Turkmen food has been very good, particularly on this evening when we were served braai-ed lamb with some very nice bread, which interestingly they call "naan" - Jamie]
The Turkmen have been very friendly though it's pretty hard for us to reciprocate when we are frankly exhausted and I speak very little Russian and none of their Turkmen language.
Next phase was the four us trying to find a hotel. I tried to argue for the more upscale one as I know that Russian budget options can be pretty fucking awful. I'd rather start on the high end and then take steps down. The one chosen was a motel a little outside town and thankfully a guy I met at the bar, Max, helped direct us there, by riding in the car.
The motel is quite a sight. Lots of trucks parked to the side. A dark tree/bush lined courtyard crawling with punters, pimps and whores. The room looked like a fight had occurred in it, judging by the broken fittings. [I know Kai will think I'm being pedantic here, but it really wasn't "crawling", I saw one prostitute. And the room was very tidy, not a fight scene. - Jamie] Nonetheless with the revered A/C on, I had a good sleep after the mandatory shower.