This is a burning gas crater in the middle of the empty Kyzylkum desert. "The middle of the empty desert" isn't terribly descriptive, since the whole damn country is empty and the edges of the desert differ in no significant way from the middle. Anyway, this flaming crater is probably 100 meters across and about 20 meters deep. It is surely the entrance to hell.
There are 25,000 Manat to the dollar (it seems to be the only currency which is NOT increasing in value against the dollar. The dollar has even slipped against the Azeri Manat). The biggest bill is a 10,000 -- not quite 50 cents. You have to carry wads and wads of cash with you and leave stacks to pay your restaurant bill. Turkmenistan is probably the cheapest country we've ever been to, though. Twenty dollars lasts several days.
And a lot of you are going to love this. This 15-liter top off at the TurkPetrol station set the driver back about 15 cents. Gas costs 300 Manat a liter. I'll do the math for you: Gas costs less than 5 cents a gallon. This proves that it's possible to have a bufoon for a president AND have cheap gas! You don't have to choose!
This dog is a special breed of hunting dog still used by the tribal nomads. It looks sort of like a small Afghan. Unlike Azeri dogs, which tend to be viscious, all the dogs we met in Turkmenistan were quite friendly, even the earless shepherds guarding the flocks.
Lenin lives! He still stands proudly in downtown Ashgabat, gesturing grandly east from a pedestal tiled in Turkmen carpet patterns. When the future is as bright as it is in Turkmenistan, there's no shame in the past!
Pretty much everyone who doesn't live in an apartment block has one of these clay tandor ovens to make their bread. The woman heats it up in the morning. She flattens bread dough into discs, paints the bottom side with a salt water mixture, then sticks the dough disc to the inside walls of the hot tandor. The bread is really good when it's hot, but it gets hard really quickly. That's so it can be transported easily by nomads.