Contrary to what I stated in my previous post, the holiday party was moved to last night. However, I was unable to attend due to the peculiarities of flying in Turkmenistan. The sandstorm from earlier in the week raged into a third day on Wednesday, again cancelling the flight to/from Balkanabat which normally runs Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. (Why that particular spacing of days and not something like Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday is one of the great mysteries of Turkmenistan. The explanation would probably be only slightly simpler than the proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.) The Wednesday cancellation led to two things. First, they ran a special Thursday flight to Balkanabat, which was nice, but irrelevant to me since I had to be in Ashgabat by Thursday morning for the nameless client I mentioned two posts ago. Instead, and this is the second thing, I (and several others) went to Turkmenbashy to catch the last flight of the day to Ashgabat.
Unlike Balkanabat, Turkmenbashy has daily service to Ashgabat operating 3-4 flights a day. It also has a very new airport which is quite nice. For the time being it is more airport than there is capacity for, but presumably they will grow into their new digs. No doubt it is one piece of the larger plan to turn Turkmenbashy into a resort town for tourists. (Note: that article is four years old.) While it has some domestic popularity, as many colleagues seemed to enjoy going there during the summer, I am slightly skeptical of its ability to lure large numbers of foreigners. Indeed, the foreign drawing power of the city and beach is less than stellar so far. I particularly like the quote from one of the tourists, "It's ornate to the point of kitsch" as that also seems like a very apt description of Ashgabat.
Anyway, Thursday was a day in Ashgabat that was supposed to end with a train ride back to Balkanabat. However, I had to deep-six that after the second client meeting was pushed back to the end of the day making it too late to catch the train. Fortunately, or so I thought, I was able to get a ticket for the Friday flight back to Balkanabat which was somewhat odd since I had previously been told the flight was full which is why I had planned on taking the train. However, it was for naught since yesterday's flight was cancelled once again, this time not due to a sandstorm, but instead heavy fog in Balkanabat. And thus I was back to my train plan, but by missing the flight, it also meant missing the festive and no doubt socially awkward holiday party. They did pledge to run a special Saturday flight today to replace the cancelled flight from yesterday, but I'm generally happy with the train decision since I just learned that flight has also been cancelled.
The train, which left at 19:00, was 11 hours of mostly nothing. Fortunately, I had a two-person cabin to myself because they actually bought me two tickets. If you're wondering if that is cost prohibitive, no, it is not. Each ticket is about 7 USD and well worth the privacy and non-hassle of sharing a cabin with a total stranger. (For reference, a plane ticket to Balkanabat is only 20 USD since transportation is subsidized.) I slept as much of the trip as possible as there is very little to look at along unlit countryside and stops at small town rail stations. We pulled into Balkanabat at 06:15 and once again I'm back "home".