The Yangikala canyons run down to the Caspian in the west of Turkmenistan. They are deep fissures of multicoloured rock layers with buttresses of fluted chalk. The colours are other-worldly, from tangerine through pale gold to pistachio, particularly at dawn and at sunset. We reached this strange place after a four-hour drive from the coastal port of Turkmenbashi, through yet more trackless desert, where shepherds mind their herds of camels and nomads pass from summer encampments to take shelter for the winter in mud huddles of villages. We spent three days walking, taking photographs (yes! photography allowed!) that unfortunately don’t remotely capture the scenery, and poking about for fossils. Our companions built fires and raked embers to boil the little black teapot and barbecue the shashlik. They smoked intently, and drank a lot of vodka. ‘Vodochka’, they crooned affectionately. Life’s hard in the desert.
Wild camping was as camping always is: delight spiked with plenty of discomfort. The days were sunny and cool, nights windy and bitterly cold. The US military sleeping bags lent to us for the excursion were good and warm, though.