One of the most surreal experiences from my days on the post-college backpacker trail was a night flight from Frankfurt to Bankok. Sitting watching the world creep by on the in-flight navigation system, I couldn't help but feel butterflies when we crossed over parts of less-than-friendly states like Iraq and Iran. But what had me transfixed was the cluster of unfamiliar (and unpronounceable) countries just north of our flight-path: Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. This summer, cartoonist and commentator Ted Rall led a group of 23 Americans on an 'anti-tour tour' of "the Stans." In the second installment of his amusing and enlightening travelogue series Stan Trek, published on Mother Jones magazine's website MoJo Wire, Rall visits Turkmenistan, a forgotten corner of the former Soviet Union. "It's amazing what you can get away with in places where nobody is paying attention. In . . . a nation with the dubious honor of having the hottest desert on the planet, one man dominates the landscape: President-for-Life Saparmurad Niyazov, a.k.a. Turkmenbashi, 'Head of All Turkmen,' as he had his rubber-stamp parliament declare him a few years back."