Morning Views of the Caspian Sea

Morning Views of the Caspian Sea

I woke the day after we left Baku to a beautiful sunny day on the Caspian Sea. The cool sea air was refreshing. Optimistically I hoped that we would dock today, one day ahead of schedule. The first sign that things were going to be different was my mobile phone had lost any network connection. Contacting my guide onshore was going to be tricky.

Everybody was slow to rise due to the night before’s vodka based celebrations. The boat was made up of primarily 3 groups. The ship workers, Truck drivers (both Turkish and Turkmen) and the odd bunch of stragglers including myself. As the only westerner I was constantly in demand for a chat about where I was from, and where was I going.

We docked with another boat around midday and gave them supplies as they had been waiting for one month to dock. Yikes!!

We left and headed for port around 3pm thinking we might get in by 3-5pm. Hopes were dashed around 5pm as we dropped anchor for the night. So close yet so far away. We all settled in for the night. It was a pretty quiet evening with lots of chit-chat between the locals. The food was pretty simple, mostly rye bread and oat crackers from my supplies. I was given bread and sausage with mayo by Ruslan. Everybody shares their food which is great. After the night before’s celebrations it was a very subdued evening in comparison. Our little cabin of Oleg, Dawut, Ruslan and Murad just chilled out.

Lewan the Georgian truck driver and my cabin mates Oleg, Ruslan, and Dawut.

Lewan, the Georgian truck driver and my cabin mates Oleg, Ruslan, and Dawut.

Saturday the 6th was the day I originally planned to arrive in Turkmenbashi. We all had high hopes that today we would dock. All the messages from the crew were positive. So that morning I spent time with all the Turkish drivers on the boat. We had a good chat about the usual. Where I was from, where I was going, Yes, I am travelling alone. They in turn taught me some of their Kurdish language. I’m sure it’ll come in handy when I return to the Kurdistan region in November / December time.

My Turkish truck driver buddies

My Turkish truck driver buddies

It all gets a little tiring being the novelty after a while. The hospitality is great but you just have to hide away every now and then to get a rest. So I popped downstairs for a nap.

As the afternoon dragged on I snuck back to the car to replenish my supplies without getting busted. (You are not meant to go back to your car apparently). We got word that we were going to dock so I broke out the supplies for a splendid late lunch with the lads in budget cabin number 1. Cheese, chorizo, fresh bread and a cold beer. Delicious!!

After we finished lunch we didn’t dock. Ah well. I was getting used to this. The evening came and not much happened. We watched the lights on shore which were tantalisingly close. Then the mozzies hit!! Nowhere near light was safe. The little buggers were everywhere, so I decided to crash early. However, the young fella’s in my cabin were up talking and left the windows open so the mozzies could get in the room. Not very smart!! We all had to moved to other room to escape the invasion.

Turkmenbashi at night - so close yet so far

Turkmenbashi at night – so close yet so far

We all woke up weary after the mozzie invasion. We all wondered if today will be the day we dock? I got up and showered in the plush wet room (read: one of the dodgiest shower room ever). Breakfast was the sensational combo of cheese and crackers as my supplies were just about out. The day drifted on…

Around 2pm we got call to dock. Hoo-bloodly-ray!!

Finally we reach port

Finally we reach port

We finally arrived in port around 3pm. Finally got Boris off the ship around 6pm and then the fun with customs began. At 18.30 I entered customs near the passenger terminal (approx 1km from the cargo terminal) and met Yuri my guide for the first time. He then went to work, finding my passport, collecting my car documents, taking $12 and disappearing again. I sat back and let him work his magic.

Land Ho. The light at the end of the tunnel. Finally exiting the ferry.

Land Ho. The light at the end of the tunnel. Finally exiting the ferry.

There must be 9 or 10 different offices that Yuri was moving back and forth between. Immigration, cash office, health *2, transport, military and customs. Then came the fees for each department.

  • $1 – For vehicle disinfection
  • $30 – For entry & transit passage
  • $37 – For compensation of the fuel cost
  • $50 – Third Party Liability Insurance
  • $5 – For processing the documents
  • $3 – Certificate for something?
  • $50 – Road tax
  • $10 – something else?

Somewhere around 10pm we finally cleared customs and were free to go. I was $200 lighter for the experience. It’s by far the most amount of paperwork I have ever had to complete. Apparently it’s the same for the transit visa. It would take a day without help. To add to everything the process is all manual paperwork. Not a computer insight!! Keeps everybody in a job I suppose.

We headed for the hotel, had a quick dinner and had the joy of paying $7 for a beer. I didn’t care. It was good to finally be on land again.

My 3 day Caspian Sea cruise was an experience and now the proper Turkmenistan adventure was about to begin on land. But first I needed a good nights sleep.

p.s One reason for the delay might have been that I was on an Azerbaijani boat rather than a Turkmen boat. Who you know still rules in this part of the world. 3 days for a 14 hour boat journey is common place. It makes it awfully difficult to plan for with a 5 transit visa that requires you to specify the exact dates of you travel. Personally I think it’s a rather convenient way to get tourists to pay more for tourist visas.

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