Day 29 – Thursday, May 23rd 2013
After waiting about 2 hours in no man’s land between the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan, we were finally let into the inspection area. Unfortunately, we had to be separated as all passengers go through a different gate – so Kim walked her way through the border and Vaughan had to deal with all vehicle inspections and paperwork on his own – poor lad! This wouldn’t have been a problem really except that as Kim walked through the border, she had her very full handbag with her, which included all their money and quite importantly – Vaughan’s wallet with his driver’s license! Kim realized this once she had her bag scanned but was not let back through to give Vaughan what he needed. Well it all got sorted in the end. Vaughan had to walk out, collect his things, then walk back to finish the rest of the paperwork before picking Kim up outside the gate.
And then we were off! We were given 72 hours to get our vehicle out of the country including boarding the boat in Baku, otherwise there would be fines to pay. And given the fact that the boat often takes 2 days to leave, we had quite the rush on our hands. We drove through the very scenic north part of the country, with its lush farmlands, tree lined highways, horse-drawn carts and sheep herders, to end up in a desert moonscape before sunset. Unfortunately, with the change in scenery also came a change in the quality of the road and we were soon on one of the worst roads to date – large portions of it had degraded to dirt track which meant Ivor was getting his first real shake down. Feeling like all this shaking about was not good for Ivor or us in the long run, we hunted out a larger, more truck driver friendly route. There was none.
We drove as far as we could before settling down at a petrol station for the night.
Day 30 – Friday, May 24th 2013
We were up bright and early thanks to our wake up call and made our way to Baku. Luckily as we approached the capital city the roads did improve greatly which made our lives a lot easier. After seeing the north-west part of Azerbaijan, we were very surprised to find how massive Baku was – quite the contrast to the rest of the country – huge designer buildings, a seaside resort under construction, and the city just didn’t seem to end.
First priority of the day was to collect Kim’s Canadian passport from the Baku tourist office where she had it sent from Canada after getting her Chinese visa – no problems at all and we even managed to find parking on the street for Ivor. We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling along the seaside, enjoying some icecream and popcorn and just taking in the city. We were very lucky to have had a friend give us the contact details of a local who helped him go through Baku the week before with his 4×4 and arrange his ferry ticket to Turkmenistan. So we got in touch with Huseyn and went to meet him at his art gallery in the old part of town. He called the ferry to see if there was a boat we could get on and as luck would have it, there was – and they said it may even leave that night. We jumped in Ivor, headed to the Ro-Ro terminal port, then were told to go to the other ferry port to sort out our customs documents, then back to the Ro-Ro port, paid far too much for our tickets (but we were quite naïve at this point – lesson learnt on that one!), and all was sorted. The ferry workers said we could call in a couple of hours to find out if the boat would leave that night or the following morning. Not bad. So, we headed back into town, we got our food supplies for the boat, Huseyn brought us to a really great local restaurant where we had delicious dolmas and plov, and made the all important phone call to the ferry people – the boat would leave the next day and we needed to be there at 9:30am. Cool – the pressure was off for the evening! We strolled around for a bit more, seeing all the lit up buildings in the city centre and finished off with a beer before parting ways with Huseyn.
The tourist office tipped us off to a place we could park overnight with Ivor – just so happens to be the old soviet government house – pretty posh night’s stay!
Day 31 – Saturday, May 25th 2013
We were up and anxious to get on the boat, but made a cheeky stop in at the Hilton to use their wi-fi facilities. We had been in touch with a few of the motorcyclists that we will meet at the border of China who were also in Baku – turns out one of them would be catching the same boat as us.
We were early to the ferry port, and were told that the ferry would probably leave around noon as they were waiting for a few more trucks to fill it up. There were already a few trucks parked up and one nice Turkish truck driver took an interest in us since they don’t often see tourists waiting to board this ship. He kindly offered us tea and gave us some breakfast too. There were 3 Turks in total, the kind older man, his son and one of their friends. They were all really great and friendly. Papa Turk (as we came to call him) really did look after us the whole time, despite the fact that we couldn’t speak Turkish or Russian and he couldn’t speak English.
Also while waiting, we met up with Clive who would be joining us for the boat crossing, but also later for our China crossing. He was a little frazzled when he first turned up due to a mechanical problem with his bike and thinking he would be late for the boat – no need to worry about that!
The noon departure turned into a 4 o’clock departure, which then turned into 7pm. Waiting around at a port all day long is not the most exciting of times, so we took advantage and did a few Ivor maintenance tasks, cooked up some food, and eventually parked over closer to the boat on the insistence of the Turkish gang. Papa Turk then invited us to eat with them and he cooked up some delicious pasta, we had pickles, olives and pickled garlic and of course, finished off with some tea.
By 2am we were finally on the boat and it was actually leaving! We found a room on the lower deck and made up our bed and went to sleep.
Day 32 – Sunday, May 26th 2013
We were nearly at Turkmenistan… nearly, meaning we could see land by 12pm, but the boat was stationary. We were warned this might happen. We tried to get the scoop as to when we would dock and then said maybe in a few hours. Well, that turned into 24 hours. Luckily we had access to Ivor during that time so we could get some more food supplies and we found Clive who kindly shared a DVD with us to help pass the time.
A big problem with a stationary boat is that bugs, of the mosquito variety, can find there way in – particularly when the windows to your room do not have mosquito nets! We didn’t notice how bad it was until we turned on the lights after watching the film to find our room becoming infested. We killed as many of the blood suckers that we could, tried using deet to scare them away, but in the end we decided we would sleep better where there was a fresh breeze and hopefully less mosquitos on the upper most deck. It was really nice actually sleeping under the stars and waking up with the sunrise.
Day 33 –Monday, May 27th 2013
We hung out on the upper deck for most of the morning after some of the crew invited us in to the bridge to have some tea. Really nice bunch of men and we tried our best to communicate with them. The crew told us we had to wait until the Turkmen officials were back in their offices around 10am before we would know if we could dock. Seems like we would be playing the waiting game once more… but this time only until 2pm. We actually docked, then waited another hour or so to be let off the boat, then headed around to the customs buildings where we officially entered Turkmenistan.